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"Ethics and Technology in a Library Context." K. Edwards. F. Gibb. Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde. 2013. Download PDF (BibTeX) MSc Information and Library Studies

Background: Study of relevant literature reveals that, while the subject of ethics is discussed in librarianship and in relation to technology, there is a lack of in-depth exploration of the place of ethics in the implementation stages of introducing new technology, as well as a lack of current research into perceptions of ethical challenges amongst practicing professionals in the field.

Aims: This study aimed to determine what current and future technologies are relevant to libraries; evaluate the use existing policies for tackling ethical issues; establish whether library staff and users recognise the ethical implications of implementing new technologies and how important these are considered on an operational level; and, finally, develop a set of recommendations for tackling ethical dilemmas raised by new technologies in the future.

Methods: A literature review was undertaken to establish the research context and identify key concepts and themes. These were further developed via analysis of a survey disseminated amongst neo-professionals undergoing an Information and Library Studies postgraduate course at the University of Strathclyde. The themes, which emerged were used to develop questions for interviews, which were conducted with library professionals from a variety of sectors, to investigate the implementation processes in libraries and the place of ethics within them.

Results: The research revealed that while there was awareness of ethical codes and policies, these were not often consulted in practice. A high awareness of the subject of ethics was also found to exist, although there was a distancing from the 'language of ethics' and a lack of any formal processes for dealing with dilemmas. Recognition of potential ethical challenges from technology in libraries was coupled with a reluctance to identify these as new issues. Librarians were often found to have a low level of participation in implementation and planning processes as the wider organisations the libraries were a part of exerted a high level of control over these, although there were exceptions. It was commonly recognised that the rapidly changing arena of technology may continue to exacerbate ethical challenges in libraries and that professionals should attempt to exert more control over their implementation. While a strict set of guidelines were agreed to be unbeneficial, there was a call for a more proactive attitude from the profession and a greater level of discourse regarding these issues, possibly coupled with an educational program which should be the responsibility of professionals in this area.

Conclusions: The research proposes several recommendations for the profession as a whole and for practitioners. Further exploration into the relationship between libraries and the wider organisation they are a part of should be undertaken; existing policies from CILIP, IFLA and wider organisations must be highlighted more effectively; CILIP should take a more active role to aid in the proper selection and implementation of technology and; the profession should consider forming an ethical committee or group of professionals whose role it is to collect examples of ethical issues encountered in various sectors and how best to deal with these, especially in the area of emerging technologies. This will encourage good practice in regards to these potentially problematic technologies, as well as incorporate ethical considerations more naturally into the planning process. At an operational level a roadmap is proposed advocating: the forming of committees within individual institutions dedicated to these issues; greater involvement at the planning stage; increased consultation with stakeholders and; regular audits into how ethical challenges are being handled.