CILIP’s Big Conversation on Ethics

Etica immagine by Orietta Sberla

The Challenge

CILIP’s Big Conversation on Ethics  begins with a breakfast workshop at the CILIP conference on Thursday 6 July. This starts a year of events and discussion focused on providing an ethical framework fit for the information profession of today and tomorrow.  We plan to unveil a new ethical framework for the information profession at the CILIP conference in Brighton next year. We want all parts of the UK information profession to engage and contribute to the Big Conversation on Ethics. So please read on.

The “Why”

You will be aware that CILIP is changing and this includes big improvements to your CILIP membership that will start in November this year. CILIP had to change just as the professional landscape within which we exist has changed so dramatically. The Ethics Review is an essential part of CILIP’s change programme and an important response to these wider societal changes.

Key changes since the existing Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice for Library and Information Practitioners was published in 2004 include:

  • Continuing technology developments, most notably the rise of social media
  • The growth of big data and a new range of skills and expertise around data science and management
  • Information teams that are embedded within the structures of their parent organisations rather than separate functions
  • The rise of the “digital citizen” and a greater awareness of the literacies required for individual and community engagement in an “Information Age”
  • The impact of the financial crisis on library and information services and the great changes in governance and service delivery that have emerged
  • Changes in national data protection and privacy regulations

  • The increasingly complex requirements of our widening communities, and the impact that has on our ability to provide equity in our services.

I would also add to the above, the ambition of CILIP to embrace and champion the whole information profession from librarian to knowledge and information manager to data manager.

Therefore it is important to test the relevance and resilience of the current Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Practice. Even if they prove their continuing worth, the conversations we will be having within the profession will help them come alive within our daily work.

The Need

It is worthwhile to reflect for a moment as to why ethics and professional values are so important. Our ethical principles do sit at the centre of our Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB), and should inform and inspire the way we use all the skills and knowledge set out in the PKSB, but they should be even more far reaching. At their best they should also protect the user, engender trust across all stakeholder groups and enable better judgement and decision making. To do that they need to be embedded in every aspect of our professional practice and promoted more widely within our user communities. This review is very much about the “public good” of our profession which, for CILIP, we express in terms of the following goal: “to put information and library skills and professional values at the heart of a democratic, equal and prosperous society”.

I am especially pleased to report that the Ethics Review is but one dimension of CILIP’s work on professional values. The Ethics Committee I chair also has responsibility for CILIP’s Equalities and Diversity Strategy. I am delighted that the strategy will be published shortly following consideration by the CILIP Board. The Workforce Survey CILIP and ARA (Archives & Records Association)  jointly sponsored highlighted a number of challenges and inequities that the information profession needs to address in terms of lack of diversity within the information workforce and barriers to achievement.

I must also mention the work of my colleague Martyn Wade, a CILIP Trustee and previously Chair of the CILIP Board. He is leading a CILIP Inquiry into privacy and exploring the role of the information professional in underpinning and promoting this in their work, feeding into the Ethics Review at an appropriate stage.

Each of these three initiatives look at the values of our profession and will be mutually reinforcing

Our Approach

There are a number of ways the Big Conversation on Ethics will be taken forward. CILIP will be arranging workshops as well as inviting our member networks and other interested groups and organisations to undertake their own workshops. A survey is now open for completion and we are aiming for as wide a distribution as possible across the profession. Later in the Review there will be further opportunities to discuss the findings and issues raised earlier in the project.

There are two characteristics of this conversation that I wish to highlight. First we want our discussion to be issues-based rather than theoretically driven. We want any resulting ethical framework to be grounded in the realities of working life. Therefore we are collecting the key issues of importance within the profession. Privacy and equalities have already been mentioned, but others might include the poor funding of library services, child protection issues, internet neutrality, the capacity and skills of staff, users abusing copyright amongst others. I am sure you will have plenty of issues to add and I look forward to hearing them.

We hope to build and evaluate an ethical framework based on how able it is to help addressing these challenges. However it is also important to recognise that ethics cannot offer absolutes but only a set of guiding principles that, in many cases, may need to be balanced against each other when trying to resolve a problem. So the principle of privacy, for instance. can be seen as a limitation on freedom of access to information in one instance, but an important prerequisite to allow enquirers to undertake the searches they really want in another.

The second characteristic is that of inclusion. The Ethics Committee determined that this should be part of the design principles of the Ethics Review from the outset. We want all parts of the information profession to be included whether librarian, knowledge and information manager or data manager. We are also committed to ensuring that the voices of some minority groups, too easily forgetten, are definitely included in the Review. This includes those who are new professionals, people with disabilities, those from minority ethnic groups and those identifying as belonging to the LGBT communities. Any help you can offer in reaching these communities will be gratefully received.

Over to You

I find the Ethics Review immensely exciting. I hope for a challenging and rewarding journey that enables us to develop and embrace a new ethical framework with confidence and pride. Please do contribute in any way you can. You can start by completing the Ethics Review Survey and look out for opportunities to participate in a workshop. Later in the year there will be the discussion on social media. You can also send any ideas or comments you may have to

In anticipation and thanks




Image reference: Ethics by  photographed by Orietta Sberla on Wikipedia Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0), cropped and resized.

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