Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship
Code of Ethics History and Approval
By Richard A. Lyders, AHIP
A code of ethics is the hallmark of any profession. Other library associations have recognized that without a code, their professionalism can be questioned and thus have developed codes of ethics that reflect their particular perspectives on the information field.
The MLA Board of Directors believes that health sciences librarians also face ethical issues unique to their discipline and that a code of ethics for health sciences librarianship is necessary. The MLA Ethics Task Force would like the membership to be familiar with the history of the development of the code of ethics.
In 1984, the MLA Board appointed an ad hoc committee to develop a code of ethics that would guide the health sciences librarians on the principles of humanitarian service, nondiscrimination, confidentiality, competence, and accountability.
In 1987, that committee submitted a draft code of ethics to the Board of Directors, which was accepted with appreciation. A board task force was appointed to make recommendations concerning further actions to be taken.
In 1987, the board recommended not pursuing adoption of a code at that time, because there was not significant interest among the members in a code of ethics. At the 1990 Annual Meeting, the "Libraries and Society" track devoted part of its program to a discussion of ethics for medical librarianship. Members attending this track felt strongly that the time had come to debate the value and significance of an MLA code of ethics.
The following motion was presented and adopted by members attending the 1990 Annual Meeting business session: "Moved, by members attending the ethical issues portion of the 'Libraries and Society' track of the 1990 Annual Meeting, that the Board of Directors consider establishing an ad hoc task force on ethical issues to explore ways to continue and increase association activity in professional ethics."
The board appointed an ad hoc committee to develop an action plan for seeking membership response to the 1987 draft code of ethics. The 1987 code was published in the MLA News, and member feedback was solicited. The code was revised based upon the feedback from that publication, and the document was discussed at an open forum at the 1992 Annual Meeting.
This open forum resulted in questions, suggestions, corrections, and open-ended unresolved issues. Therefore, a vote was taken, which approved using the code as a platform for further wording changes. This ad hoc committee had accomplished its goal of bringing the code before membership for input.
In June 1992, then-President Jackie Bastille appointed an Ethics Task Force, charged with preparing a code of ethics for the profession. The task force developed a first draft of the code in January 1993, and presented it to the membership at an open forum at the 1993 Annual Meeting.
This draft was put on the MEDLIB listserv in June and was discussed at fall chapter meetings. The task force incorporated comments from these discussions, and the revised version was approved by the board at its midwinter meeting in February 1994.
The code of ethics which you have before you today is the result of those communications. While the present draft code of ethics is very different from the 1987 document, the vision and commitment of all the individuals involved in the evolution of the present code over the past ten years deserve our recognition and thanks.
A code of ethics should enable a health sciences librarian to say, "This is what my profession says I should do. This code gives me the ethical standards I need to enable me to determine the right thing to do in my practice."
The code will not tell you the specifics of practice, however. It cannot give you a specific answer to a specific situation, but it will give you an ethical standard against which you can judge your question, your ethical dilemma, your ethical difficulty and, thus, help you decide how to act. Your conscience and your code should go hand in hand to help you determine how to practice your profession ethically.
The motion to adopt the Medical Library Association Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship was carried with a large majority.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2010 March 30