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elbanditoroso's avatar

Library ethics. Is it ethically correct for the staff person to take a best-seller before the plebeians?

Asked by elbanditoroso (14767 points ) November 1st, 2012

Situation: A new book is published. The library buys (for example) 40 copies. It’s by a popular author, so there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of reserves queued for the title.

The box of books comes in. Staff opens the box, and gets ready to make the 40 copies available.

She/he decides: “I like this author, too. I’m going to take a copy for a day or two, read it, and then put it into circulation.”

A very human thing to do.

Ethical or not?

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25 Answers

tom_g's avatar

Sure. Why not? What’s the alternative here? Should s/he put it on the shelf, then immediately pick it up again and check it out?

Edit: Stupid me. Didn’t read the question correctly (the part about the reserve queue). Yes, I still don’t see any problem with it – certainly no ethical problems.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Ethical. Librarian will need to answer questions regarding said book.

Also, isn’t it obvious that a librarian would be interested in reading the latest books?

Seek's avatar

I frequently place myself on reserve lists at my local library. Sometimes, I’ll wait six months to a year for a new release.

Considering the Librarian had as much opportunity as everyone else to research the author and plan an advance reserve (and more, as most libraries publish a list of upcoming works, which she would have been privy to), it would cheese me off if I were number 40 on the waiting list, and I were passed up because the librarian was too stupid to reserve a copy for herself.

ucme's avatar

I wouldn’t believe anything a librarian tells you, one I knew said she was afraid of heights, she lived on the top floor in a high-rise block…...tsk, another tall storey!

SavoirFaire's avatar

I’m with @Seek_Kolinahr. The librarian is in the best position to make sure that s/he is at the top of the reserve list, so there really is no excuse for bumping someone later on just because s/he failed to get on the list at the appropriate time.

Jeruba's avatar

“Plebeians”? That’s a pretty loaded word. Are you implying that librarians are somehow a privileged class?

Anyone in the role of supplier of something obviously has first access to it. That does not mean that everyone else is viewed as a vulgar common mob somewhere beneath them. Taking umbrage at some slight and going automatically to an adversarial stance strikes me as one of the worst contagions of our time. I think it would do us all some good to grant one another a little charitable leeway.

I wouldn’t begrudge a first look at new titles to the people who keep our public library services running. I’d consider it a perk of the job.

Trillian's avatar

How is it any different than with any other occupation. You get dibs where you work. So what? Ethics has absolutely NOTHING to do with it. You can buy a copy or borrow from a source. The source calls the shots. We’re not talking about a limited supply of a vaccine and the masses are dropping like flies while the medical personnel take care of themselves.
It’s a freaking book to which no one is ENTITLED.

ucme's avatar

My uncle used to be a butcher, we always ate the best sausages….ooh arr!

Seek's avatar

^ But probably not the special-order sausages being shipped in for a customer, who you later tell to wait because you want to eat it first.

Jeruba's avatar

Sausages aren’t reusable.

flutherother's avatar

You could say it would be more ethical if the librarian had reserved the book in advance but this is splitting hairs as it makes no practical difference.

Seek's avatar

Well, I think it does. I relate it to standing in line for a concert ticket. Sure the guy who works at TicketMaster has the first dibs, but he doesn’t get to wait until the day of the show to take my ticket and give me a nosebleed seat after I’ve already held my place in the third row.

glacial's avatar

If the librarian is keeping the list him- or herself, then it makes no difference. The librarian could have added his/her name to the list at any point, and other patrons are not going to be holding ticket numbers, waiting for specific copies to come back. And if the book is returned within one or two days (not that this is the point), that is probably much faster than any other library user would return it. Finally, having read the book will affect the librarian’s ability to discuss the book intelligently with patrons.

So yes, it’s ethically fine, is not an inconvenience, and benefits patrons to boot.

Jeruba's avatar

Show tickets aren’t reusable.

Reading a book doesn’t diminish or cancel its value or exhaust its content for the next reader.

Seek's avatar

Have you seen what people do to library books these days? Most of those aren’t reusable either.

And it’s not the reusable aspect – it’s the having to wait another month to read the book because someone else was too inconsiderate to get in line.

Seek's avatar

^ Where I live, a book is checked out three weeks at at time, with a one-week “grace period” before fees start.

glacial's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr The question refers to a librarian who is reading one copy out of 40 within one or two days. The librarian is not making you wait, and is not mangling the book, either.

Seek's avatar

If it’s that simple, the librarian should have gotten in line.

Anyway, where I live the point is moot – the book can’t leave the library unless it’s checked out, and the book can only be checked out by the person next in line in the queue.

Jeruba's avatar

I read library books all the time. The only one I’ve found that wasn’t usable was an old paperback with very narrow margins. When its binding was repaired by stapling, the staples fell so close to the text that everything on the spine edge of the page couldn’t be read. It had obviously already been read many times by the time that happened.

I’m seeing an amazing amount of umbrage on a hypothetical question with so many conditions that it seems rather unlikely to happen anyway. Let’s just imagine that the library ordered 41 copies and the 40th person simply doesn’t have to wait.

SuperMouse's avatar

In our library one cannot put their name on the reserve list until the book has been put into circulation, so it would be really uncool for the librarian to snag a copy before it has even been through cataloging. That being said, once the book has been cataloged and is ready to be shelved, all bets are off. I don’t think it is unethical for the librarian to take a copy before the books go on the shelf. I might consider it one of the perks of the job.

rooeytoo's avatar

I’d buy the book from Kobo and read it on my laptop or phone. The librarian can do what she wants!

janbb's avatar

Librarians are fast readers! :-)

SuperMouse's avatar

@janbb fast readers and book lovers, they would never dog ear a page or write in a book – any book they check out will be returned in better condition!

P.S. It is good to see you back posting – I hope things are back to normal in your part of the world very soon!

janbb's avatar

@SuperMouse Thanks Mousie! Bloodied but unbowed; the emotional stuff is worse than the physical – at least in my situation.

And you are absolutely right, librarians improve a book by pre-reading it!

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