Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Reference Services Review





First Page


Last Page



Date of Submission

October 2020



Purpose -- This think piece explores the question of whether or not librarians can ethically remain politically neutral in the wake of the 45th administration. The authors take a critical look at ALA’s Code of Ethics, as well as the concept of vocational awe, and recommend challenging the “sacredness” of neutrality as a core tenet of the profession. Additionally, the authors describe the history of white privilege within libraries and argue that it is time to actively fight white supremacy and disavow the profession’s history of replicating racist social structures.

Design/methodology/approach -- This article is a researched think piece designed to encourage critical thought about long held idealistic beliefs in our profession.

Findings -- Our research suggests that despite the profession’s history of outwardly valuing “neutrality’, libraries are not and have never been neutral. Libraries have chosen, time and again, to value white privilege and a white frame of reference to the detriment of librarians and patrons of color. Because many librarians also see the profession as upholding “sacred” ideals like neutrality, we fall into the trap of being unable to criticize our own profession and practices and, therefore, are unable to make much needed changes.

Research limitations/implications -- This piece is based on the opinions of the authors and on the opinions of authors they have cited. It contains no original quantitative or qualitative research.

Originality/value -- This piece challenges long-held assumptions that the profession has taken for granted over the past century. We argue that it is good and necessary to question the Code of Ethics, vocational awe, and neutrality with the goal of improving the profession in light of the current cultural and political climate.

Keywords -- Neutrality, vocational awe, code of ethics, social justice, 45th administration, librarianship

Paper type -- Think piece

Recommended Citation

Cheshire, K. and Stout, J. (2020), "The moral arc of the library: what are our duties and limitations after 45?", Reference Services Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 219-225.


Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial International Licence 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0)(

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Is Part Of

VCU Libraries Faculty and Staff Publications