31 January 2009

Well, if I ever meet The Ethicist again...

There's an interesting discussion going on over at The Writer's Coin about the ethics of the free shelf. Blog author Nut has access to a laundry-room shelf where residents of the building leave books they don't want any more. Nut is saving for a new computer and saw some books that looked pretty valuable on there. Is it okay to use those books for profit?

I commented that while I wouldn't call that "stealing," I think Nut knew what he (or she) was doing was unethical. A lot of people went further than I, but I'm not even sure where to draw the line. After all, I used to work at a place that had a pretty rich giveaway table, and while I never sold anything from it, when I gave away those books on BookMooch technically I was reaping a profit -- even if I wasn't measuring it in dollars! On the other hand, I have seen someone engage in this behavior Nut describes -- I didn't speak out, but maybe I should have.

Of course, this makes me wonder how institutions that get thousands of books in a year deal with this issue, ethically speaking, if it would cost much more to return them to the publishers. I know one summer a friend of mine was interning at a newspaper and wrote excitedly to me about the treasures he got when the arts and culture section was selling all their old product, with the proceeds going to charity. At another job I held, a similar sale poured money into the coffers of the annual holiday party, something I found out too late when I accidentally forgot my money and got a Talking To from a secretary about how I ruined Christmas. (Oops.)

I have actually met The Ethicist; he came to lecture at the Hillel where I worked in college. During the Q&A, I asked him whether my mom was obligated to get me a dog after she killed my pet fish while I was away at school. He said she was! I am still waiting for my free dog.


ap said...

Are you serious about that secretary story?

Ellen said...

Yes, that actually happened to me. Funny, Christmas was still a few weeks away, so I guess it had time to recover from my nefarious efforts.