Everyday Ethics For Libraries

Everyday Ethics (banner art)

The Everyday Ethics For Libraries are a series of programs that explore how library professional ethics as presented in the Library Bill of Rights, along with intellectual freedom concerns and privacy, impact library operations, collection development, policies, planning, and customer service.

Everyday Ethics For Libraries: An Overview By Pat Wagner 

Everyday Ethics: Part 1Overview To Ethics For Libraries

Everyday Ethics: Part 2Transparency (Library Ethical Standards)

Everyday Ethics: Part 3Equal Treatment (Library Ethical Standards)

Everyday Ethics: Part 4Privacy (Library Ethical Standards)

Everyday Ethics: Part 5Information Access For All (Library Ethical Standards)

Everyday Ethics: Part 6 – Summary (Library Ethical Standards)

Everyday Library Ethics Series

Is it selfish to buy books we love for our collection, even if they never circulate? What should we do when the sheriff arrives to seize circulation records? How can gossiping at a front desk hurt our library’s funding? Can we hire the best architect in town even if she is our director’s sister? Is it okay to give senior citizens a break on library fines?

The most requested programs this year, both face-to-face and online, are on the topic of ethics. Although the focus is libraries, the issues apply to most government and nonprofit workplaces, as well as schools, higher education, and medical institutions. Businesses would do well to pay attention.

[Special offer: When you register for these webinars, apply the discount code SAVE20 for a $20.00 discount.]

thumLI210oct12Everyday Library Ethics Series: Part One – Four Key Principles That Will Build Trust and Respect for Your Library

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am EST


Everyday ethics is about guiding the decisions and actions at your library according to principles that ensure that everyone is treated fairly, that governing the library does not happen in secret, that library users have access to all types of information, and that confidentiality is respected.

In Part 1 of this series, participants will learn to apply ethical standards to:

  • Establishing policies that protect user and staff records
  • Creating decision-making processes that are fair and open
  • Ensuring that library resources are available to everyone
  • Providing services without regard to status or influence
  • Making difficult decisions that balance differing opinions and facts

thumGP210nov12-POSSIBLEEveryday Library Ethics Series: Part Two – Making the Big Difficult Public Decisions and Staying Open, Fair, Credible, and Effective in the Process

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am EST


The principles of everyday library ethics make sense to most people. However, the test is when library users, staff, directors, and library boards disagree. Protecting library records, dealing with book challenges, and implementing fair treatment regarding library policies can result in workplace conflicts, formal grievances, and even lawsuits and court appearances.

Library ethics is about the processes people use to create policies, inform the public, gather input, and make hard decisions. A successful process builds support for the library, regardless of the outcomes.

Participants will create and implement ethical decision-making methods by:

  • Educating staff, leadership, and the community about ethics
  • Creating public and transparent methods for input and dialogue
  • Staying calm and positive during difficult discussions
  • Gathering facts and opinions from all sides before deciding
  • Treating all parties and points of view with respect

thumBA212oct12Everyday Library Ethics Series: Part Three -
Case Studies: Ten Real Library Ethical Dilemmas

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am EST


Case studies are stories that provide us ways to discuss and analyze situations and learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Many people think the best way to understand library ethics is from talking about these stories. Talking about other people’s concerns can help us recognize and empathize problems that we are too close to see. And, case studies remind us that others have had to deal with the same ethical situations.

These ten examples are based on real events, although the details have been changed to protect the identity of the libraries and the people involved. They don’t provide cut-and-dried answers, but case studies can prepare us by helping us work through potential problems and solutions.

Participants will be able to address ethical challenges in their libraries by:

  • Creating policies and procedures before there is a problem
  • Clarifying shared concerns inside and outside the library
  • Building support for making difficult decisions
  • Educating the public about ethical guidelines
  • Evaluating current situations for possible interventions

Pat has been working with libraries as a trainer and consultant since 1978, from one-room rural storefronts to the largest public and academic libraries in North America. She presents and consults on library and public sector ethical topics, including material challenges, filtering, collection development, personnel, customer service, development and enforcement of policies and by-laws, governance, and conducting public meetings regarding volatile issues.

Photo Credits:

Stamps: This work is in the public domain.

Crowd: U.S. National Archives 1945. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. This is an adaptation of the original work.

Man in Stocks: © Bronwen Abbattista 2012. Used with permission.


Seats Available for Live FL Everyday Library Ethics Class March 14, 2013

I understand some seats are still available. If you live near Tallahassee, will be at FAMU library.


Ethics is one of my favorite topics to share with live or online audiences. It is about asking questions, understanding different points of view, becoming well-versed in a variety of topics, and always remembering that you might be wrong, and they might be right. My experience has been that people who think in terms of black-and-white often have trouble with sometimes ambiguous and complex ethical challenges.

Although there are many flavors of ethics and ethical theories, I stick to a pretty vanilla party line: I currently (notice I am hedging here) prefer a standard description that ethics is “the study of morality and right and wrong”. Sounds simple to some, but when good people have conflicting ethical principles, and those principles collide in a workplace where decisions have to be made on the clock (and in front of a surly group of taxpayers) – and you might have no laws to fall back on for guidance – simple it ain’t.

Ethical practices – and particularly the paths by which those ethical decisions are made – can earn us trust and respect, even from our opponents. And, an ethical life earns you a good night’s sleep. You can live with your decisions, and the cliché is true: You can look at yourself in the mirror without flinching.

In 2010, the Kansas State Library created a year-long program on ethics in libraries. I was very flattered to be invited to participate. The videos and materials are posted at:


We have several program topics related to practical ethics in workplaces.

What are your favorite resources?