FA:14 LIBR:200-19 BLOG #5 ETHICS

Library staff is obligated to follow ethical and legal standards other industries may not have to adhere to. However, the workplace is the workplace and there are ethical and legal standards that must be met across all industries.

Take the issue of privacy. There is a lot of debate in the library world about patron privacy. More generally the privacy of personal emails or phone calls from workstations and while using workplace property is being discussed. This is not the privacy issue I want to address. The privacy I am speaking of is something more delicate, more private, and possibly more hazy than either of those privacy issues. This issue of privacy relates to the individual taking time off.

We all take time off work or I would hope we do. When we take time off, it can be for a variety of reasons. It could be that there has been a once in a lifetime trip planned that will keep someone out of the office for 2,3, maybe even 4 weeks. Or someone may be taking a trip for a week to visit grandma. Or maybe the opportunity to escape for the long weekend has landed in another’s lap just a day or two before. On the other hand, there are seasonal illnesses, unexpected injuries, other medical reasons that create an absence in the workplace. There are deaths in the family and births. Maybe someone is to serve on a jury or a grand jury. So my question is, what expectation of privacy do we have when it comes to taking time off? There is a right to privacy here and how does it apply?

In answering that question it must be taken into account that we are people, who, more often than not, care about the people we work with. We are enmeshed in their lives to varying degrees. Familiarity develops with time because of proximity and a shared purpose. When though does concern for a coworker step over the privacy line? Consider the following situation.

A person takes time off because a family member is ill and needs to care for that person. Through permission or self revelation staff know why the person was to be absent. Time goes by. More time goes by. The expected return date goes by. Many are wondering, some among themselves, why the person is still gone. “Does anyone know what happened?” and such questions are asked. No one hears. So using common knowledge a coworker searches the internet looking for answers and finds out that their colleague has not returned because the person they were going to help in their illness has tragically died.

Instead of keeping this information private, or waiting for a supervisor or human resources to share this loss, that same person then proceeds to inform all of the other coworkers, person after person of the death and of how their clever research precipitated that information. Although, there has been no official notification from management or human resources, staff are now organizing a sympathy card, and memorial. Management does nothing to reprimand this, and participates in the discussions of how sad and what to do. The several people that feel a line has been breeched, do mention the fact that, this knowledge is really unreleased private information that should be respected. But the planning goes on. At some point the person returns and is gracious and thankful for the kindness shown.

What is right in this situation? Was it right to research this individual? Was it right to share the information? Would this person have a grievance?

“And even if there is no specific law, a right to privacy can be based on the legal common law concept of having a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” (Gross, 2012)

Libraries and librarians strive to promote uphold both the right to intellectual freedom and the right to privacy. “Intellectual freedom as a concept in librarianship means freedom to think or believe what one will, freedom to express one’s thoughts and beliefs in unrestricted manners and means, and freedom to access information an ideas regardless of the content or viewpoints of the author(s) or the age, background or beliefs of the receiver” (Dresang, 2006).

I don’t have the answer. I suppose the answer lies in the individuals themselves. It does cause me to think twice about how to behave. Does that person have a grievance that could be filed? Or is this just the reality of living in the information age? I would say yes. I would say no.

Dresang, E. (2006). Intellectual freedom and libraries: complexity and change in the  twenty-first-century digital environment.   Library Quarterly, 76(2), 169-192. doi:10.1086/506576

Gross, B. (2012) Basic privacy issues in the workplace. All Business. Retrieved from http://www.allbusiness.com/labor-employment/labor-regulation-policy-employee-privacy/7869527-1.html

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One response to “FA:14 LIBR:200-19 BLOG #5 ETHICS”

  1. Brian Young says :

    Hi Lisa,
    I enjoyed your post and definitely feel that it could apply to any workplace situation. In fact, I’ve seen many scenarios like this happen at my work and I find them quite bewildering sometimes. Recently, a co-worker friend of mine suffered a miscarriage and someone in her department started to circulate a sympathy card around the office. This seemed inappropriate to me, as I believe that this is an extremely private family matter. I’m not sure how she reacted to the card – I didn’t sign it – but when we talked face to face, I was able to express my condolences to her personally.
    It is hard to stay private in this day and age, but I think people’s tendency to over-share via social media has definitely contributed to this trend.

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