Professional Ethics

[last update 8 October 2003]


A statement of professional ethics is an identifying characteristic of most professional bodies.  Such statements articulate the responsibilities of the individual professional to the society at large - and often to other members of the professional body.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS:  Intellectual Freedom, Personnel Resources, Library Services/Development/Technology
RELATED ISSUES: Advocacy, Affirmative Action, Intellectual Freedom, Library Personnel, Privacy


  • Policy 1.3 E - 9) Librarians uphold the ALA Code of Ethics.


  • Many certification programs require applicants to self-declare adherence to a professional Code of Ethics.  One of the decisions to be made as ALA-APA, in partnership with ALA, moves forward with the initial certification program(s) will be whether or not to require such an attestation.


  • ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom/ALA Professional Ethics Committee
  • ALA Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment/HRDR Advisory Committee
  • ALA Divisions


  • ALA - Allied Professional Association


  • 1909 - The Librarians Code of Ethics, by C.K. Bolton, appeared in library collections.
  • 1938 - A code of professional ethics was adopted by the ALA Council.
  • 1939 - ALA adopted the Library's Bill of Rights.  The Library Bill of Rights, in its current form, was adopted in 1948, and subsequently amended 3 times - in 1961, 1967 and 1980.
  • 1948 - ALA Council approved a resolution opposing "abuse" of loyalty investigations.
  • 1961 - The Library Bill of Rights was amended to include: The rights of an individual to the use of a library should not be denied or abridged because of his race, religion, national origins, or political views.
  • 1965 - A special Council Committee on Institutional Membership recommended to the ALA Executive Board that Council reject or approve with extensive guidelines a proposed Bylaws amendment which would bar from membership any institution that practiced discrimination in its services.  The Board proposed, and Council ultimately approved, an alternative action committing ALA to support civil rights laws and authorizing the Board to suspend, "until such time as the Executive Board has been completely satisfied that the member is in full compliance with the law," any member "found by a competent governmental authority to have violated any federal, state, or local civil rights laws."
  • 1970 - ALA Council passed the following resolution: "The American Library Association recognizes that there exist minorities which are not ethnic in nature but which suffer oppression. The association recommends that libraries and members strenuously combat discrimination in service to and employment of all minority groups, whether the distinguishing characteristics of the minority be ethnic, sexual, religious, or of any other kind."
  • 1975 - The Committee on Professional Ethics was established.
  • 1977 - The Speaker, a fictionalized film account (begun in 1975) of a speaker denied an opportunity to speak on his offensive theories of race, was viewed by the ALA Executive Board, which requested that it not be issued until the IFC and the Membership had had an opportunity to view it at ALA Annual Conference in Detroit; the decision was later reversed and the film was released.  Controversy continued into 1978.
  • 1977 - ALA Council reaffirmed its support for free access, in opposition to "fee-for-service."
  • 1986 - IFC issued a "special alert" to librarians, advising them on how to prepare for censorship attempts following The Report of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography: "...while the Commission encourages people 'to object to the objectionable' and 'to tolerate the tolerable,' the inherent message of the First Amendment is tolerance for the objectionable."
  • 1989 - ALA Council approved an Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights: Access for Children and Young People to Videotapes and other Nonprint Formats. The interpretation supported unabridged access to videos as well as books.
  • 1991 - ALA Council adopted a policy on "Library Services to the Poor."
  • 1991 - ALA Council adopted a "Policy Concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information About Library Users."
  • 1995 - ALA Council adopted a statement On Professional Ethics (policy 54.16).


Issue Summaries

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