In the field of Library and Information Science, the term reference service: is a key concept. The concept is defined by Reitz (2004) as all the functions performed by a trained librarian in the reference section of a library to meet the information needs of its various patrons. A basic function in reference service is the provision of various information sources, such as books, academic journals and magazines upon the request of library patrons; however, an issue arises when the requested information resource contains private records and information or sensitive subject matter such as the making of bombs, child pornography or suicide. The situation described raises a question: should a librarian provide the requested sensitive information, or should it be filtered or, in some cases, barred from being accessed by library patrons? This paper argues that a librarian should filter information resources presented to library patrons, based on professional, ethical and legal arguments.
Before arguing for or against the filtering of information, the context and state of discussion and argument within the sphere of Library and Information Science must be defined. Examining various papers of librarians such as Coyle (1995), a librarian against censorship who states that the rejection and censorship of works and titles based on what people find acceptable, offensive or distasteful would stifle the progress of human thought and study because of the exclusion of information from opposing viewpoints, and Ashein (1953) who advocates selection, stating that a librarian who filters information resources of the library for the protection of the community it belongs to is practicing responsible selection, not censorship, it can be seen that there is an argument within the profession of librarianship; the critics of filtering information, many of them librarians, would call it censorship or even fascism, but its advocates, also with librarians among their ranks, call it responsible selection, an essential function of librarianship.
With the presented discussion and context within the world of professional librarianship, one can conclude that this is a pressing and important matter; but for what reason exactly? Curry (1997) states that the discussion and answer to the issue of the filtering of information is important because aside from the intellectual and academic implications of the use vs non-use of information resources, the discussion touches upon the very roots and ethics of librarianship as a service oriented profession who serves its clientele by giving them the information resources; the issue can be seen as an exercise in upholding the concept of “librarianship” and its accompanying ethics by a librarian in the real world, with real consequences. With that idea in mind, in order to reach a conclusion on the topic of filtering information, one must first define librarianship and its code of ethics, because it is the standard with which to compare the course of action taken by a librarian.
In the Atlas of New Librarianship, Librarianship is defined by Lankes (2011) as something beyond a job; rather he describes it as the mission to improve society through the facilitation of knowledge creation in the community that a library serves. In addition, Fourie and Dowell (2002) states the fact that with the information age comes new technology and new mediums of information, deviating from the original state of mainly providing physical resources such as books and magazines; however, the task of the librarian still remains the same in its essence, that
is, the provision of information to the clients within the community to assist in knowledge building . Both of the stated ideas, among many others, state a fundamental truth about what librarianship really is: it is a profession that aims to provide for the information needs of its patrons for reasons of maintaining and facilitating the growth of the community in which it belongs to.
Along with the given definitions of librarianship comes a code of ethics, provided by many organizations of librarianship in order to guide librarians with their decision making within the communities that they serve. An example would be the code of ethics provided by the Philippine Librarian’s Association, Inc. (PLAI) thru Philippine Law (Code of Ethics for Librarians, 2006), which summarily states the responsibility of the librarian to always prioritize the growth, development and continued existence of society and the country, the profession, creators of
information and the users whom they serve. Another code of ethics with a similar albeit greater scope would be the code of ethics set by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), which states similar principles, acknowledging the primary role of the library in serving the society and community it belongs to, by balancing the provision of the information needs of clients while considering the laws and security of the community when they provide information to those who seek it. All in all, code of ethics for librarians, whether local or international, can be
summarized with one idea: the actions of librarians must be guided by the principles of service to the community in which they belong.
Having laid down the definition, rationale and ethics that drives the profession of librarianship, one can now apply them to examine various cases and discourse within the field; in this paper, it shall be used to analyze the appearance and conclusion of real life situation regarding the topic of Information Filtering. This paper shall present and analyze three cases, and the analysis, along with the set criteria and definition of librarianship and its code of ethics, shall be used to conclude a stance on the matter of Information Filtering.
For the first case, the legal battle the of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for a Library Connection, a library consortium in Connecticut (Government Drops Demand for Library Records, 2006), is to be examined. In the case, a consortium consisting of twenty-six libraries from Connecticut appealed to the ACLU for legal assistance when a National Security Letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) demanded that librarians release private library patron records, as well as silenced them from speaking about the said National Security Letter. The case ended in favor of the librarians, maintaining their right to restrict access to private information for the safety of library patrons, as well as releasing the contents of the National Security Letter for public scrutiny. The case also motivated the ACLU and the library consortium to pursue the declassification and release of all documents relating to the order from the FBI, believing that the public has the right to know about an attempted invasion of their
For the second case, the amendment by Feinstein to Chapter 40 of Title 18 of the United States Code (18 U.S.C. § 842) can provide more insight on the topic of Information Filtering. In the amendment to Chapter 40 of Title 18 of the United States Code, it is stated that it is illegal for an individual or group to instruct or provide information regarding the creation or utilization of destructive devices and explosives if there is harmful intent or considerable reason to suspect so; these individuals or groups include information professionals, such as librarians, as well as the
institutions that they belong to. Since the institution of this amendment, no individual library or librarian, library profession groups or library consortia has raised protest or attempted to remove the said policy. This lack of resistance is, in all likelihood, a result of the community of information professionals finding the parameters of the amendment reasonable in pursuit of the betterment of the communities that they serve.
For the last case, the case of Larry Rivers’ collection in the New York University in the related information profession field of the archives is to be examined; this can give deeper insight on the state of information filtering in librarianship as well as its allied information professions. In the case, the artist Larry Rivers bequeathed his collection of various pieces of artwork to the archives of the New York University; the artwork included, among others, explicit underage photographs of his two daughters. The daughters of the artist appealed to the university to not display the photographs and to give them ownership, sparking debates on the nature and limits of what can
be considered art. The matter was resolved with the university compromising to not display the photographs, but refusing to give ownership to the daughters, citing their responsibility to preserve the integrity of the collection bequeathed to them by an artist.
All in all, in the three cases presented, the line of reasoning and action used was different. In the first case, the libraries fought against the mandatory release of information because they believed in the right of patrons to privacy. In the second case, the amendment was accepted without resistance, which is an outcome likely caused by information professionals and institutions finding the amendment reasonable. In the third case, the institution agreed on a compromise that would respect the rights of the aggravated party, as well as maintain their duty to preserve information. However, despite the difference in reasoning and action, one conclusion was reached in all of the cases: the filtering of information needs to be done. This conclusion was reached by various respected information institutions with consideration to the facts and context of their cases, passing down decisions as institutions composed of trained information professionals.
In addition to the previous analysis, a consideration of the definition of librarianship and code of ethics is also in order. In the previously given definitions, it can be seen that librarianship is a service oriented profession that primarily thinks of the well-being of the community it belongs to as it gives its services. Meanwhile, it can be seen in the two presented code of ethics of PLAI and IFLA that librarians are entrusted the duty of ensuring the betterment of the community or group that they serve by providing for the information needs of their clients, as well as judging the best course of action by weighing risks and context when sensitive matters regarding security arise. It can be seen that these criteria were met by the analyzed cases, since the information professionals in question judged the situation based on the context and facts, and came up with the decision of filtering information since it was deemed to be the action that best served the clients and community of their institution.
In conclusion, after defining the professional and ethical parameters of librarianship, presenting cases of information filtering, and analyzing and comparing them, it can be seen that Information Filtering is a reasonable or even necessary course of action chosen by information professional to handle matters of privacy or sensitive information. This is done to fulfill their duty to the community or group that they belong to; that is, the duty to act in the best interest of the community by ensuring a balance between the provision of their various information needs, as well as the need to preserve their security and privacy when sensitive information is involved.
Asheim, L. (1953). Not censorship but selection. Wilson Library Bulletin, 28(1), 63-67.
Board of Librarians. (2006, November 27). Code of Ethics of Librarians.
Coyle, K. (1995, April & may). Libraries and Censorship. Speech. Retrieved from
Curry, A. (1997). The limits of tolerance: censorship and intellectual freedom in public
libraries. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.
Fourie, D. K., & Dowell, D. R. (2002). Libraries in the information age: An introduction
and career exploration. Greenwood Village, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Government Drops Demand for Library Records. (2006, June 26). Retrieved from
Importation, Manufacture, Distribution and Storage of Explosive Materials, 18 U.S.C. §
Lankes, R. D. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Professional Codes of Ethics for Librarians. (n.d.).
Reitz, J. M. (2004). Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Retrieved from
http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_r.aspx Published by ABC CLIO, LLC
White, J. N. (2011). Kiddie Porn in the Gallery: Defending the Artist’s Corpus or
Invading the Corporal Integrity of the Subject. Vill. Sports & Ent. LJ, 18, 683.