Indian a Chapter of the Association for Information Science
Fall 1998 Issue

IASIS Spring Meeting Report | IASIS Fall Meeting Announcement | IASIS/SLA Joint Meeting Announcement

IASIS Spring Meeting Report

Ethics for Information Professionals: Neutrality or Advocacy?
by Steve Hardin

You're glancing through some of your records on your computer at work when you accidently discover that because of a software glitch, you can see the private files of everyone else on the network. Should you report the problem immediately to your systems department, or wait until you've had a quick look at a few of your coworker's files?

This scenario represents just one of the ethical decisions that people who deal with information may face on the job at any time. "Ethics for Information Professionals: Neutrality or Advocacy?" was the topic for the March 5 meeting of the Indiana Chapter of the American Society for Information Science. Eighteen persons attended the Indianapolis presentation by Martha "Marti" Montague Smith. Smith -- who authored the 1997 Annual Review of Information Science chapter on information ethics -- is an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science.

Smith noted Harvard psychologist Robert Coles was very influential in her development of this topic. In one of his writings, Coles related the story of how he went to see a psychiatrist as part of his training. He knew that psychiatrists were supposed to be morally neutral. He discovered, however, that when he went to the psychiatrist's office, he went to a very exclusive part of town. The beautiful office told him a lot about the kind of person he would be seeing. The lesson, he said, is that no matter how hard we try to be neutral, we carry a certain number of values with us. Coles said one of the mistakes we make in education is to think we can be detached and not deal with values. It's one thing to talk abstractly, Smith pointed out, but in the real world, decisions have to be made.

She handed out a paper on information ethics, which she said was adapted from material found in Media Ethics, a 1995 work by Clifford Christians, Mark Fackler and Kim Rotzoll. It dealt with issues surrounding "The Big Five" values: access, ownership, privacy, security and community. Smith noted these concepts may oppose one another.

When dealing with an information ethics question, Smith said, you can use the Big Five to help. First, identify the issue. After you've identified scope of problem, move to identifying the values/principles involved as well as the stakeholders. Then, try to identify the goal or purpose. The purpose may vary by user. As mentioned earlier, these interests may be opposed to one another. You have to identify as best you can in all stages whose interest will be served. So the next step is to prioritize your loyalties. Then, the hard part: make the decision. What happens when the decision is not acceptable or workable? Go back to the beginning and start over.

Smith also handed out an ethics quiz. It contained scenarios similar to the one described at the outset of this article. Much of the evening was spent discussing these vignettes and potential courses of action resulting from them.

For example, consider the aforementioned scenario. Most of the persons in the room agreed the proper thing to do is to report the problem immediately. There are many cases in which wide access is desirable. But personnel records aren't one of them.

Another quiz example involved an employee who has been placed in charge of an important long-term project, and who also knows he or she is leaving the company within a few months. What should the employee do? Most persons in the room agreed the employee ought to train someone else to take over the project. But there was considerable disagreement on whether that would really happen. Some thought the employee would keep his or her leaving a secret, but work on the project as effectively as possible until departure. Others felt most employees would do very little knowing they wouldn't have to deal with the problem for very long. Smith noted the scenario really involves a question of loyalty: are you more loyal to yourself or to your company? We have to bridge these gaps in our own behavior. Ideally, she said, it would be best to train someone - formally or informally - to take over the project.

And what about the case where a reference librarian gets asked by a patron for information on how to break into a computer system? Considerable discussion ensued on whether it was better to provide the information with no questions asked, or try to find out why the patron wants the information, or even refuse to answer the question. Smith noted there can be times when you must move out of the information professional role and become a "sensible person." In that case, you call 911. Is this one of those times?

Smith and her audience discussed several other vignettes. "I know we've opened a can of worms, and they're all crawling around," she said in conclusion. The evening provided attendees with an opportunity for thought-provoking discussion and new ways of thinking about some of the issues information professionals must face.

IASIS Fall Meeting Announcement

An Introduction to Metadata In One Act

Presented by Allan Barclay, Assistant Reference Librarian at the Indiana University Ruth Lilly Medical Library

"Metadata is data about data. The term refers to any data used to aid the identification, description, and location of networked electronic resources...." IFLA Digital Libraries: Metadata Resources.

"The Dublin Core is a 15-element metadata element set intended to facilitate discovery of electronic resources. Originally conceived for author-generated description of Web resources, it has also attracted the attention of formal resources description communities such as museums and libraries." Dublin Core Metadata Element Set: Resource Page.


    Indiana ASIS Annual Business Meeting and Program: An Introduction to Metadata In One Act.


    Monday, October 5, 1998.

    6:00 pm - 6:30 pm Social.
    6:30 pm - 7:45 pm Boxed Supper and Annual Business Meeting.
    7:45 pm - 8:45 pm Featured Program.


    Indiana University Ruth Lilly Medical Library, Room 318/319.
    Located on the IUPUI Campus at 975 W. Walnut Street, Indianapolis. (IUPUI Campus Map (beware, it is a large file), the Medical Library is in the IB Building.)

    Pay parking is available in either of the two parking garages located just east of the Medical Library (listed on the map as WX and XA).
    All IU Parking Permits are good after 5pm in the surface lot across from the Medical Library (listed on the map as 46) or any other IUPUI surface lots.

How Much?

    ASIS Members: $8
    Student ASIS Members: $5
    Non-Members: $10

    Price includes a boxed supper, but not parking. Please note: A cash bar will NOT be available.
    The meal will be catered by Alan's Cakes and Catering.
    Sandwich choices include: Turkey & Swiss, Baked Ham & Cheddar, Seasoned Roast Beef, or Cheese. Also included in the box are 2 salads and a large gourmet cookie.

How to Register:

    You may either register online or send a check made out to Indiana ASIS by September 30,1998 to:

    Julie Fore
    IASIS October Meeting
    5264 E. 10th Street
    Indianapolis, IN 46219

    Please indicate your sandwich preference and membership status.

Send questions or comments to: Julie Fore

IASIS/SLA Joint Meeting in November

You'd be surprised at the number of cutting-edge electronic information projects underway in a small state like Indiana! Find out more at a special joint meeting of the Indiana chapters of the Association for Information Science and the Special Libraries Association, when we present:


With presentations by:

  • The Internet2 Initiative
  • Access Indiana Interactive Network
  • IU's Distance Learning program

_and plenty of opportunity for your questions and discussion.

When: Wednesday, November 11 (Social Hour at 5:30, dinner at 6:00, presentation at 7:10)
Where: Holiday Inn at the Indianapolis International Airport

To register:

Send your name and the fee ($15 for ASIS members, $10 for student ASIS members , $17 for nonmembers) and your dinner preference (chicken/vegetarian) to:

Patsy Allen
Allen Information Consultants, Inc.
PO Box 501633
Indianapolis, IN 46250

Questions? Email Patsy at

For more information about Indiana ASIS please visit us at: ters/IASIS/index.html

Questions? Please write to Allan R Barclay (