I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, in relation to the profession of librarianship. What is the why of what librarians do? What is the underlying value of the profession? Our core values. I’m not sure I know the answer to this myself, although I have some thoughts. What I do think I know is that as a profession we don’t actually have a clear understanding of our collective why.
I was at my better half’s Call to the Bar a few weeks ago. It was held at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto and as these types of ceremonies go it was quite formal with all the soon to be lawyers dressed up in their robes with fancy tie thingys. As can be expected at such an event there were some speeches with a whole lotta name calling in the middle. And at the end of the ceremony, all the newly minted lawyers had to swear an oath to up hold professional integrity throughout their career and to maintain the highest of ethical standards within the profession of law.
Professions are guided by a code of ethical standards as I witnessed first hand in the Call to the Bar ceremony. I know that my mother has taken the Hippocratic Oath as a doctor. But as a librarian I took no oath whatsoever upon graduation. In fact at my convocation there were more than just Master of Information Studies students graduating, there were students from multiple faculties, rather than the “private” graduation of lawyers or other professions. I believe that it would be a welcome addition to the ALA accredited degrees coming out of library schools across North America if all graduates were required to take an oath to uphold intellectual freedom and equitable access to information. These are the two core beliefs I feel to be at the root of the profession. While the Canadian Library Association has a statement on intellectual freedom, which I see as an attempt at a mission statement for Canadian librarians, as a librarian in Canada it is not mandatory that I belong to this association just as it was not mandatory to assert that I will uphold such values throughout my career.
There is a great chapter in This Book is Overdue, How Librarians and Cybrarians Will Save us All, by Marylin Johnson, that explores the USA PATRIOT Act and librarians in the US. Johnson shows us the importance of librarians standing up for the privacy of individuals. I just finished watching The Hollywood Librarian where there are multiple examples of the importance of librarianship in ensuring equitable access to information so that individuals may have an informed opinion and therefore be more able to effectively participate in society. As a current public librarian, I see the public library as a democratizing institution, yet within the library I do not feel as though the staff members, professinal or not have a cohesive view as to “why” the public library is important and the importance of our role within society. Having a set of professional ethics I feel would go far in helping us develop this understanding.
For those librarians out there, why do you do what you do? Why did you become a librarian? What do you see as the professions underlying core values?