General Introduction to Management Ethics

Benefits of Ethics in Management

According to Johannes J. Britz – ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with human conduct and character. Ethics reflects questions such as what would be the right thing to to? et al. He furthers states that the process of ethical decision making consists of the identification and assessment of the problem, the choice to act and the action itself which is based on ethical norms and principles.

For the information professional such as the librarian Britz applied the concept of information ethics which is defined as professional ethics that deals with ethical issues such as professional gathering, organizing, value adding, storage, retrieval, distribution and management of information products and services on behalf of a third party (public). Thus the librarian should uphold the ethics of individual and collective responsibility towards knowledge, its production, communication and use.

Ethical Issues

  • Right to access information
  • Right to intellectual property
  • Quality of information
  • Right to privacy
  • Public funding issues

Managing Ethics in the Workplace

Elizabeth A Buchanan states it is best to have a Code of Ethics in libraries as it provides a framework of guidelines for justice, beneficence, independence, objectivity and professionalism. As such, a Code of Ethics should be viewed as a set of ‘best practices’ as it will reduce anxiety and pressure to living up to the code. The Code reflects professional ethics of obligations to society, obligations to employer, obligations to clients and obligations to colleagues and organizations. As a result, it is important that persons be educated about ethics starting at school and continuing in the workplace.


According to Hauptman (1988) self regulation can be affirmed through a set of operative ethical principles.

1. Respect the integrity of data and information.

2. Do not purposefully or inadvertently distort, fabricate, plagiarize or manipulate in order to give a false impression.

3. Do not attempt to control others’ articulations and thereby control their thought.

4. Respect professional confidentiality

5. Distinguish between personal commitment and professional obligation.

Other benefits that can redound to an organization with an ethics program are as follows:

· Social responsibility

· Maintain a moral course

· Cultivate strong teamwork and productivity

· Support employee growth and meaning

· Ethics help ensure that policies are legal

· Ethics help manage values associated with quality management, strategic planning and diversity management

· Ethics promote a strong public image.

It is said best by Donaldson and Davis, in “Business Ethics? Yes, But What Can it Do for the Bottom Line?” (Management Decision, V28, N6, 1990) ethics legitimizes managerial actions, strengthens the coherence and balance of the organization’s culture, improves trust in relationships between individuals and groups, supports greater consistency in standards and qualities of products, and cultivates greater sensitivity to the impact of the enterprise’s values and messages.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ethical Questions Involving Library Theft Prevention

According to Thomas B. Witt, a librarian with the New York Public Library System, librarians must answer several questions relating to their collection to prevent theft. I believe these questions all have ethical aspects that each library must consider for itself. Here are some of Witt's observations. Please discuss the ethical issues involved with each point.
  1. An employee should never be on the premises alone. No employee should be permitted to check-out materials for his/her own self-- a co-worker should handle the transaction instead, preferably in the presence of a manager. Any materials checked-out for an employee should be placed in a bag that is stapled shut and put on a shelf in the manager's office until departure.
  2. The penalty for taking home materials without first checking them out should be immediate dismissal.
  3. If one cannot afford to install security equipment to protect items of special value, it might be wise to sell a rare or valuable item, rather than incur the risk of theft.
  4. Organize a student library security program to combat theft. The students would patrol the stacks and stop people who they feel have stolen items
  5. To protect heavily stolen journal items professors should put the material on reserve or hand-out photocopies of the article in class.
These ideas were taken from the article "The Use of Electronic Book Theft Detection Systems in Libraries" by Thomas B. Witt.


Radegunde said...

Well, I don't really see how this post is about ethical questions as opposed to legal ones: theft is illegal and can land you in trouble. People and businesses (herein including nonprofits) have the right to protect themselves from thieves--who can be patrons, customers or employees. And in the case of nonprofits like libraries, a thief is actually stealing from the community that supports them.

So, what exactly is the ethical dimension supposed to be here, especially if we loosely define "ethics" as a group of principles that are used to determine the best response or mode of behavior in a given situation. How are (presumably) professional library managerial ethics being challenged by the fact that more than a few people will steal (or even mutilate) material if the opportunity presents itself?

I'm guessing you mean the fact that library employees are treated as potential thieves? What's unethical about that, though? Since many of the most important thefts of valuable books and documents have in fact been inside jobs, the suggestions that Witts makes strike me as sensible: after all, department store employees aren't allowed to ring up their own purchases, are they?

Playing Devil's Advocate...

Rachel Stevenson said...

I think this post is about both legal and ethical questions. Ethics isn't black and white. Neither is law. The two can overlap.

It's not just that library employees are treated as potential thieves. I know that most jobs are inside jobs, but just because one person steals doesn't mean everyone will. Is it ethical to treat everyone in a single way just because one person from your library stole? Also in the case of department stores, a manager does not always need to be present when the employee buys something. Another clerk can ring it up without management and the bag isn't stapled shut and placed in the manager's office.

Also is it ethical to have students as your security device? It places students in a quandary because they might accuse a fellow student of stealing and that could affect them socially in school. Also department stores have strict rules about what you can and cannot do with a shoplifter. Accusations have to be made very carefully. Is a student ready for that type of decision making?

Also should you give up part of your collection because you can't protect it? What if the book or books are important to your collection? Should you have to give them up? Or is it ethical for you to keep them even though you know they could get stolen? If you do sell them, should librarians be responsible for keeping them in the publics' use by only selling them to another library? Or should private collectors be allowed to bid as well? Is it about money? Protection? Open access?

This example may not be the first thing people think of when they describe ethics, but that's the beauty of ethical questions. One person's ethics can be another person's law. It's all in how you look at things.

Radegunde said...

Well, it's true that using student patrols as Witts described is a bit heavyhanded--just having them walking in the stacks and offering to help patrons is probably sufficient to deter a crime of opportunity.

As for purchasing items as an employee, my experience was that all my bags were examined by security on the way out, with purchases carefully checked against receipts--and some department stores actually made you carry clear plastic bags in place of purses for easier surveillance. So, while a manager may not have insisted that I place a purchase under her direct purvue, I would rate the general trust level as "low."

This also, by the way, protected me from false accusations, because every transaction was absolutely and *transparently* aboveboard: Caesar's Wife, and all that.

Which reminds me: do we debate the ethics of having plain-clothes security in Macy's because that presupposes that every customer is a potential thief? What about the fact that they also protect the customers from each other--purse snatchers and such?

Or how about when the customer leaves the store and goes out to the parking lot: If I were approached by a man while getting into my car, my automatic--you may think unethical--assumption is that he is up to no good. I also don't open the door to strangers, for the very same reason.

So, we may debate the applicable ethical dimensions, but I would argue that at some point some commonsense enters into the situation:

Does every man knocking at my door look to harm me? No.

Is it unethical to assume that because one man hurt a woman who opened that door, that all the others might, too? Perhaps.

Is it still stupid for me to open the door? Unbelievably.

Back to libraries.

Should they sell items they can't protect (for whatever reason)? Absolutely!!!!! The item serves no one if it's stolen, and hurts the library's reputation as a steward of the taxpayers' money--and trust. I certainly wouldn't give a collection to a library unable, or unwilling, to realize what its security limitations were. I mean, what else is the management in denial about?

Who the item is sold to would depend greatly on practical issues as well as ethical ones. Can you trade it for other items from another library? Go for it--assuming that you have a security system in place that stands a realistic change of protecting them (I'm assuming that they're valuable). Do you need the money? Silly question--you're a library not named "Getty," so of course you do!

Then sell it. Keeping something you can't care for or protect properly isn't about ethics, as I see it: it's just foolish.

Still playing Devil's Advocate :),


Anonymous said...

Other options than selling a valuable item do present themselves. A locked cabinet would be the most obvious, or with valuable items placed on Reserve (which would take them behind the library desk and thus in a position of greater safety). Some libraries have strict rules on where their operating budget comes from, and these rules might prohibit the sale of materials. The first step when faced with a valuable item difficult to protect would be to devise strategies to safeguard it using existing conditions NOT selling it.