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Case Studies in Ethics.

TITLE: Ethics and the Archival Profession: Introduction and Case Studies

AUTHOR: Karen Benedict

ISBN: 1-931666-05-9

PUBLISHER: Society of American Archivists (SAA)


LENGTH: 90 pages

PRICE: $34.95 or $24.95 for SAA members (paperback edition) U.S.


This book's focus is on ethical issues in archives management using case studies that put into perspective the principles of the Code of Ethics for Archivists (SAA 1980, revised 1992). This slim volume is organized into four sections:

* An introduction to ethics

* 40 case studies organized by principles from the Code

* A list of additional readings of interest

* A reprinting of the Code's text

The introductory material constitutes an excellent, if brief, introduction to ethics generally and professional ethics specifically. Because there are several approaches to ethics, the definition of "professional ethics" is addressed. How are ethics different from morality? Where should the loyalty lie--to the employer or to the profession? What is personal ethics vs. what is expected in a professional setting?

A set of 10 ethical principles underlie the Society of American Archivists' (SAM Code and those of other archival associations in other countries. Briefly put, Benedict says these are:

* treating users and colleagues fairly, without discrimination

* persevering and protecting intellectual and physical integrity of records in their care

* never altering or destroying data from records in their custody or concealing facts to distort evidence

* avoiding restriction of access to records except for legal reasons or because of matters of privacy and confidentiality

* maintaining the privacy of donors of records

* never personally profiting from privileged information related to records in their custody

* using impartial judgment when appraising records, avoiding personal beliefs or biases

* never disparaging colleagues, employers, or other archival institutions

* avoiding collection of papers or records in competition with their instructions

* using their specialized knowledge for the benefit of society

Important differences between ethical behavior and law are made clear in this section. There is a clarification of the difference between professional conduct (e.g., rudeness) and the more serious moral standards of the profession.

The case-studies section constitutes the main section of the book. The case studies, contributed by seven archivists well known in the field, have been used in teaching and training situations, and each is one to two pages in length, making discussion of the case problems easy. The sites and people in the case studies are fictitious, although the cases are placed in real settings, including colleges, historical societies, local government, state archives, and personal/historical manuscript collections. The number of case studies for each area of ethical concern varies (e.g., 10 cases under "appraisal of collections and collection policies; one case under "complaints about other institutions"). Each case follows a template of sorts in which

* the case's narrative is laid out, complete with dialogue among the participants involved in the problem

* questions about appropriate professional action (e.g., "What will you do about this?") are presented in italics

* connection is made between the case problem and the appropriate section of the SAA Code

* the case's contributor provides analysis in the form of solutions to the case

The book is thoughtfully developed and effectively organized. It illustrates the canons from the SAA Code in a meaningful and satisfying manner. This volume would make a useful addition to readings for a course in archives management as well as fur use in training at seminars and workshops. Understandably, the book focuses on ethical issues within the culture of archivists specifically, though one might like to see some relationship between the ethical principles of archivists and those of records managers given that the two disciplines are adjacent. (The Code of Ethics for Archivists invites comparison with the Code of Professional Responsibility sponsored by ARMA International,

J. Michael Pemberton, Ph.D, CRM, FAI is Executive Editor of The Information Management Journal. He may be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2004 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Pemberton, J. Michael
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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