Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Document Type



A common assignment in introductory reference classes these days requires library school students to ask questions of a virtual reference service—usually not at their own university library—and evaluate their encounter. Often they are instructed to ask a question that might be of genuine interest to them, but there is no way to guarantee that the students even have a question of interest, leading in some cases to students asking random questions of these services. Regardless, such assignments might benefit the instructors and students, but they do so at the expense of librarians. One such interaction led to an ethical analysis of “fake reference.” Fake reference assignments are unethical. This article tests that assertion from a deontological (the right thing to do) and a consequentialist (leads to good outcomes) approach, using Kant’s categorical imperative, the American Library Association’s (ALA) “Code of Ethics,” and by testing their possible goals from the user and library perspective.