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Research Ethics: Code of Practice: November 2006

Statement of the British Library's code of practice on research ethics.


This Code of Practice applies to all research undertaken by staff of the British Library which is funded by the British Library or by the research councils (or by researchers registered to make applications to the research councils), or by other public funders.

Research conducted by collaborative PhD students would normally be governed by the relevant Higher Education Institution's Code of Practice.

Guiding principles

The fundamental principles are not doing or permitting harm in the widest sense, including not infringing the rights of others; whilst serving the well being and interests of others.

Researchers should comply with all legal requirements e.g. Obscene Publications Act, Computer Misuse Act, Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act, Sex Discrimination Act, Race Discrimination Act, Human Rights Act, Disability Discrimination Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, etc. See the Office of Public Sector Information and Directgov.

Researchers (and those contracted to conduct research on behalf of the British Library) should abide by the Code of Ethics of any relevant professional body, e.g. Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) in the case of library and information professionals.

Research reports should be truthful, accurate and demonstrably the work of the author.

Researchers should not infringe any pre-existing rights in the conduct of their research e.g. intellectual property rights.

Research outputs should contain acknowledgments of the work of others where appropriate.

Researchers should consider all ethical ramifications of their research and the physiological, psychological, social, political, religious, cultural and economic consequences of the work on participants.

Human participation in research should be on the basis of fully informed consent and participants' rights of privacy should be guaranteed.

The means by which participants are recruited should be carefully assessed in relation to possible rewards for participation.

Prior to gaining informed consent, the researcher should ensure that all participants are fully informed of the nature and purpose of the research.

Where the nature of the research may mean that informing participants in advance could invalidate the results, there must be appropriate explanations following the study.

Where the researcher is not sufficiently informed to make a fair judgment, specialist advice should be sought.

Research Ethics Sub-Committee

Before the commencement of research, all researchers shall complete the Research Ethics Approval Form, indicating whether or not there are ethical risks or conflicts of interest. This must be sent to the Chair of the Research Ethics Sub-Committee, for approval normally by Chair's action.

The Research ethics Sub-Committee is a subset of the Research Board. It consists of two internal (one of whom should normally be a Collection Head and who would be Chair of the Research Ethics Sub-Committee), and one external members of the Research Board.

Terms of reference

  • to approve, or otherwise, research proposals that raise ethical questions and conflicts of interest
  • to judge whether the benefits of the research outweigh the risks of a particular research proposal or methodology
  • to investigate any complaint referred to it involving a breach of the Research Ethics Code of Practice and to recommend the consideration of disciplinary action when appropriate and in accordance with British Library terms and conditions of employment, in the case of researchers employed by the Library
  • to ensure that the relevant research council is informed of any prima facie research misconduct
  • to make a formal return of proposals approved or turned down, and of any breaches of the Research Ethics Code of Practice on an annual basis to the Secretary of the British Library Board
  • to revise and update the Research Ethics Code of Practice where and when necessary
  • to publicise the Research Ethics Code of Practice to staff and to organise training as appropriate

British Library Research Ethics approval form

Lead researcher:

Proposal title:

Purpose of research:

Proposed timing:

Partners (if any):

The researcher has read the British Library Research Ethics Code of Practice Y/N

Ethical Risks of Research/Methodology:

Benefits of Research

Return to: Chair of the Research Ethics Sub-Committee, British Library

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