A Code of Ethics is a standard that you strive to meet in all of your related activities and duties.  It should be attainable, but lofty.  It should reflect who you are (as a person, employee, group, profession) in your best position.  Codes of Ethics are in every field, every job, every school.  Everyone employs them to promise the people with whom they working, as well as the people in their organization, that they will strive to meet these lofty expectations that they have made for themselves. (Philip, 2001) "The key to establishing a field's social relevance lies in development, maintenance, interpretation, and application of a meaningful code of ethics." (Pemberton and Pendergraft, 1990)


Librarians choose to belong to the American Library Association (ALA) which has created a Code of Ethics (ALA, 1995) for the members of its organization to foster a sense of unity and solidarity.  The Code states, “the American Library Association Code of Ethics states the values to which we are committed, and embodies the ethical responsibilities of the profession in this changing environment.”  It also states that this Code is expressed in “broad statements to guide ethical decision making.”  A Code of Ethics cannot be specific to particular circumstances, but must generally reflect the goals of the organization. (Fallis, 2003)


The ALA has also created the Library Bill of Rights (ALA, 1996) which gives a set of more specific guidelines for librarians to follow.  These guidelines are only slightly more specific than the Code of Ethics, but are directed toward the librarian’s policies regarding their patrons and the community.  The Library Bill of Rights has come under much scrutiny and ridicule because the guidelines do not seem applicable to real circumstances and the wording is vague. (Wengwert, 2001; Baldwin, 1996; Fricke, Mathiesen, and Fallis, 2000) 


The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) is the division of the ALA which deals specifically with College and University Libraries. The ACRL has created it’s own professional code in “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” In this document, the ACRL approved a set of policies which are specific to academic libraries.  Academic libraries have different needs since their community is different.  These libraries must meet the needs and demands of a college or university while making themselves available to the community at large.  Within this setting, the library must delicately balance meeting the needs of students, faculty, general and specific research, and meeting and creating budgets.  A set of policies to aid in this is crucial.  Academic librarians should be thoroughly familiar with the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights, as well as the ACRL’s Principles, and must adhere to the principles of fairness, freedom, professional excellence, and respect for individual rights expressed therein. 


This Code of Ethics intends to promote activism on the part of the librarian to advance intellectual freedom and access issues to the community.  Libraries are in danger.  The danger lies in a few specific areas: in the accessibility of information via the Internet so people do not feel they need to come to a library for information; privacy violations by the government in the name of security; low pay which drives potential librarians to the private sector in search of higher paying jobs; a sense of atrophy in the administration of libraries; rising costs and the corporatization of libraries; and the pressure to compete with retail bookstores in customer service and other quantifiable measures. (Roberto and West, 2003)  Librarians must do whatever they can, no matter how small or large the contribution, to fight for their rights and the rights of patrons.  Activism is most commonly believed to be picketing, marching, and petitioning; things that are seen on the nightly news.  But librarians can be activists on a much more simple level.  By becoming a member of every organization in their particular field, reading as much related material as possible, and simply being aware of what is going on in our profession, librarians can become a much more powerful group of professionals.  Librarians are currently being demonized by President Bush’s administration as thoughtless, fear-mongering, leftist, and promoting misinformation regarding the Patriot Act. (In the November 2003 issue of American Libraries, p. 30)  Librarians need to fight this incorrect image to let the public know that librarians are working to protect their right to access information and their right to privacy.


Three theories are used to sustain arguments for this Code of Ethics.  Probably, the best argument for intellectual freedom comes from John Stuart Mill.  In his treatise, On Liberty, Mill (1859) outlines his case for this freedom.  Mill has two steps to his arguments against censorship. First, not censoring information is better than censoring as far as getting to know the truth. Second, knowing the truth tends to increase overall happiness. Therefore, whatever we are wishing to achieve, "we are more likely to achieve [it] if we know the truth."  Mill gives three main reasons why censoring is not effective. The first reason is that we would end up censoring some of the truth, and since that truth will not get through, we will not be able to "acquire true beliefs" as a result. He argues that humans are inherently fallible and even the smartest and seemingly most qualified people can make mistakes in judgment. In order to "effectively filter out false information" we have to be able to determine whether any of the information is true or false, se we openly disseminate all information to see what holds up under scrutiny.  Mill argues that censorship undercuts itself; to be effective censors we have to not censor.  Even if you are trying to determine that information is harmful, Mill argues that it is just as difficult to determine what information is harmful as what is false.  The second reason is that even if we could censor out just the false information, "our true beliefs would become dead dogmas, not living truths." As Mill argues, "beliefs not grounded on conviction are apt to give way before the slightest semblance of an argument." The best way to justify that our beliefs are true is by exposing them to criticism and seeing how they hold up.  His third reason resembles the first.  He states that even false theories can have some truth to them.  By censoring "a little bit of truth" we might have been censoring the very thing that we needed to correct some small mistakes in our own largely accurate theory.  Invariably, Mill concludes that the costs of censoring outweigh the potential benefits of censorship.  By using all of the above arguments, Mill concludes that information needs to be available and never censored.


Natural Rights theorists believe that as humans we have a natural right to access information.  Since we think for ourselves and are inherently rational beings, we can accept this information and use it to have all sides of an issue or point of view.  Diana Woodward (1990) argues that “it would be inconsistent to will that the truth be withheld from people [because] if the truth were withheld from everyone, then you would not have enough evidence to decide what are the truths that are to be withheld.”  The ability to decide for ourselves is discussed in the Fred Nesta and Henry Blanke (1991) article regarding the donation of a book from the government of Apartheid South Africa to the university at which they worked.  Nesta argues that Blanke’s concern that the students’ “naiveté and lack of critical acumen” is not within the purview of a librarian’s responsibility.  Nesta further states that he cannot believe that the students would be “so naive that they wouldn’t understand the slant” from something coming from the government of South Africa.  Natural Rights argues that humans have the ability and right to have access to and judge information for ourselves.


John Rawls focuses on justice as fairness and gives priority to the right over the good.  He believes in a person’s basic rights within society and views access to information as a “primary good.”  According to Rawls’ theory, parties in the original position (pre-political) behind the veil of ignorance would agree to two principles of justice.  The first is an egalitarian method of determining rights—“each individual has a right to as much liberty as is consistent with everybody else getting the same amount of liberty.”  The second is that any social or economic inequalities must benefit the “least advantaged members of society.”  This second principle cannot be satisfied at the expense of the first, so between this and the first principle’s egalitarian base, he implements a limit on rights.  The library professional, using Rawls’ theory, would first, consider what to do under the veil of ignorance and, second, consider whether that course of action is in accord with the two principles of justice.  If the decision would make things worse for the least advantaged members of society, then they would reject it.  Academic libraries are an integral part of society providing a platform from which information can be scrutinized, processed, and produced -- all things that support information as a primary good.  Rawls's theory justifies supporting and maintaining academic libraries.


The content of this Code of Ethics draws heavily upon the “Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights,” adopted by ACRL in 1999 and ALA in 2000, and the beliefs espoused by The New College of California, San Francisco, CA.