Is a lack of library services and training on online databases unethical?

Thoughts to ponder:

“Do you know what services the SJSU King Library provides specifically to online graduate students to help us access quality research?”

“Would it be unethical if the SJSU King Library did not inform you of their services available?”

As online graduate students, particularly us who do not have ready access to our university’s physical library, need quality, scholarship available to us either online via our institutions online database, through interlibrary loan, or document delivery. Yet, our institutions do not always provide us with the highest level of service and training. This lack of service and training can be seen as a violation of library ethics.

The first statement in the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association states: “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests,” (para. 5) yet academic libraries do not always follow this statement when they are providing services and access to library materials to us, as online graduate students. This was highlighted in my blog post two weeks ago when I wrote about academic libraries not providing adequate training for students on how to use non-user-friendly online databases, and not informing them about the services that are available to them as online graduate students (Meszaros, A., 2014, October 7). At the time I thought this issue was just librarians not doing their job properly, now I realize that it is an ethical issue as well.

Rubin and Froehlich’s (2011)  entry on the “Ethical Aspects of Library and Information Science” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (ELIS) highlights how not providing training on difficult to use databases is unethical. They argue, “there are […] ethical issues associated with computer technologies that in part extend the intellectual technologies and that create their own sets of problems” (p. 1747). The first ethical issue they address surrounding the problems of computer and intellectual technologies directly relate to patrons who are “incompetent searchers, ones insufficiently trained to deal with commands, syntax, and qualifiers of access and/or […] is unfamiliar with the differences in databases” (p. 1747). When library patrons cannot find the information they need it “prevents access to the information” (p.1747), which lead to them not having “equitable access” (American Library Association, para. 5) to library resources compared to more competent searchers. The most alarming thing that Rubin and Froehlich point out, by not teaching patrons how to use the databases correctly is it “also conceals [the patrons’] incompetence from themselves” (p. 1747).  Yikes! It looks like academic librarians and faculty members teaching online graduate students need to sincerely start to work together to teach students how to use the library resources correctly, if they don’t  their students will continue to blindly use the databases ineffectively, unless the databases become more intuitive and straightforward to use. Anything less is unethical.

Yet, there is hope, some academic libraries catering to online graduate students are providing library services to online graduate students that are required by library ethics. As a student at the SJSU, I have found the libraries more than helpful in assisting me in finding the information that I need and our fellow classmate, Lauren Birdsong, has found that some fully online schools are doing an excellent job of connecting students to information (Birdsong, L., 2014, October 11).

I believe that this post brings to light that as future librarians we need to not only think about how to bring the best experiences to our library patrons because it provides them with quality UX, but also because our ethics require it.


American Library Association. Code of Ethics.

Birdsong, L. (2014,  October 11). User experience: adult distance learners (blog post 4) [Weblog post]. Retrieved from

Meszaros, A. (2014, September 22). Online graduate students’ information-seeking behavior and information needs [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Meszaros, A. (2014, October 7). What? Library services for online graduate students? [Web log post]. Retrieved from
Rubin, R. & Froehlich, T. J. (2010). Ethical aspects of library and information science. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences.  (pp. 1743-1755).


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