CORE VALUES: Guiding beliefs or principles of central importance,
from which decisions are made and directions are taken.
What are the core values for libraries and teacher-librarians?
Core Values of Librarianship
This page explains what core values are, provides several important examples of core values, and discusses core values in the educational context, with references and resources, in the Research section below.
According to the American Library Association (2014):
According to Michael Gorman (2015):
Design by Burton (2020)
Equity of Access
The Greater Good
According to Dr. S. R. Ranganathan (in Gorman, 2015):
Photograph by Kim (2015)
Design Burton (2020)
Books are for use.
Every book its reader.
Every reader his book.
Save the time of the reader.
The library is a growing organism.
The Five Laws of Library Science:
What's behind this: Research & Reflections
Michael Gorman, the ALA, and a Coin
Gorman (2015) suggested that the struggle between pragmatism and idealism is ever present in a librarian’s work, whether conscious or not, and that it in fact may be “complimentary impulses” or two sides of the same coin (p. 26).
The guiding values in a library are typically motivated or underwritten by a combination of practicality or utilitarianism and altruism or idealistic principles. While Gorman’s Core Values (2015, p. 35-37) and the Core Values of Librarianship for the American Library Association (2004) can be compared (see Figure 1), their values could also be categorised according to whether they are primarily practical or idealistic. However, upon closer inspection, there are elements of both in all of the values. For example, service appears in both lists, and while the ALA focuses on excellence in professionalism and Gorman considers the ethic of service to be what we use to evaluate policies and procedures, both are deeply practical but with the highest of ideals: aid of the individual and community. It just depends which side of the coin we are looking at.
Figure 1. The Core Values of Librarianship according to the ALA (2014) and Gorman (2015)
[Note: The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) states that a central purpose of their organisation is to “champion library values and the value of libraries” but they do not have an easily accessible statement of what their library values are (2018, para. 2). An examination of their website structure reveals some prominent values such as the importance of intellectual freedom and Indigenous issues and reconciliation. The CFLA endorses the ALA’s library core values. However, the ALA does not have the same conversation around Indigenous culture and the reconciliation process, and so it is not a specifically mentioned core value. While Diversity, and also Preservation and Social Responsibility, might include topics arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee report, recognition of - and action on - Indigenous issues would likely be a core value in and of itself in a Canadian context.]
In fact, holding both pragmatism and idealism together as the two sides of one coin is a vital in-built check and balance system. It prevents us from becoming too practical and losing sight of the big picture, or becoming too idealistic and losing touch with what really is needed to make things work. Both are necessary, as is the natural tension that they create. Any set of core values must address the need for both.
However, because schools have a mandate from parents to care for their children in loco parentis, and as children are required to visit the school library while public libraries are not compulsive, teacher-librarians face some added pressures. So, when trying to uphold the core value of intellectual freedom, the teacher-librarian must also walk the line of considering what resources are developmentally appropriate for students. Complete freedom of the borrower bumps up against the teacher’s or parent’s desire to provide books at a particular reading level and on certain topics (or not other topics). In fact, the teacher-librarian will at times face internal conflict between values which are primarily those of a teacher and those of a librarian! A helpful guiding principle from the ALA states: “Parents or guardians have the right to guide the reading, viewing, and listening of their children but must give the same right to other parents/guardians” (ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, 2018, para. 8).
This is also where the value of professionalism or service connects: strong, clear policies and explanations help protect intellectual freedom through challenged resource forms and procedures - pragmatic policies protecting ideals. This also upholds the principle of democracy by listening to everyone’s concerns or issues, and having representative members of the community on a challenged resource review committee.
The ideal of intellectual freedom coincides with the pragmatic need to shelve books according to certain criteria (picture books, junior fiction, senior fiction) to “save the time of the reader” (Ranganathan, in Gordon, 2015, p. 26). This can lead to restricted from borrowing based on age or grade. While some books might simply be too advanced in content or reading level, and thus perhaps not the most beneficial for a student’s learning, they still need times when they can borrow freely. Teachers may require certain reading to be done in their class, but teacher-librarians also need to require times of student free choice.
Often, worries about student selection of books are unfounded. When given the freedom to start and stop reading according to their interest, students can simply return a book if is too advanced, select something else, and learn from the experience. Stephen Krashen’s compilation of research on Free Voluntary Reading states that narrow readers also tend to naturally broaden their interests (2011, 72). “Every reader his book” (Ranganathan, in Gordon, 2015, p. 26) - we just have to help them find their book! Pragmatically, we can help them find a book that will suit them best within certain shelves, but idealistically, we would not want to restrict them to those shelves. It is a balance of values and underlying principles, or two sides of a coin.
Reflections on Other Resources
The Common Beliefs from the American Association of School Librarians (2018, p.3) are so simply put and such a great summary. They seem so fundamental that I almost want to call them "Basic Facts" instead of "Common Beliefs"! However, not all people, or all teachers, or even (sadly) all librarians subscribe to these beliefs, and certainly not all governments, based on defunding of teacher-librarians during various administrations. Kroski’s “7 things librarians are tired of hearing” - as discussed by Gorman (2015) - is both humorous and heart-rending, as it highlights the widespread misunderstanding of librarians and by extension, libraries. Gorman points out how students are being failed by school “libraries” that have no librarian, which is all too often the case. These 7 misunderstandings are not just frustrating - they shape political decisions.
1. The school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community.
2. Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries.
3. Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life.
4. Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.
5. Intellectual freedom is every learner's right.
6. Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available.
Ellyssa Kroski's 7 Things Librarians are Tired of Hearing
in Gorman (2015)
1. "Do people still even go to the library now that there's Google?"
2. "So, are you like, a volunteer?" Usually followed up with "What? You need to have a master's degree to be a librarian?!!"
3. "But isn't print dead at this point?"
4. "You're a librarian? That's so hot!"
5. "That must be great to just be able to read all day."
6. "So you, like, get to shush people all day?"
7. "So what do you think the future is for libraries? I have a theory . . ."
Thoughts form David Lankes: NEXT Symposium 2010
Lankes is both knowledgeable and passionate about his topic, and while this presentation may be a bit older, there are some real gems here, and some valuable lessons for librarianship.
Knowledge is change. To gain knowledge is to change how you see the world. Knowledge changes people's worldviews. Libraries support the more equitable distribution of knowledge across society as well.
We are [I am] going to screw up royally, but this is good because it is attempting new things, a learning process.
“What will kill librarianship is a lack of imagination.” (9:04) Keep looking around to see what could be, not just what is.
Lankes places democracy at the crux of his belief structure or core values; there is no more noble thing than democracy, or the notion of giving a community and civilisation a voice in its own with decision-making and direction. I have nothing against democracy, and in fact I am a big fan, but still I do not hold it quite so high as to place it at my centre of personal core values. However, I am open to the argument!
American Association of School Librarians. (2018). AASL standards framework for learners. Chicago: American Library Association.
American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. (2018 January). Guiding principles for all types of libraries. Chicago:
American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/selectionpolicytoolkit/principles
American Library Association. (2004, June 29). Core values of librarianship. Retrieved from
Canadian Federation of Library Associations. (2018). Retrieved from http://cfla-fcab.ca/en/home-page/?s=values
Gorman, M. (2015). Our enduring values revisited: Librarianship in an ever-changing world. Chicago: American Library Association.
Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Lankes, R. D. (2010, November 17). David Lankes: NEXT symposium 2010 [video file]. Retrieved from
Kim, E. (2015, December 8). Sand dollar [photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/eekim/23329083330
Munmom (2016, May 19). The core values of librarianship [infographic]. Retrieved from
American Library Association. (2004, June 29). ALA policy manual: B.1 Core values, ethics, and core competencies. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aboutala/governance/policymanual/updatedpolicymanual/section2/40corevalues
Berg, S. A., & Jacobs, H. L. M. (Eds.). (2016). Valuing librarianship: Core values in theory and practice. Library Trends, 64(3), 459–467.
An entire special edition dedicated to exploring - and sparking deeper conversations regarding - the Core Values adopted by the ALA, with the various contributing "authors’ diverse and nuanced discussions reveal[ing] the complexities involved in defining terms like core values" (p. 462).
Gorman's book, Our enduring values revisited: Librarianship in an ever-changing world, on Google Books