Saturday, November 23, 2013

More ethical dilemmas

Tonight a woman called and asked about a zillion different hotels in our metro area. She seemed interested in one of the ones I checked into for her, but then paused and said, "I've heard that's a bad neighborhood. Is that a bad neighborhood?" I told her that I hadn't lived in the state long and had not heard anything about the area. "How could I find out?" she persisted. I took the path of least resistance and told her that I had better transfer her to a librarian, because that was a fairly complex research question.

But what if I had had to take that question myself? I have lived in at least one "bad" neighborhood. I liked living there and it really seemed like the label discouraged people from shopping, working, or moving there. Accordingly the label became kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm really reluctant to name anywhere as a bad or dangerous neighborhood, especially on the basis of a two-minute Google search. I don't feel any more qualified to determine what is a good or a bad neighborhood than I do to give tax or legal advice (other things library staff are often asked for that they cannot really provide).

But on the other hand, my job is to provide the best information possible to library patrons. If this area has higher crime statistics than neighborhoods nearby, shouldn't I find that out for her? By asking the question she has indicated that she is sensitive to crime rates, atmosphere, the 'badness' of a neighborhood, so if anything maybe I should err on the side of confirming her worries since she is likely to percieve a marginal neighborhood as 'bad.'

How would you handle this if you were in my place? Or how, as a member of the taxpaying and/or ethics-contemplating public, would you want me to handle it?


  1. That's a tough one. I guess I'd tell her how to find crime stats for the area. I'd try to avoid labels. You might take a look at the crime data or whatever and see if recent stats are better; a lot of perceptions are based on very old information, and it might be legitimate to say "that area has gone through a lot of changes lately and its crime rates have dropped" or something like that...

  2. I would literally just say, "Well I can't really speak to whether or not it's a bad area. What I can give you is information about crime statistics. Would that answer your question?"

    Or just straight up ask her what she means by "bad" so you can figure out if there is a research answer you can give her.