Library Leadership

101. Library Ethics with Gail Santy, Maribeth Shafer and Patty Collins

Do you prepare for handling ethics situations in your library before they arise? On this show Gail Santy, Maribeth Shafer, and Patty Collins, from the Central Kansas Library System, share why this is a good idea and how to do it. When you are faced with a situation that challenges core policies and library ethics you will be ready if you apply the practical advice offered in this conversation.

Transcript

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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Do you prepare for handling ethics situations in your library before they arise? On this show Gail Santy, Maribeth Shafer, and Patty Collins, from the Central Kansas Library System, share why this is a good idea—and how to do it. When you are faced with a situation that challenges core policies and library ethics, you’ll be ready if you apply the practical advice offered in this conversation. Enjoy the show!

Hello Gail, Maribeth, and Patty. Welcome to the show.

Gail Santy:

Hello, it’s great to be here with you, Adriane.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: Well, I’m happy to have you here. And, today we’re talking about library ethics. You recently gave a conference presentation that encouraged librarians to think about ethic situations before they arise. Why is it important to think through some of these things before you need them, Gail?  01:32 

Gail Santy:

Very few of us do our best thinking on our feet. Library ethics is a basic tenet of our profession. I firmly believe that you are a librarian no matter what your educational status. If you work in a library—you’re a librarian. That’s what the public calls us, and that’s what we are. If you’re a librarian you need to start considering yourself as a library professional. 

As a library professional, you need to be well grounded in things like the philosophy of our profession, the ethics and more. To me, I’m a practicing librarian and knowing things like the Library Bill of Rights—just that it exists, that’s a great comfort to me. If you look at the Library Bill of Rights you can see that a lot of changes were made during really tumultuous times in history. Knowing that librarians, out there, were working hard to preserve intellectual freedom through the dawn, and ongoing with this living document—that makes me feel like I’m not out here alone when I’m doing the hard work that we have to do.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: Yes. And Gail, you encourage librarians to have policies in place to help guide the ways that we deal with ethical questions in libraries. So, what kind of policies can help us? And, can you give any examples?  02:54 

Gail Santy:

Well, I love policies. I always consider that policies are the safety net for the library staff. It’s one way that the library director, and the board, can show that they care personally about the staff and the patrons.

Also, top of my head—a must-have list is going to include something like customer, or patron behavior, or expectations. A customer service policy that is a commitment to our patrons that says, This is what we’re going to do for you. That’s one that you don’t often see, but I think it’s important that our patrons know that we’re committed to providing good customer service to them, an unattended child, or vulnerable adult. 

The Library Bill of Rights, the freedom to read, and freedom to view—I believe that those three need to be in the policy manual because that codifies them and makes them official library documents. There’s got to be a policy on collection management, which is going to include anything on challenged materials, meeting room, and displays, and every library—no matter how big or how small, needs an employee handbook. In my opinion, the employee handbook is the number one way of communication between administration and governance, which would be the director and board, with library employees.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: Marybeth, how should we involve our boards, or decision-making bodies, when it comes to preparing for handling library ethics?  04:23 

Maribeth Shafer:

Well, as we train more and more boards, we’ve seen that many boards don’t really understand what library workers do, and what we have to deal with on a regular basis. So, it’s important to make board training a priority. 

Adding continuing education to the board meeting agenda, and taking time during your meetings to train your board members is really important. We suggest you use a consent agenda so that you don’t have to rehash the pass with the minutes, financials, director’s report, and instead take your meeting time and focus on the new stuff in board training.

Ethics training—if you run through an ethical scenario with them once a month they’ll really start to get the hang of it, and start thinking in a way that takes professional values and applies them to everyday library life.

So, maybe take an incident from the past month, anonymize it, and then ask them the questions—walk it through with your board. What was the issue? Why did staff handle it the way that they did? What facts need to be taken into consideration? How would you handle a similar situation in the future—the same way, or differently, and why?

With training—using real-life scenarios, boards are going to gain that confidence, but also a broader understanding of library ethics. They’ll learn to differentiate between professional ethics, and personal values, and then how to respect those of others.

They’ll also be able to create policies that promote those ethics and serve every member of the community fairly. They will help boards make decisions that are best for the communities and fits the communities’ needs.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: Patty, what happens when we have a grey area, or there are differences in beliefs between staff and policy?  06:01 

Patty Collins:

Well, we can’t say it enough—staff training is the key. During our trainings we talk about how our personal, and professional ethics collide. That’s human nature, but training truly is the key. Policy manuals need to be at the ready, and all staff members need to read and understand the policies, and ask if they really don’t understand. 

Staff should be involved in writing procedures to implement the policies as it helps to achieve buy-in. It is easier to enforce something you might disagree with if you truly understand why. 

Staff also need to know and understand the library’s mission and vision statements. Frankly, in some situations a staff, or a board member’s personal beliefs are in such conflict with those of the organization that they might decide moving forward isn’t possible in their current role. As we’ve said, staff at every level are seen as library professionals in their community and by their patrons. All library staff need to understand the basic tenets of the profession, including things like intellectual freedom, which is often one of our greatest areas.

Finally, relationship-building is essential so everyone is one the same page. Good relationships between the library director and staff, and the library director and the board of trustees are essential. When a patron walks in the door and is unhappy, or wanting to challenge an item, or even a policy, staff need to be able to rely on one another, and also know who’s going to have their back when things get tense.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: Marybeth, how can libraries conduct continuing education to keep everyone in our organizations prepared to deal with ethical situations?  07:30 

Maribeth Shafer:

Well, as with anything in life, adding one more thing into your workweek is a challenge. However, if you schedule in continuing education—make the time for it, you can build a staff that is competent and professional in ethics. 

A full staff inservice day of training would be beneficial, but may not be feasible. So, perhaps taking ten to fifteen minutes at every monthly staff meeting is a more attainable goal. 

Seek out good training and bring it to your staff. Discuss the training, and practice it. What would you do? What would you say? Did you think about this option, or what about that? Have your staff help craft the scripted language, because together you will create a script which the employee is most comfortable using in real-life situations.

If you’re a solo librarian, find your collaborator—a colleague from a library down the road or in the next county, or a friend from a library conference, or someone you know in a different state. Work together through these situations, and help each other find out what works best, and practice it together.

Also, bring in your board to discuss these situations. Maybe once a year you have staff, and board, practice scenarios together. Give each a chance, not only to work together and get to know each other, but learn from each other and benefit from their perspectives and experiences.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Patty, in your presentation you talked about running through scenarios for handling ethics situations. Can you talk about why this can be useful, and what it looks like?  08:59 

Patty Collins:

I spent many years as a frontline manager, and have to say implementing this type of training was probably my greatest achievement in one of those libraries. The training came about totally by accident, which is what happens with a lot of our library work. I was witnessing a staff member who was floundering as she spoke on the phone with a parent about what was checked on her teenage daughter’s library card. In our building only the library card holder could obtain that information.

After the call ended, I sat down and helped the clerk find out some ways to answer, but not answer that particular question. I provided several examples of scripted language, and gave her several situations where providing such information could be detrimental, or perhaps even dangerous. 

Together we practiced, and practiced. We practiced several ways to answer the question, which quickly led to other questions, and new scenarios that we talked about. In this case, the staff member was new to libraries, and didn’t really understand the why of what we did in libraries. 

I learned that I needed to change how I trained staff. I needed to teach the why, as well as the how. Scenarios became part of my onboarding process for all new staff. I found that this lowered staff anxiety, and increased confidence in their situations as they worked with the public. 

So, when we talk about these scenarios, they’re from real-life situations. We always say we can’t make this stuff up, but we know that if you practice—and we’re going to give you the tools to address these situations, you can address them more confidently and best serve your public.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: Gail, this has all been so insightful. Is there anything else you’d like to share?  10:39  

Gail Santy:

Honestly, I know that Patty, and Maribeth, and I could sit around and discuss this stuff all day—and frequently, and honestly, we have. I’m passionate about training and empowering library workers at all levels. I find that makes a really big difference in retention, and job satisfaction. And, be sure to appreciate your library workers. Read up on things like The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. And, as a leader it will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: And Gail, do you have any favorite management or leadership books, or resources, and why?  11:12 

Gail Santy:

I love anything about servant leadership, as I just said,The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace—and especially Radical Candor, by Kim Scott. I know my colleagues, Patty, would say anything by Ryan Dowd—to include his free email newsletter, and Crucial Conversations is another good one as well.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9: In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally?  11:37 

Gail Santy:

I can’t imagine a world without libraries. I grew up in a very economically challenged, and very transient family. Libraries were my lifeline.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Wow, absolutely. Well, Gail, Maribeth, and Patty, it’s been fantastic having you on the show today to talk about library ethics. It’s something we should be thinking about all the time, but you’ve given us some foundations. And especially, an invitation to practice these conversations. So, thank you for being here with me today.

Gail Santy:

Adriane, it was our pleasure. Thanks for inviting us.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

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