Legal and ethical issues of information service delivery and library information science professionals in university libraries in Nigeria.

Author:Mbofung, Ucha


Library service delivery involves individuals who have expectations of the library and information science professionals in such ways as how they relate and behave towards the users, colleagues, their organisations and entire society. A visible outcome of the recent trends in information service is that on daily basis, professional and technological developments create more serious challenges and opportunities to draw on for the library and information professionals. The challenges have necessitated drastic changes in legal knowledge and ethical skills acquisitions for older and newly employed librarians to enable them improve their capabilities. Library and information science professionals need to adapt, embrace the current changes and still be effective and survive or else become redundant. Therefore, the professionals' burden of being held to a heightened standard of care, if not well aligned with appropriate skills, poses challenges to information service delivery.

Ethical concerns for the information profession arose from the social responsibility debate of the 1960s (DuMont, 1991). Library and information science professionals, as providers of information, require awareness of the growing complexity in legal and ethical issues and values manifested through the relationship between the professional duties and the society. The values are often embedded in the numerous concepts of information and professional ethics. Knowledge of these values with a commitment to upholding individual and collective responsibilities towards knowledge access and provision; doing right and upholding professionalism form the foundation to quality service delivery.

This shift places a focus on identifying some of the principles, obligations and behaviours which cause workplace problems and dilemmas. Working with an ethical framework demonstrates an understanding of common laws relevant to work role and particularly information service delivery. The performance criteria expect rights of the clients are protected when delivering service regardless of personal values, beliefs and attitudes. These underpin the ability of the library and information science professional to apply effective problem solving techniques when exposed to competing value systems, and ensuring that legal and ethical dilemmas are recognised and discussed appropriately.

Studies on legal and ethical considerations of information provision and services have focused extensively on responsibilities, principles, professionalism but less on the actual workplace application that should sustain the actions and decisions taken by library professionals. Shachaf (2005) concluded in part that attention should be focused on the implementation of the codes of ethics in order to determine the extent the codes are known by professionals in each country and the influence of the codes on the practitioners. This study therefore, examines awareness of some of the principles endorsed in the professional codes that support a more legal and ethical workplace and whether the library and information science professionals (LIS) in federal universities in Nigeria are practicing them in information service delivery

Literature Review

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with moral principles of behavior or conduct of individuals in society. Ethics defines and provides ideas that sustain action that is good and right in terms of obligation, fairness and benefits to society (Wengert 2001; Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics 2010). Laws are enacted to address the principles and values that regulate behaviour with respect to what is right or wrong (Pollack, and Hartzel, 2006).Therefore, in practice, these laws support a more legal and ethical workplace providing a clear guiding philosophy (Shachaf, 2005) especially when making decisions.

Good knowledge of legal and ethical issues of information service delivery is acquired through education. Courses in information ethics must be part of the education of information professionals (Fallis, 2007). According to Smith (1997), Halawi and Karkoulian (2006) information ethics investigates legal and ethical issues arising from the development and application of technologies in the creation, collection, recording, distribution, conservation, copyright and access of information. It provides a critical framework for considering moral issues concerning information privacy and new environmental issues. Information ethics for the library professional has also focused attention on censorship, collection development, and intellectual freedom, equitable access, information privacy, intellectual property and problem patrons (Mason, 1986; Hauptman, 1988; Fallis 2007). On the premise of the diversified content, Smith (1997) argued that information ethics may become the umbrella name that unifies network ethics, machine ethics, cyber ethics as well as areas of applied ethics in information science including library and information science. The outcome is that dilemma would also be created by these systems and LIS professionals would still take principle based decisions.

Hannabuss, 1996, Smith (2001), and Fallis, (2007) support the need to teach library and information ethics on the premise that professionalism in librarianship assumes the awareness and application of ethical standards. Secondly, dealing with information products and services implicate practitioners in ethical and legal issues that cause dilemma and require systematic decision-making. Therefore, teaching information ethics represents a number of intellectual and administrative challenges which are associated with possessing relevant knowledge in preparation to implementing legal and ethical principles in information service.

The relevance and awareness of legal and ethical principles of information service delivery is significant, particularly in Nigeria and Africa at large. Ochalla (2009) examined in-depth the stand of Africa information ethics education within over sixty library and information science schools. Partially, the study addressed who should be taught; the education course content and the duration of teaching. The findings support earlier reports which argue that because information ethics threads through all human activities that generate, process, store, disseminate and use information and knowledge, everyone working in the information and knowledge industry, including consumers of knowledge products and services should undergo information ethics education.

Apart from information ethics, international librarianship recognises the establishment and implementation of professional codes. IFLA's focus on professional ethics has led to construction of distinctive body of specialised knowledge and skills, production of code of ethics which librarians and other information workers can use for policies and handle dilemmas. The code also encourages reflection on principles that improve professional awareness and providing transparency to users and society in general (International Federation of Library Associations, 2004). In many countries, library associations have developed and approved national codes (Shachaf, 2005) to assist LIS professionals achieve a standard of behaviour that reflects their professional values, good governance, integrity and honest accountability (Botswana Library Association, 2010). These codes emphasise the same broad principles. Generally, the uses of the codes include: providing guidance for dealing with ethical issues that are not addressed by the domain of codified law but that should not be left to the domain of free choice (Shachaf, 2005); getting legal support intended to protect the profession, individual practitioners and their clients and ensure policies are legal; serving as a point of reference when dealing with disciplinary procedures against members by ensuring ethical treatment of employees and lastly, supporting personal self-development. Ford and Richardson, 1994; Luciano, 1999 opined that the usefulness of the professional codes seems to be effective when accompanied by good policies and clear sanctions as stimulus for ethical conduct to members.

However, as many as the uses may appear, the codes have their limitations depending on the type of codes of ethics (Froehlich, 1997). Many library association codes are both inspirational and educational as they tend to empower individuals to be ethical by presenting an ideal that individuals should attempt to reach (Koehler and Pemberton, 2000). Although the strengths of the codes are generally obvious and modest, the principles often expressed in broad guideline statements have elements of vagueness; at times relatively brief leading to a loss in the reasoning in the final version (Rubin, 1991), sometimes they prove controversial with employees voicing that they are too lengthy and over-prescriptive (Warren and Oppenheim, 2004). Attempts to interpret the code in the myriad situations or apply them in different locations create dilemmas arising from conflict in values (Symons and Stoffle, 1998; American Library Association, 2009) even for the professional. Therefore, one should bear in mind that legal and ethical standards may be universal, but not absolute and subject to modifications. They should be seen as end product for justifiable decision-making for well being of individuals and society.

Studies have indicated that there are difficulties discussing legal and ethical issues particularly so related to information service delivery and a discussion on a particular ethical concern draws on others (Fernandez-Molina, 2000). It becomes obvious that there will be many ways of examining legal and ethical issues of information service delivery of LIS professionals. The examination can be client expectations versus professional responsibilities to make sure that the information they are giving is accurate, reliable and that they are providing this information equally...

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