May 22, 2022

Research Article: “On the Ethics of Social Network Research in Libraries”

The following full text article will be published in The Journal of Information, Communication, and Ethics in Society (Vol 14, No 2; 2016).


On the Ethics of Social Network Research in Libraries


Sara Mannheimer
University of Montana

Scott W.H. Young
University of Montana

Doralyn Rossmann
University of Montana

via University of Montana Scholarworks Repository


In this paper, faculty librarians at Montana State University explore the ethical dimensions of conducting research with user-generated social networking site (SNS) data. In an effort to guide Librarian-Researchers, this paper first offers a background discussion of privacy ethics across disciplines, then proposes a library-specific ethical framework for conducting SNS research.

By surveying the literature in other disciplines, three key considerations are identified that can inform ethical practice in the field of Library Science: context, expectation, and value analysis. For each of these considerations, the framework is tailored to consider ethical issues as they relate to libraries and our practice as Librarian-Researchers.

The unique role of the Librarian-Researcher demands an ethical framework specific to that practice. The findings of this paper propose such a framework

Practical Implications
Librarian-Researchers are at a unique point in our history. In exploring SNSs as a source of data to conduct research and improve services, we become challenged by conflicting and equally cherished values of patron privacy and information access. By evaluating research according to context, expectations, and value, this framework provides an ethical path forward for research using SNS data.

As of this article’s publication, there is no existing ethical framework for conducting SNS research in libraries. The proposed framework is informed both by library values and by broader research values, and therefore provides unique guidelines for the Librarian-Researcher.

Direct to Full Text Article (16 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.