Table of Contents

Situations Related to Ethical Principles

1. Fulfilling the letter or the spirit of the law?

2. Ensuring diverse points of view

3. Putting a square peg in a round hole

4. Protecting an individual's right to privacy

5. Ethical decisions in instructional media selection

6. Computers: Issues of health and safety

7. Adopting and promoting new ideas

8. A clash of cultures

9. Harassment, bias, and discrimination

10. Whose views? Yours or your institutions?

11. All the facts, please

12. Competing with your employer

13. Handling gifts, gratuitites, and favors

14. Engaging in fair and equitable practices with vendors

15. Greasing the squeaky wheel

16. Influencing your colleagues

17. Exploiting professional affiliations

18. Helping one another

19. Is honesty the best answer?

20. An ethical approach to doing business

21. Fair assignment of responsibility

22. Facing new copyright challenges

23. When a colleague is wrong

Protecting an Individual's Privacy and Integrity

The Situation
Mary Weller was proud of what she had accomplished at the Hughesville Community Library. It was no longer the library that she had taken over when she received her master's degree nine years ago. It had evolved into a comprehensive library-media center. Instead of being restricted to just books and periodicals as it had been when she was hired, the library was developing an enviable collection of films, videotapes, audiotapes, records, and, most recently, computer software and compact discs. Mary was excited about how these new resources and capabilities had expanded community involvement in the library and had resulted in her facilities becoming involved in a wide variety of new and innovative services.

Because of this enthusiasm for experimenting with new services, Mary welcomed a proposal from Sam Curtin, director of the Hughesville Adult Literacy Council. The Council had recently purchased a wide variety of videotapes, audiotapes, and computer software for the purpose of assisting in improving the reading skills of adults who were reading below the fourth-grade level. However, the Council was having trouble attracting those who would benefit from this instruction to come to their Adult Literacy Center. They had discovered that those who needed the instruction most seemed to be the most reluctant to seek assistance. After all, it would be embarrassing if their friends, neighbors, or even their children were to learn that they couldn't read. Because of this, Sam asked if he could place his materials in the library and publicize its availability at that location. He figured that the people who he wanted to reach would have no hesitation about going to the library to make use of these materials. Mary agreed and quickly consented to assist.

The project went well. Through public service announcements and posters in a number of local plants and factories, Sam was able to publicize the fact that his instructional materials were in the local library and Mary served a growing number of clients who requested to either use them on location or check them out and take them home for use.

One day, Sam stopped by the library. He had an idea. If Mary would give him the names of the people who were making use of his literacy materials, he would be able to follow up with them and assist them to improve their reading even more. He might even persuade some of them to complete their high school equivalency diploma and be in a position to get a better job. Mary shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I can't do that." "Why not?" Sam replied impatiently, "after all, its for their own good!"


The AECT Code of Professional Ethics—Section l, Principle 4
In fulfilling obligations to the individual, the members shall conduct professional business so as to protect the privacy and maintain the personal integrity of the individual.

Mary recognized her obligation to her clients to protect their confidentiality. After all, their inability to read well could be an embarrassment to them. In addition to the fact that their friends, neighbors, and children may not know about their problem, some of them may even lose their jobs if their employers were to find out. However, Mary was able to suggest a compromise. She suggested that Sam print some brochures, in very simple language, explaining his services and giving his address and phone number. She would then include one of his brochures with every check-out of his materials. Hopefully, there were those who would follow up and pursue the possibility of improving their reading skills even further. Regardless of whether they did or not, their privacy had been protected and the choice was up to them.

Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University

Updated January 21, 2008
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