Call for papers

The history of the professional and scholarly literature of Information Ethics (IE) in its first 20 years are increasingly linked to library ethics; information systems ethics; computer ethics; cyberethics; journalism, communication and media ethics; Internet ethics; and Web ethics. Each of these areas shares origins and relationships with others and with a wide variety of more emerging fields, including engineering ethics (Didier, 2008) and business ethics. It is however crucial to distinguish the research pertaining to IE from the broad field of KO ethics and its ever-growing literature.

The concept of ethics covers many dimensions in Library and Information Science. Some of them are related to the transfer to a largely digital information environment. It is more related to the explosion of Information & Communication Technology (ICT) and the Internet access. In this respect it is important to highlight Floridi’s Infosphere concept which embraces these different information ecologies. The term Infosphere is a neologism coined by (Floridi 1999) on the basis of ‘biosphere’, a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. He added, Minimally, it denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information”. He distinguishes information as something (e.g. a structure), for something (e.g. an algorithm), and about something (e.g. a piece of news) (Floridi 2011, 2013). We can mention, for instance, the use of computerized issuing systems, or the availability of many resources in digital forms. In this respect, the main areas of concern within information ethics, as Floridi (2013) pointed out, include the contradiction between censorship and intellectual freedom; privacy, confidentiality and data protection; ownership of information and the possible commercial use of public information; universal access, information poverty and the digital divide; respect for intellectual property combined with fair use; and issues of balance and bias in information provision, collection development and metadata creation. In relation to library and information science, these ethical issues have been identified and typically grouped by Floridi (ibid) under the term of “information ethics”.

This concept has been initially developed in the study of the activities of librarians and information specialists to cover a wider concern for information in society as a whole, for which information specialists obviously feel a particular responsibility. These concerns are accounted for by laws such as copyright and censorship rules and regulations, while others are covered by professional codes of conduct. Another dimension, which will be at the core of this CFP concerns the ethics of knowledge organization (KO) in different information stances such as archives, libraries, museums, documentation centers etc.

Regarding KO, it is a process in which ethic dimensions are intimately linked to language and culture. We therefore invite proposals examining ethics within its cultural, linguistic and social frames. ISKO communities’ interest for ethics in KO is rooted in the early criticisms of classification systems (Olson 1999; 2002). A major part of the criticism was focused on the fact that these systems do not offer a representation of language and that their structure alters our interpretation of language in a way that is superfluous or false. For this reason, we must take into account the weight of cultures and languages in the design of KOS as suggested by Tennis (2013).

Ethical issues have been addressed by libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions, corporations, non-profit institutions, academia, government agencies at all levels, information science research, and in media. Increasingly, scholars from the discipline of Information Science are asking questions more specifically related to information and its life cycle. Library ethics focuses more specifically on issues of privacy, censorship, access to information, intellectual freedom and social responsibility. It addresses copyright, fair use, and best practices for collection development.

In information science, ethics is framed by the philosophy of information, a domain which investigates the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its ethical consequences e.g. the ethical impact of ICTs on human life and society (Floridi 2011). Experience showed that authors who write on information ethics deal mainly with the impact of ICTs and of the Internet on information flows with only some studies devoted to the cultural, social and linguistic dimensions of ethics in information and knowledge organization. It is no surprise that this aspect has been for decades taken care of by the ISKO community who considers ethics as a component of knowledge organization research activities. Researchers from ISKO Community (Beghtol, Olson, Fox, Tennis, Guimarães, Pinho, Smiragilia, Mai, Martínez-Ávila, among many others) have been extremely active in the research on KO ethics. Many conferences were organized by the School of Information Studies at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Knowledge Organization Research Group, led by Richard Smiragilia and Hope Olson (2009, 2012 and 2015). Special issues of Knowledge Organization, journal and conference proceedings were devoted to ethics. Some were published in “Knowledge Organization” – Proceedings of the 3rd Milwaukee Conference on Ethics in Knowledge Organization, May 28–29, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA, Knowledge Organization, 5, 2015; Special Issue: Subject Ontogeny and Knowledge Organization System Change, Knowledge Organization, 8, 2016; Special Issue: A Festschrift for Hope Olson, Knowledge Organization, 5, 2016.

Hope Olson showed through her publications that the fundamental principles of western classifications reflect a particular culture may negate other cultural identities. Olson’s work on marginalization and exclusion of specific topics and groups of people in large library classifications has inspired many authors such as Fox (2016); Mai (2016). Other researchers have followed Olson’s approach to ethics, e.g., Brazilian Team at São Paulo State University (UNESP) at Marilia or, at the University of Lille, the Axe 4 Geriico Research Team holds a seminar on Ethics of Information and KO since 2018. In June 2021, the sub-team has 4 founded “The International Thematic Network on Ethics in Human and Social Sciences”. Ethics was the main theme for ISKO-UK last biannual conference: “The Human Position in an Artificial World: Creativity, Ethics, and AI in KO”, London July (see Haynes & Vernau (2019) for the proceedings).

In Archival Science, for instance, the ethical dilemmas revolve mainly two issues: privacy and access to information. Both aspects are closely related to Knowledge Organization as privacy issues, to a great extent, involve the representation of individuals dictated by standards and guidelines, and information access and retrieval is an indivisible part of knowledge organization. These connections have been widely, although never enough, explored in libraries and other information units but are sometimes overlooked in archives. The KO community should explore the theoretical possibilities and practical challenges that this specific type of information unit poses.


Aims, scope and main topics

The KO special issue’s objective is to renew research in the Ethics of Information & Knowledge Organization and broaden its scope to Social and Human Sciences (SHS). Ethics in SHS is a challenging issue and in line with the era of a society mediated by information and communication technology, and where we started living with technology, not only using it. In the field of Humanities, for instance, the notion of ethics is quite relevant to our stance. It is taken into account in as many different ways as the humanities are: we can deal with ethical questions in literature or philosophy by approaching criticism of texts production, in cultural history with the analysis of images regarding the misappropriation of images for example, and so on. What seems interesting to focus on, is that all the sciences –experimental or human - share questions, interrogations, and ethical issues which, of course, converge or, at the very least, resonate one with the other. Rather than assuming an ethical dimension specific to each science, it seems that the ethical questions are addressed in a more global way, and that all of them participate in the ethics of Science in general.

We would like to focus on the theoretical characteristics and approaches that can build a methodological and efficient model for examining Ethics and to highlight the various recurring issues related to the ethical dimensions of Information processing and organization.

From an interdisciplinary perspective, this CFP aims to bring together researchers and teachers from different SHS disciplines working on Ethics: computer science, archives, artificial intelligence, business and engineering, humanities (literature, linguistics, archeology, museology, theology…) etc. This CFP invites practitioners and researchers to reflect on the Ethics of Information with a special focus on KO, in an interdisciplinary perspective.

The Ethical Dimension in Knowledge Organization 

Significant changes that have currently influenced the field of Information Science have led to a questioning, in the international literature, on the role of the information professional, specifically regarding the ethical aspects of their practice, within a broader conception of well acting or well doing. Many authors (Guimarães 2006, Froehlich 2008), argued that problems arise from prejudice, dichotomous categorizations, too specific vision of the world, lack of terminological precision and indiscriminate use of political correctness in representations. Some theoretical approaches can be highlighted in order to face the challenges to promote processes, tools and products that are not tied to a given dominant ideology, and which respect the varied forms of knowledge: the transcultural ethics of mediation, the multicultural dimension of multilingual KOS, the cultural warrant based on a multi-ethical foundation for globalized KOS, the ethical use of “the power to name” because the representation of information itself presupposes a power which leads to constructing products that will act as a semblance of the document or as documentary surrogate. In this sense, although KOS can reflect the mainstream culture of a society, they need to be constantly opened to multiple cultural approaches to avoid marginalization and cultural imperialisms (Olson 2002).

Ethical issues of information flow and control by algorithms

Automated information processing is not neutral. Human practice with its moral and ideological orientations is at the core of data use, algorithm design and the use made of the resulting information. Information processing in these ecosystems then appears to be both ethical and technical matters from which legal regulation can be derived. The increasing delegation of our choices and decisions to algorithms shows how the notion of the "information ecosystem" is more relevant than ever. The advent of autonomous machines based on "deep learning" (big data-driven) has revealed more crucially the consequences of this delegation of power to algorithms. It has entailed led to the recent debate on the "ethics of algorithms", which has focused essentially on two ethical issues: on the one hand, the responsibility distributed among humans, algorithms and algorithm designers for the negative effects that these treatments can have, and, on the other hand, transparency, understood as the possibility of explaining to users the principles of algorithm ranking and the results that stem from them.

The CFP will also address ethical issues of biased decisions produced by machine learning from big data, two main areas have been identified: the transparency of algorithms to make them explainable and data quality management clean up data in order to improve the result of processing operations. Regarding Information flow control by algorithms, we invite papers dealing with, on the one hand the proportion of biases induced by algorithms and, on the other hand, with investigating the ethical practices of documentation and Web professionals (specialists in UX design, SEO, community management and web writing). The first point is to identify algorithmic mechanisms that may produce biases in textual data such as word embedding, (Narayananan Arvind 2017). The second point, stems from the information professional practices in order to compare current work on ethical standards built within business associations. We intend nourishing the theoretical growing interest in ethics and its relationship with what is called today “professional ethics”.

The CFP addresses two major types of digital information ecologies: the infosphere (Information flow on the web) and the recorded knowledge in Knowledge organization systems (KOS). The main topics are not limited but can be summarized in the following:

  • Theoretical investigations on the ethics of information
  • Ethical theories applied to KO 
  • Globally diverse information ethics traditions and conditions
  • Anthropology of Knowledge and Cultural Diversity in KO
  • Ethical values in KO practices
  • Ethical problems in KO practices
  • Ethical challenges for KO theory and practice
  • KO and post truth
  • The ethics of KO research
  • Compatibility between local and global approaches in KO
  • Prejudices in KO practices
  • The ethics of big data and its consequences to KO
  • KO as an ethical mediating stance
  • Ethics of Scientific Research
  • Open Data Ethics
  • Ethical issues related to Algorithmic Power and Bias
  • Social media (Misinformation, Disinformation and Fake News)
  • Information Technology at Social Margins and Intersections (race, gender, sexuality and other facets of identity and privilege)
  • Digital divides (economic, geographic, technical infrastructure, skills, gender, race, income and other lines of separation)
  • Intercultural and cross-cultural information Ethics (cognitive justice and digital inclusion, Indigenous knowledge, multilingualism…)
  • Ethical issues in specific information environments such as archives, libraries, museums, documentation centers, etc.


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Casenave, J., Mustafa El Hadi, W. (2019). Developments in Ethics of Knowledge Organization: From Critical Approaches to Classifications to Controlled Digital Communication Practices. In D. Haynes, J. Vernau (eds.). The Human Position in an Artificial World: Creativity, Ethics and AI in Knowledge Organization (114–127). Baden-Baden: Ergon Verlag.

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Floridi, L. (2013). The Ethics of Information. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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