Monday, March 24, 2014

Revisiting the code of ethics for the information professions

Reading through this article titled St Matthias librarian dupes parents, students" from one of the popular news papers made me think about revisiting the code of ethics for the information professions that was published by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and our own code of ethics that the Zimbabwe Library Association (ZimLA) has put together to guide librarians and related professionals. Honestly speaking no one is willing to report their case if they are on the wrong side as seen in the article hyper linked above.

So my fellow librarian as reported in the new article was collecting registration fees from unsuspecting parents purporting to be doing it for the school he was working for.  He would also pocket overdue fine for personal use and it is reported that quite a number of books are missing from the school library. All these actions constitute misconduct and would put the profession into disgrace.

According to IFLA “The function of codes of ethics can be described as encouraging reflection on principles on which librarians and other information workers can form policies and handle dilemmas; improving professional self-awareness and providing transparency to users and society in general.” ZimLA on the other hand stipulated that the “purpose of this Professional Code of Conduct is to set out the standards of professional conduct expected of members of ZimLA and to indicate what matters may be regarded by the Disciplinary Committee as being contrary to the aims, objects and interests of ZimLA or contrary to the profession of librarianship, documentation, information, records and archival management.” Basically the essence of the code of ethics is to provide a guideline of conduct towards the community and the general awareness of what is right and wrong. The wrongs will convict one while the right behaviour provide stability in the work environment. The issues discussed in the article above are a serious case of malpractice that put the profession into disrepute.

I am sure the librarian’s case is not an isolated case. There might be more other cases happening in our communities relating to librarians which are failing to reach ZimLA for appropriate actions. ZimLA code of conduct and ethics item 2 sub-items 2.1 state that “Members must not engage in conduct which may seriously prejudice the standing and reputation of the library, documentation, information, records and archival management professions or of ZimLA.” Such conduct may refer to the conduct of the librarian report in the St Matthias case which includes working outside your jurisdictions. Such behaviour becomes misconduct that should be treated with appropriate measures. The constitution of ZimLA provide for actions to be followed which include to appear before a Disciplinary Committee and other actions are stipulated in the Code of Conduct and Ethics of the Association.

However due to communication challenges, ZimLA National Executive Council (NEC) could not have heard about this incident which was supposed to have been reported to ZimLA Manicaland Branch and the branch would then pass the information to NEC. Perhaps it comes back to us librarians to show commitment to the Association so that it functions well. The Association has a number of objectives it should action as given in the constitution (the Association constitution) and only paid up members constitutes the defined ZimLA membership. The drafting of the code of ethics is one such objective that the Association has of which the branch is the watchdog for implementation and to note cases of malpractice. The major stabling block is the lack of a membership directory that should be maintained, but as highlighted earlier that with no membership having such a directory is a mammoth task.

The code of conduct and ethics by ZimLA in section 7.3 state that “Members must report the facts to the National Secretary if convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or one which brings the profession into disrepute.” Well, I am not sure how many of us can do the requirements of section 7.3. Honestly speaking no one is willing to report their case if they are on the wrong side as seen in the article hyperlinked above. The provision of this section might require revision to state that “Institutions should report ZimLA members convicted of any offences that involve dishonesty or which bring the profession into disrepute to ZimLA NEC.”

The matter of conduct in workplaces should be sustained through training and advocacy. At this stage the Association has a lot of work to establish the branches and special interest groups. Once this phase is done I hope to see such trainings on ethics becoming an integral part of ZimLA work to promote professional conduct and uphold competences.