Ethics in a broad sense -
as a discipline that includes individual ethics, politics and economics
and which was called by his founder, Aristotle (384-322 BC), practical
philosophy - is concerned with critical thinking on social
and traditions that shape the lives of individuals and societies. It
at questioning moral biases and at opening new choices. Information
as a descriptive theory explores the power structures
attitudes towards information and traditions in different cultures and
epochs. Information ethics as an emancipatory theory develops
of moral attitudes and traditions in the information field at an
and collective level. It includes normative aspects.
Both aspects, exploration
and evaluation, belong together. Information ethics explores and
development of moral values
in the information field,
creation of new power structures
in the information field,
contradictions and intentionalities
in information theories and practices,
development of ethical conflicts
in the information field.
The study of information
within different social traditions is an open task. In the Western
information ethics has its roots in the oral culture of ancient Greece.
Agora (marketplace and meeting place) and freedom of
speech (Greek: parrhesia) were essential to Athenian democracy.
freedom of speech as a special form of expression. Socrates (469-399
practiced his thinking in public places and never published his
in a written form. Plato (427-347 BC) discusses in his dialogues the
from an oral to a written culture. Under the influence of Christianity
a book culture was developed which was mainly centered on one
namely the Bible. The invention of printing by Gutenberg in 1455 and
Reformation, which profited from it, brought back, in the Modern
the idea of freedom of communication, which implied the freedom of
ideas to others not just in a written but in a printed form. The French
Revolution brought about the transformation of the private libraries
by nobility as well as by the church into common property. Projects
the one of the French Encyclopédie and the public access
to libraries created a new awareness of freedom of information which
in the principle of freedom of the press as one of the foundations of
democracies. The Western tradition of information ethics from ancient
until the beginning of the 20th century is characterized by two ideas,
namely freedom of speech and freedom of printed works,
particularly freedom of the press. A third ethical challenge
now in a
networked world, namely freedom of access.
A basis for ethical
in the information field are the following articles of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):
for the dignity of human
beings (Art. 1),
(Art. 1, 2,
of opportunity (Art.
(Art. 3, 12),
- Right to
freedom of opinion
and expression (Art. 19),
- Right to
participate in the
cultural life of the community (Art. 27),
- Right to
the protection of the
moral and material interests concerning any scientific, literary or
production (Art. 27).
Electronic information is
on information and communication technologies (ICT) such as: personal
laptops, interactive devices: e-mail, chat, mailing lists,
servers, multimedia devices, search engines, integration of old
media (TV, radio, telephone) into new media (Internet), mobile
to the Internet.
The massive diffusion of
ICT causes radical changes in public and private institutions in
as well as in national and international information and communication
policies in particular. This may concern:
creation of specialized
(regional) knowledge markets
development of (national
and/or regional) digital libraries and archives
development of electronic
publication and diffusion
of scientific knowledge through the Internet
creation of services for
public access to the Internet
creation of educational
services based on ICT (at different levels: schools, universities,
promotion of local cultures
in the digital medium
development of communities
and interest groups, independently of geographic boundaries
participation of individuals
and groups in the political (communal, regional, national,
There are several kinds of
that may cause the exclusion of users from the benefits of the new
telephone, servers, hardware and software
barriers: costs of
acquisition, use and updating
illiteracy (Bawden 2001), biases, dominance of English.
Justice and fairness in
information field - following the contractarian approach to
- concern the creation of a social information and communication
as the core of a social market economy. In other words, digital
should be ethically seen as a challenge to creating (legal) conditions
in order to surmount the so called digital divide (US
of Commerce 1999). Public libraries may play a key role allowing free
to the Internet to persons that for different reasons cannot use ICT
are dependent of these kind of devices for shaping their lives.
can become an agent of social change - following the ethics of care
approach -, promoting educational, social, and economic activities at
levels of a society. This is the perspective within which I ask the ethical
question concerning the creation and use of digital libraries (Capurro
I. Ethical Challenges
of Digital Libraries
and dissemination of digitized knowledge and information give rise to
challenges such as: How can a democratic right of access to knowledge
guaranteed? Creating digital libraries may be an answer to this
but how do they merge into existing traditional libraries? What kind of
public services should they offer? What kind of digital collections
they create? How is the integrity and sustainability of these
economically, technically and culturally guaranteed? Who are the de
facto beneficiaries of these value-added services?
Let us start with the last
question. Some of the value-added characteristics of digital libraries
- access to
of time and space: think, for instance, about the problem of access to
documents stored in libraries and archives far away from the place
these documents are needed,
of documents of
different types in different (digital and/or classic) archives
for documents and non-digital
information on the basis of search engines and online catalogs,
of information and
Key technical and
problems related to the creation of digital libraries concern:
(such as pdf, HTML or
of the digital material; surrogates for originals that are in a fragile
- Fair use
be educated in order to design and maintain digital libraries. They
be able to structure, represent and update all kinds of information in
different media (Lesk 1997, Borgman 2000).
concerning collection and classification of information refer
and control. The answers to these questions vary historically according
to the interests of political, economic, religious and military powers.
Cultural and moral traditions play also an important role concerning,
example, what is considered as offensive. The main ethical question in
this area may be formulated as follows: Are there limits to
freedom? The will to exclude 'bad' information is itself an ethical
as far as any exclusion that would limit intellectual freedom should be
avoided. There is a tendency in liberal societies to less control. But
this leads to ethical as well as moral and legal conflicts (Froehlich
The particular protection
of the intellectual property is one of the most important and
ethical, moral and legal questions in the information field
Different moral and legal traditions have lead to different protective
laws in different regions of the world. The European tradition
the moral rights of the authors (droit d'auteur). These are
to the person of the author and concern the integrity and authorship of
her/his work as well as her/his reputation. The Anglo-American
emphasizes the property or economic rights (copyright). Conflicts arise
when national and international laws and moral traditions protect
aspects of various media. Ways of harmonization are the Berne
(1886, revisions) and the Universal Copyright Convention (1952)
(UCC). Both treaties are administrated by the World Intellectual
Organization (WIPO). Digitizing makes copying and re-making easier.
Internationalization via the Internet changes the dimension and
of national legislation and control. This new situation gives rise to
information always be
regarded as a property?
the notion of knowledge-sharing
become predominant with regard to the notion of ownership?
- How can
the public access to
electronic information be guaranteed?
These questions must be
analyzed when creating digital libraries in order to protect the
of producers, mediators and users.
concerning information dissemination are related to problems of
and reference/brokerage services. The question of access can be studied
as an individual as well as a societal issue. Individuals and societies
are interested in free and equal access to information. At the same
it must be acknowledged that information is a product of work and has
economic value that should be protected. The question is then, What
for whom should be free. The problem of user education is also
to this question. The question of access as a societal issue concerns
problem of creating equal opportunities of access avoiding the gap
the information rich and the information poor (digital divide).
It is controversial how far the discourse on the digital divide may
to a (theoretical and practical) confusion between what can be seen as
a societal need or as a (human) right. The last assertion would
expand government power and legitimate its control and ruling
(Foster 2000). With regard to reference/brokerage services ethical
may arise regarding, for example, the right to confidentiality.
may ask information professionals to break confidentiality. Information
professionals are supposed to inform their users about the limits of
sources and methods. Finally there is the question of misinformation
information malpractice) that can cause great (economic) damages to the
Libraries and Digital Libraries
Let us now turn to the
about how digital libraries can merge into existing traditional public
libraries and what could be the prospects of this process. Public
can be conceived as information centers, as education centers and as
centers (Hernández Sánchez 2000). A digital culture
on what has been called information literacy (Bawden 2001) may
their services as follows:
Public libraries as information centers:
catalogs at national
and regional levels
and access to their
own digital (multimedia) documents, particularly to special collections
in cultural, social and governmental areas
of intranets for
Public libraries as education centers:
users in order to get
information from the network (particularly in case of users engaged in
the educational field)
users in order to use
the network for personal communication purposes. This may include the
of personal web sites and/or the use of e-mail.
users in order to use
the network work for social communication purposes such as creating
Public libraries as communication centers:
care of users, their
information, interests and ideas
services (e-mail, forum, chat)
services at the local level (town, city, region) and national level.
These value-added services
the modernization of traditional equipment as well as a program of
literacy. The content of digital library projects may be oriented
the preservation and use of local cultural heritage as well as to
related to social and industry related fields. These projects may be
as joint ventures in order to create new sources of work and
local industry (See Annex).
A digital culture
does not mean that, say, the culture of the book will disappear.
media having different qualities do not replace each other,
they may displace their use for specific purposes. Thus, oral
did not disappear with the invention of writing or with the massive
of printed works. Today we are particularly aware that virtual
and distance learning make more evident the specific value of meeting
Digital libraries within
public library services can be considered not only as an important
and social service but also as a support for a growing information
their creation being supported by a utilitarian ethics, with
maxim of improving welfare independently of the degree and the ways of
using digital information, economic growth is basically knowledge
Intellectual capital, either externalized in any kind of artificial
or, which is a crucial aspect, tacit in the heads of people, is a key
for economic and social development. And vice versa: companies
a social responsibility and should not see themselves exclusively from
the shareholder point of view. A culture of corporate citizenship
should be based on mutual information sharing. This by no means
legitimate interests of information protection (patents, licences,
information, proprietary knowledge, know-how, etc.) as it is also the
of the protection of personal data by individual users or, more
of any kind of copyright protected product.
A prudent national and
information policy must create, on the one hand, the technical and
conditions in order to meet the challenge of digital capitalism, i.e.
actively help the individuals and groups, particularly those who are
marginalized. A way to do this is to promote grass-roots projects in
to help people develop their own ideas and projects and to build
and economically a self-supported existence. This finally can only done
through educational efforts, from which not only the industry but the
as a whole may profit. Information professionals, on the other hand,
learn through dialogue and mutual criticism:
- How to
recognize and articulate
ethical conflicts in the information field.
activate their sense of responsibility
with regard to the consequences of individual and collective
in the information field.
improve their qualification
for intercultural dialogue on the basis of the recognition of different
kinds of information cultures and values.
ethical theories and concepts
and their relevance in everyday information work.
Digital libraries ? what
for? We should not rely too quickly on a moral answer like 'for
the sake of democracy and general welfare', not only because digital
are not an end in themselves but also because a one-sided view ? I call
it informatism ? makes us blind to the real needs.
the discourse on digital libraries from the traditional library
creates another kind of divide that narrows the view for instance with
regard to the question of preservation.
David Levy summarizes the
question of the purpose of digital libraries as follows:
otherwise, carry a strong symbolic charge. On the face of it, they are
just one element in the larger circuit through which information
from production to ultimate consumption. In this respect, they are on a
par with the other elements in the circuit: authors, publishers,
and communities of users. But libraries have to come to symbolize and
exemplify the values we impute to the entire circuit. What we say about
digital libraries and how we understand them embodies and signals our
toward the place of information in our culture. To this extent, it is
of great consequence not only how we construct digital libraries but
we talk about them and whom we include in the conversation.
you tell me, please,
which way I ought to go from here?" Alice asks the Cheshire Cat. "That
depends a good deal on where you want to get to," the Cat replies. "I
much care where-" Alice says. "Then it doesn't matter which way you
the Cat replies. "-so long as I get somewhere," Alice adds. "Oh, you're
sure to do that," says the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." Here is
where the parallel between Alice in Wonderland and digital libraries
For those of us involved in digital library research and development
very much about where we're trying to get to. Whether, or however, we
it, most of us are greatly concerned with the societal consequences of
the work we do. It is my belief that more explicit attention to this
- and a broader, more inclusive debate about it - will lead to a
and more focused research agenda." (Levy 2000)
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Challenges of the Information Society in the 21st Century.
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