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Why Data Ethics is a Matter for Librarians

Blog. Knowledge is power! And therefore, knowledge must be managed with great responsibility. Many librarians and information professionals are aware and devoted to this when building bridges between people and knowledge.
Tine Segel


Knowledge as a concept can have many approaches. Knowledge can be acquired  through learning and practice. Knowledge can be created between people and through interaction. Knowledge can be created in systems and organizations. Knowledge can be created from data and information that is being processed and made useful to a company, an organization, a student, a researcher and for the citizens. Knowledge can influence and determine democratic elections, and therefore it is important to strengthen what can be defined as democratic resilience. This can be applied in society through enlightened citizens. In addition politician and the society as a whole must pay attention to the consequences of the use of he digital footsteps we all leave behind when we use social media paths and roads.

The members of the Danish Association of Librarian and Information Professionals work as librarians, information professionals and cultural agents in libraries, public organisations and private sector companies. They are building bridges between people and knowledge. Whether it is the master data specialist, who systematically structure and maintains data in systems, so they are always up to date and available for further business processes. Or it is the librarian who gives the student or citizen access to knowledge through information searching, and in the teaching of digital security. It is also when the archive manager handles large amounts of metadata and thus makes knowledge commercial. Or the quality coordinator who lift and streamline processes so that knowledge flows and meets international standards.
Because the work of the librarian and information professional often is operated at the core of many processes, it is also important to relate to how we manage the trust we are given. Because when our members structure, handle and systematize the use of knowledge in society and in businesses, it’s not our own data, but other’s data that is being managed.
Therefore, data ethics are relevant for BF and our members, and therefore we will work more actively with data technology as the centerpiece of processes, advice, guidance and dissemination in private companies and public institutions.
This kind of thinking is not new for information professionals and librarians. In 2002, the International library organization, IFLA, made a declaration proclaiming the fundamental right to access and transmit information without restrictions. Among other things, it states that “the commitment to support and promote intellectual freedom is a key responsibility for library and information professionals worldwide and that this support must be expressed both in ethical guidelines and demonstrated in practice.” Important to remember this when the library world talking about personalization and collection of personal information in the development of library systems.
Use of data, data ethic and the right to privacy is a hot topic at the moment. The Danish government is introducing a Data Ethic Council (about time one might think).Because it is important that we, as society, actively engage in data ethical perspectives and dilemmas, whether in private or in public sector. Data ethics and the right to privacy are written down in human rights, and with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) all of us have gained more insight in the use of our data. In addition, the founder of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, recently launched a ‘Contract for the Web’ campaign to help citizens, authorities and businesses ensure that the Internet is an open good and a basic right for everyone to access.


All in all, there are a lot of good thoughts and initiatives. So we are on our way to lift up the data ethical agenda. The thinkdotank Data Ethics was founded in Copenhagen in 2015.  I have been in the advisory board since the beginning. because it provides knowledge about the area and because I contribute with perspectives from librarians and information professionals. One of the milestones have been the introduction of  Data Ethics Principles, which I recommend that you read.

By Tine Segel, Chairwoman of the Danish Association of Librarians and Informations Professionals (BF) and member of‘s advisory board