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Librarianship on Thomas Aquinas’ Ethical Philosophy

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Library has become the house of books and a conducive place for the people who love to read. Collection of the library is growing in terms of print and non-print materials. Ergo, as it grows, it needs someone who can take care of it and provide it to the library user which is the librarian. So what is a librarian? Librarian is a steward of books and other resources, and manages the library and the users. Librarian entitles librarianship. Librarianship is a profession that acquires knowledge about organizing books and serving the users of the library. According to Information School of University of Washington (2019), librarianship engage with collecting, organizing, preserving and disseminating information by the librarians that help and locate resources which supports the individual needs of the users. To become a librarian, ethics are important and need to be oath. It is challenging as you encounter other people with different needs and wants. The satisfaction of service to the users is one of the goals of librarian. This leads to an enjoyable environment and happy success. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, every human being has to nurture by choosing what to do and realize the ultimate happiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas is a great philosopher, and an Angelic Doctor, that has been treated poorly by his friends in his class. He was bullied; however, in his sacred works there was no hint of criticism and dimness of his life (O’Connor, 1967). As he became the patron saint of academic institutions, where theology and philosophy are taught, he wanted to apply the learning not just in the boundaries of the institutions but also in everyday and practical life of the people (Elders, 2006). He believes that people need to find and identify their aim before doing something (Robinson, 2015). St. Thomas commented on the text of Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, that this is a valuable treatise of ethics. Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle is about the nature of a person being ultimately good, and examination of human actions as to its main ultimate goal which has a characteristic of complete, final, self-sufficient and continuous which aim ultimate happiness. However, St. Thomas Aquinas pronounce that ultimate happiness is not possible when a person is alive and it remains imperfect, and ultimate happiness can only be found in heaven or in the beatitude with God. Because of this, we don’t only need virtues but God idivinen our life to make our nature perfect and participate in the divine beatitude.

Ethics is from the Greek word ‘ethos’ and a discipline of philosophy dealing with good and bad which has moral duty and obligation. This is how people make decisions and choose their actions. It has a branch of professional ethics that relates to the moral rules and behavior of the professional that helps to choose what to do when faced with problems at work that raises moral concern. Librarians have professional responsibilities in providing effective and efficient library services that must be guided by ethics and sets of values. The aim of the librarian is to give the right service and information to the users as it needs ethical conduct which has satisfaction to the users. Another point of having users in the library is having a good morale to them. It is a must to have a good attitude to the users, if not, then it could be a dead library and users would tend to have a bad image of the library and the librarian. Librarians do impel in the people’s lives as they carry responsibility of giving the needs and information of the users. Librarians have to instill professional ethics. It is important to have professional values and be followed by the members in order to know how to act properly and avoid issues. Agreeing with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) (2012), one of the key elements of a profession is to have an effective code of conduct and develop status of profession, which the codes entails ‘how to be professional”: the code “essentially instrumentalizes a code of ethics, making clear the applications of ethical concepts in everyday professional practice” (Freeman, 1996). Code of ethics is important to librarians as they often face ethical dilemmas where they can violate professional ethics. In Phillips et al. (2018) study “Awareness and Perception of Ethical Issues in Library Service Delivery by Librarians at the Polytechnic of Ibadan, Nigeria: A Phenomenographic Study,” that Onoyeyan et al. (2014) defined ethical dilemma as a situation where there is a conflict between principles and a choice of action that needs to be determined, and cited from Stueart and Moran (2002) listed some ethical dilemmas that might be confronted by librarians as; using an employer’s property for personal use, accepting benefits, influence peddling, divulging confidential information, outside employment or moonlighting and post-employment conflict of interest. Phillips et al. (2018) explains that these dilemmas could be shown in any kind of ways:

“If a librarian converts the library’s information resources to private use. Also if a librarian takes several books in the library home for the personal use of his children or wards. An acquisition librarian might also be faced with a decision of accepting benefits or not, especially from vendors and publishers in return for continuous patronage which is hoped to be unwavering regardless of the circumstances. It is also possible for a reference librarian to fall into the situation of influence peddling if he allows his romantic interest for a user which is not returned to stand in between himself or herself and service delivery. A circulation librarian could be pressured to divulge vital private information about his patron for cash or monetary reward. A librarian might also be presented with a moonlighting situation where he offers his professional expertise outside the library during his official hours for pay. A post-employment conflict of interest might if a librarian upon resignation or retirement from the library now uses the skills and abilities he acquired to stand in the way of his former library.”

According to Shawn Floyd in his article “Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy,” nature of a human action is rational, thus St. Thomas Aquinas explain from Summa theologiae involved of two powers which is cognitive and appetitive; the cognitive power is the intellect that allows a human to know and understand, and detain goodness, while appetitive power is the act of the will which describe by St. Thomas Aquinas as a native desire for the understood good. Human beings are the ultimate crowning glory of God’s creation in the universe which possesses God-given dignity. These ethical dilemmas in the library would not mean anything good to the ultimate happiness and truth. St. Thomas Aquinas believes that the supreme truth is God and the supreme goodness is God, hence the ultimate goal is to know and love God. (Wishloff, 2016). St. Thomas Aquinas emphasizes the nature of ethics, “In order to lead our life as we ought, knowledge of the end is necessary;” however, this knowledge should be the basis for right acts (Elders, 2006). Therefore, librarians should right act and separate from wrongdoings. The motives of a person has an identical acts that may be good or bad in the point of view of St. Thomas Aquinas. His point of view in the ethical principle has an effect of natural moral knowledge, that everyone has an innate of knowledge of the natural law which is synderesis, thus this only appear in reason and not in dispositions (Robinson, 2015). Synderesis is sometime acquainted with conscience which is an operative practical intelligence; however, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, we should follow our conscience that guide us what is the moral thing to do and the one against with it are against with the values of truth and reason. Andrew Robinson (2015) discussed the four main virtues according to St. Thomas Aquinas:

“Prudentia, the act of bringing moral reasoning into all decisions, and putting it before irrational desires and ego-promotion. Reason, rather than passion, is at the heart of moral decisions; Justice, a disposition to give others what they are entitled to, or have a right to; Courage (fortitude), a disposition to restrain fears so as to act rightly; Temperantia, the moderation of desires, especially sexual desire, in line with their “proper role”.

Professional Codes of Ethics for Librarians of IFLA aims to let the all the librarians be aware of their ethical implication in their profession. The function of the code is to encourage reflection on principles on which librarians and other information workers can form policies and handle dilemmas; improve professional self-awareness; and provide transparency to users and society in general. One of the many national codes of ethics that caught many attention of the librarian is the Code of Ethics of the Thai Library Association. The Thai Library Association declared its Code of Ethics in 1977 which supports and promotes librarianship and library education in Thailand and protecting the welfare of the library staff. The TLA Code of Ethics has five foci: Ethics towards users: to perpetuate the good relationship between the library and its users; Ethics towards the profession: to ensure the responsibility for the development of the profession and to promote excellence amongst library professionals; Ethics towards colleagues: to strengthen the cooperation among library professionals and to increase good relationships with colleagues and other members of the profession; Ethics towards the organisation: to uphold and give due respect to the Library as an integral part of the organisation or institution; and Ethics towards society: to affirm the library status and roles in providing information for the advancement of society. This outlines the behaviors of the librarian that he/she needs to do to apply in order to have a quality service. It is included in one of the three branches of ethics, as Aristotle distinguished, as man’s task in political society and by his main virtues, and St. Thomas Aquinas agreed that human beings have its various tasks, obligations and rights. Further, ethics lead the fact that all human beings stand and aim for good, and all of our choices and actions must be done when it is good for us. American Library Association Core Values also encourage librarians to impel in good doings. It aims to guide library professional in the values and development of its profession by refining by numerous statements of the association which among these are access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education and lifelong learning, intellectual freedom, preservation, the public good, professionalism, service, social responsibility, and sustainabilityю

There has been an issue for the librarian arising and one of these is the low morale experiences of librarians in the library. In the article of Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (2017), “The Low Morale Experience of Academic Librarians: A Phenomenological Study,” defines low morale as the degree which an employee has negative feelings about his work environment and organizational culture. Kendrick (2017) provided LIS articles about workplace bullying, incivility, toxicity, and burnout concepts and processes associates which she reviewed that from the Workplace Bullying Institutes website consider that the main initiators of bullying in the workplace are the bosses. It was also discussed that some of the librarians are burnout that includes health issues; however there were also librarians who were not burnout because they have commitment with their work and manage their expectations (Kendrick, 2017). From the study of Kendrick (2017), some of the librarians experience abused acts; “Emotional abuse including manipulation, intimidation, thwarting, targeting, privacy invasions, or micromanaging; verbal/written abuse including lying, public shaming, yelling/shouting, castigation, scorning, ephemeral or unfounded complaining, disinforming, or snitching. Verbal abuse also included using oral communication to circumvent formal reprimanding processes with the intent to hide verbal abuse and associated system abuse; system abuse including system rigging, cronyism, steamrolling, or violating human resources or workplace policies and procedures; negligence including laissez-faire or ambivalent library or campus leadership/administration, lack of advocacy, capricious decision-making, or ineffective communication.” For St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘lying is wrong’ as it violates the purpose of tongue and produce conflict within oneself; and criticism would mean unjust adversary, but for others it seems this helps them to know their wrongs and make them rightю

Doing wrongdoings is a big no no for achieving ultimate happiness. God created every individual by having a trait of good deeds and these will not be replenished by anyone. Anyone can act accordingly as God also created and foresee negativity in the world. These things may separate this from the truth and to the ultimate happiness. The task of a human being is to unite itself to good, and ethics will not aim for a perfect being but stand and connect with good as become its end (Elders, 2006). God created the knowledge of the library for everyone to know how to value books and librarians were assigned to take care of it as they have the capacity and ability to manage the house of books. These negative things happening in the library are part of human life. These are the challenges of God to the librarians to know their strength in the midst of issues arising and these will enhance the protection to the library collection. Every human has its own intellect of choosing their will. For St. Thomas Aquinas, the first principle is to do good and avoid evil, thus without this principle moral values will not have power. Everything that exist has some degree of goodness. We cannot deny that humans go through evil acts. As our first parents, Adam and Eve, inherited a sin and made our nature corrupted by sin. Though, everyone who believes in Him will bring goodness to our action and give His grace that comes from the divine virtues and gifts. Having arguments in an organization is hard and may affect everything from physical to mental to spiritual. One of the Commandments of God is to love our neighbor. This is not a simple command as everyone encounter wrong actions from someone and concluding that we should hate that person. Human personality is hard to mold. A person’s act is by choice and every being has a rational nature, therefore God knows how we execute our action.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” a biblical concept spoken by Jesus to every individual. Librarians’ ethics is seen in every corner of his or her work. This means that every action taken to the users and colleagues must be in just. However, people have their own reason in doing unjust things that hurts other people. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, he stresses that reason are not always the right reason and intellect formulates the first principle of moral life which subsequently reason judges the action made by the person with the guidance of first principle of moral order (Elders, 2006). In the world of library, there are things that human beings cannot control, and in every organization there are really flaws that are unreasonable. Connecting with other people is difficult since individually are different. But everyone has ethics and integrity that inclines to us since the beginning of landing in the world. As I agree with St. Thomas, every human person that are existing are good and will not leave goodness despite evil is near and made. What everyone must do is to avoid evil and follow the beatitude of God to fulfill and aim our ultimate goal which is ultimate happiness. 

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