As a Resident Assistant (and later Head Resident Assistant of New Student Programming) at Hollins University, I first learned of the concept of structured professional and institutional values. The department of Housing and Residence Life at my undergraduate alma mater used the acronym SLICE to define a set of five values to which the Housing and Residence Life team, from Resident Assistants to the Director of Housing and Residence Life, would aspire. As these five values had such an impact on me as I moved from a life of almost pure academia to a life more situated in the professional realm and graduate school, I carried them with me. Today, I see them as the central part of my professional philosophy.
The S in the acronym stands for service. Service is such an inherently large part of being an information professional, especially for those of us who work with our patrons or customers face-to-face. While we all, in some sense, accomplish some aspect of service in our work for our libraries, information centers, and other institutions, it never feels so evident to me as when I am interacting with an individual in need of assistance or information. As I intend to spend the bulk of my career in public libraries, I anticipate a great deal of public service in my future. A broad term, service ultimately amounts to giving time, energy, and thought into providing goods – tangible or not – to another. In the public library, this could mean assisting a child in finding materials for a school project, performing reader’s advisory for a voracious teen reader, directing an adult to resources on travelling to Europe, or designing a social program for seniors in the community. Putting heart and sincerity into each action ensures valuable service and I believe upholding this value makes for an excellent professional.
Leadership follows service. As public libraries are often a part of the local government structure, community members may look to public library employees to provide an example for the community while also representing local government. Both of these tasks are instances of leadership, which can take forms that go well beyond directing a group of people. Leadership may be found, too, in circumstances in which information professionals provide guidance on things such as information literacy. The explanation of similar concepts (intellectual freedom being another) demonstrates to patrons and customers the values of librarianship. In enacting these values, we provide instances of leadership. In a more traditional sense, information professionals may regularly be leaders as individuals who lead library programs and events or employees with leadership positions in the form of management or supervision.
As the communities which libraries serve grow and change, inclusivity, the next value, becomes increasingly vital. Though we should certainly go beyond representing just the identities found in our communities to give the opportunity to explore identities that exist outside our communities, providing, at an absolute minimum, ample representation of the identities present in our communities is crucial. The library, without showing a commitment to serving all kinds of people, puts itself in the position of appearing as if it does not value each community member. Diversity is broader than race. We must be cognizant of abilities, incomes/classes, gender identities, sexual orientations, national origins, religions, and other identifiers and markers that differ from our own. Information professionals can accomplish this in a multitude of ways including through a commitment to a collection which reflects the diversity of the community that it serves, ensuring buildings and materials are accessible to all, employing a diverse staff, offering a variety of programs, and, most importantly, continuing to engage and listen to individuals who are different from ourselves, with special care to attend to feedback, both positive and negative.
Creativity comes in all forms in the information profession as the fourth value. Although few people may realize it, the work of an information professional is often routed in creativity. Research frequently comes down to solving a problem, in which the problem is a gap in information. Because different strategies work best with different databases and information retrieval systems, the information professional must be able to work around barriers in these systems. This requires creative problem-solving. Whether we employ standard search strategies or try something entirely new in order to hunt down specific information, the decisions we make in seeking information (among other creative problem-solving inherent in any information profession or job) are part of a creative process. Creativity, of course, comes into play outside the realm of reference work. Information professionals may be creative while cataloging materials, selecting items for a collection, planning programs, or enacting any other duty. Although information professionals study Library and Information Science, we are also very much library and information artists.
The final value of the five is exploration. Libraries, deeply entrenched in the need to keep up with the latest technologies to best serve their communities, must be staffed with equally up-to-date employees. In pursuit of this endeavor, information professionals should constantly explore trends, development, and new aspects in their and tangential fields. Whether reading magazines on the latest and greatest in technology or attending a conference on publishing, each step into a deeper understanding of a subsection of library and information science brings the information professional into an opportunity to explore. Exploration need not only occur outside the self, but can work inwardly as well. By exploring our own biases, passions, and general selves we can work to decrease those biases in professional environments, acknowledge our passions to build upon them in productive ways, and address other issues within to provide the best possible service to customers and patrons. With ongoing exploration, not only will the individual grow, but so will the environment in which the individual works.
These values sit as the foundation of my professional philosophy. The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics (2008) is another excellent source of professional philosophy guidelines. While all of these ethics are excellent principles to uphold, I am struck by a particular few. The first which resonates with me most deeply is listed as the second ethic. “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” This commitment can be not only difficult, but dangerous. As a high-stress matter, protecting library materials from challenges or attempted banning may lead to threats or loss of job in some instances. Refusing to allow censorship in the library, however, is a crucial piece of providing a well-rounded and informative collection for a whole community. Additionally, information professionals must strive not to censor materials, regardless of their own beliefs.
The ethic which follows in the American Library Association’s list refers to the privacy. “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted” (2008). While it can be easy to show the name of a book one patron was asking about to another who overheard the conversation and was curious, doing so would be in violation of this ethic. Information professionals should be vigilant about not allowing a desire to help someone or provide someone with information override the right to another’s privacy. The pressure is often greater in cases in which law enforcement request patron information. Even then, we must stand up to the destruction of patron privacy.
The seventh of the ethics listed by the American Library Association reads, “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources” (2008). This echoes an earlier sentiment, but I feel it is worth repeating with the language used by the American Library Association. As information professionals, we are, like other employees, representatives of our places of work. For a healthy and productive work environment, we must uphold the values of our places of work regardless of what personal values we hold. Generally, information professionals should take the values of any work place into consideration when determining whether or not to submit an application to work in an environment and whether or not to accept an offered position.
The few values listed above are only a very basic introduction to all of the many elements that go into making an admiral information professional. It is with these values that I hope to continue to grow in a public library environment. With commitment to professional excellence, I intend to work in a capacity which allows me to interact with the public regularly while providing variety throughout my career. Though I began my pursuit of my MLIS with a sole interest in young adult services, my curiosities have pushed me to explore other options. Now, with the right environment, I’d just as soon consider working with adults, seniors, and children. My primary focus remains in reference and programming, though ruling out any given position at this point would certainly detract from exploration as discussed above. Therefore, I intend to remain open about the possibilities ahead. The documents included in this ePortfolio often highlight issues of youth services and intellectual freedom, as these are two of my most ardent interests in the field. However, given my general curiosity of other subtopics in Library and Information Science, other concepts also make appearances. The inclusion of a wide breadth of specific disciplines not only indicates my interest in trying new things and ideas, but of my ability to do so.
With the evidence supplied in this ePortfolio, I’ve demonstrated a commitment to these values and given the basic structural concept of what I see as the library’s role in the community. In short, the public library can and should be not only a place of static information, but of service, leadership, inclusivity, creativity, exploration, with the expectation of the freedom to discover and learn as well as privacy, respect, and fairness. These values and principles should be upheld on both sides of the staff member/customer divide. The library – and by extension, information professionals – is about not only connecting individuals to information in books, but to information in technology and in other human beings. It is this last connection between people that impresses upon me the importance of the library as a builder of the community.
American Library Association. (2008). Code of ethics of the American Library Association. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics