Librarian fined $500 for saying nice things about his daughter's book


Dale says: "A silly decision in NYC to fine a librarian for saying nice things about his daughter's illustrations for a book, a manga edition of Macbeth."

For 39 years as an educator, Robert Grandt has been promoting other people’s books. So this year, when his daughter helped create a graphic novel of Macbeth of which he was mighty proud, Mr. Grandt could not resist bragging a little in the newsletter he distributes as librarian at Brooklyn Technical High School.

“Best New Book: Grandt, Eve, Shakespeare’s Macbeth — The Manga Edition,” he wrote under the heading Grandt’s Picks. graphic novelMr. Grandt’s daughter Eve did the artwork for the graphic novel “Shakespeare’s Macbeth: The Manga Edition.”

He also placed a few copies of the book at a library display table, and posted a sign: “Best Book Ever Written.” If someone was interested, they got a book free.

But one person’s parental pride is another panel’s ethical transgression.

On Monday, the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board announced it had settled a case it had brought against Mr. Grandt for promoting his daughter’s work. He agreed to pay a $500 fine and admit in a three-page stipulation that he had violated the city ethics code.

Librarian fined $500 for saying nice things about his daughter's book


  1. i hate when people decide that just because they don’t like what someone did, they should screw that person over.
    it’s also abuse of the ethics code. those laws and codes exist for totally legitimate reasons. just because something as harmless as promoting a book his daughter made didn’t necessarily fall entirely under the code, doesn’t mean it matters. unless there was pornography or gore or something, then there’d be something wrong with giving mature content away to kids, or offending someone.

    i mean, police officers generally don’t give a driver a speeding ticket for going less than seven or ten miles per hour over the speed limit, because the purpose of the limit is to keep people safe, not to make people follow an arbitrary speed regulation number. and you are still safe going a few miles per hour over, it’s not like your car will suddenly lose control or explode based on a number that has nothing to do with the abilities of the car.

    i doubt, however, that it’s the best book ever written.

  2. Well, now they got a ton of publicity out of it.

    But let me get this straight, he was just trying to promote a book at a library? He was proud of his daughter’s work. I only wish all parents were proud of and had a good reason to be proud of their kids.
    He was giving the book away for free.
    What did he do wrong?
    Who cares why someone promoted a book at a library. The fact that anyone is promoting reading of any kind is a good thing.

    If my local library had an author, or someone related to an author or illustrator in-house, I am sure they would be more than happy to allow them to promote the book there.

  3. That’ll teach him to support his daughter!

    I’m a librarian and we have a policy asking employees not to sell things (girl scout cookies, candy for fund-raising) to patrons or employees on library property. It prevents people from feeling pressured or awkward. Sensible policy. But this gentleman is GIVING AWAY books. Free, gratis, no harm no foul. This is not analogous to a cop selling your tickets to the policeman’s ball at a traffic stop. This is free books from a librarian. Cogitate on that.

    Inflexible ethics policies aren’t very ethical.

  4. And, I just ordered 2 copies for our library. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it NYC “Ethics” Commission.

  5. The problem isn’t that he was pushing the book, the problem is that he didnt’ disclose his relationship to the author. If he had posted a sign saying something along the lines of “Recent Books by Local Authors” or “Books by Librarian’s Relatives”, then this might not be that big of an issue. Even in his newsletter article, he merely had to mention in the opening grafs that it was his daughter’s book and he might have been in the clear. Or, he could have made it more explicit that his review was a tongue-in-cheek take on bragging about his daughter

    The other issue is raises is one of product placement in the library–by prominently featuring a book and **giving away copies** without an author reading or signing taking place, it can be construed as a specific endorsement of the book by the library, encouraging patrons to buy the book instead of merely renting it from the library. Library displays are meant to encourage people to read books from the collection, not buy books, or, heaven forbid, take books out of the library “for free” (i.e., to keep at home forever and ever).

  6. #8 – I agree, but that’s hardly an ethics issue. It’s a “Hey, dude, don’t do that,” issue. I do think he should have gotten a peppy-spanking over it, but legal trouble over it? That’s a stretch.

  7. @ mgfarrelly – well said, and I’m going to put in a request that my public library orders it as well.

    @ mwschmeer – He did note in the newsletter that it was his daughter. “Best New Book: Grandt, Eve, Shakespeare’s Macbeth — The Manga Edition,” he wrote under the heading Grandt’s Picks. graphic novelMr. Grandt’s daughter Eve did the artwork for the graphic novel “Shakespeare’s Macbeth: The Manga Edition.”

  8. “I decided not only would I take the table down, but I’d better remove the book from the catalog and take it permanently off the shelves,” he said, figuring “that would be the best course of action.”

    Everyone should buy a copy and donate it to his library.

  9. I don’t get the outrage? A city employee using his position to promote a family member’s livelihood.

    Sure it seems heavy handed to apply this to a librarian, but we want governments to apply rules evenly.

    When these kinds of rules get flexible, the mayor starts giving his brother prime construction contracts.

  10. Agree with #8 – the problem is that he continuously pushed the book and rarely ever mentioned the artist was his daughter.

    I’d be kind of pissed off if I found out a book my librarian pushed and pushed was created by their daughter – how can I trust his/her opinions? Be upfront.

    The fine seems excessive, though. $500???

  11. @mwschmeer:

    Wait, so giving away free copies of the books is unethical because it encourages people to buy the book they just got for free?

    Your logic, it does not work.

    Giving away a book encourages reading, which is the very core of librarianship. If I could give away more books I’d do it in a heartbeat. Some publishers send out free copies (not readers editions) as prizes (for summer reading and such) and we happily give them away year round. More books in more hands is more good…er…better.

    Product placement in libraries? Again, I welcome this. I’ve constructed book displays to tie in to current movies, elections, world events and just personal interests. I guess my “Stark Industries” display over the summer that featured Iron Man graphic novels as well as non-fiction on technology was product placement. But we had to replenish it daily and ended up ordering quite a few new books on science as well as more comics.

    This was a librarian giving away books and promoting an adaptation, by his daughter, of one of the most enduring pieces of the western canon. That he did not underline her last name (which is also his last name) and put a star next to it is, at worst, an oversight. At worst his supervisor should have said “Hey, say that that’s your daughter, be a proud poppa.”

    The ethical lapse here came from the board, not Mr. Grandt.

  12. Library displays are meant to encourage people to read books from the collection, not buy books, or, heaven forbid, take books out of the library “for free” (i.e., to keep at home forever and ever).

    But if it is a public library, isn’t it a social service rather than some business organization trying to pitch its own ‘products’? I thought libraries were meant to encourage reading and make books in general more accessible to people who cannot afford to buy books, not discourage people from buying their own books.

    Sorry but this situation sound more like another example of stupid, blind compliance to a rule rather than real judgement OR an act of jealousy and resent from a person with more influence on the Board than Mr Grandt.

    Someone had to report that he *shamelessly* promoted a book his daughter designed, for free, to the Board.

    That person must be one stuck-up, petty individual; because it’s a very petty complaint IMO.

  13. can one of the good NYC boingers dig out who exactly started this mess? i’d love to smear their name. the best i can go by us the Conflicts of Interest webpage, but i want to know whose idea specifically it was to fine a librarian $1000 for promoting his daughters book. that’s like fining a university professor for requiring the textbook they authored.

  14. When these kinds of rules get flexible, the mayor starts giving his brother prime construction contracts.

    That’s too close to Zero Tolerance, or as I see it “zero discernment” for me.

    Jean ValJean stealing bread and a bank robber are both thieves, but if you think we are too dim to see the difference that’s a matter of cynicism, not ethics.

    Why the outrage? Because librarians aren’t pulling down six figure salaries and getting 3-martini lunches from book suppliers. We’re generally over-educated, under-paid and over-worked. But we love what we do, which is get books to people. Mr. Grandt was doing just that, and then some as he was giving the book away for free, simply to promote his daughter’s accomplishment and, arguably, a great work of fiction.

    Inflexible ethical systems are doomed.

  15. Far be it to try and get darn kids to read Shakespeare. Oh well at least he wasn’t in Canada the fine might be higher because it wasn’t completely original Canadian content he was pushing.

  16. It was a violation. If instead of a parent/child relationship it were a politician/lobbyist relationship, we’d all be rightfully outraged right now. But the punishment may be excessive.

  17. I expect Mr. Grandt thought he was making it sufficiently obvious that the book is by his daughter, and that his recommendation of it should be taken with a grain of salt.

  18. Further proof that people are far too sensitive and, apparently, bored. Don’t people have a better use of their time instead of bitching, complaining & even condemning someone for something so unimportant.

    There are far more important things to worry about, yet we continue to spend time/money on such stupid, unnecessary & idiotic actions. The city (and the individual complainer) should be ashamed of their senseless waste of time.

    It makes one want to weep.

  19. we want governments to apply rules evenly.

    Not me. I want a government with brains and a heavy application of common sense. Yes, I realize I am slightly delusional.

    When these kinds of rules get flexible, the mayor starts giving his brother prime construction contracts.

    If so, why not create some softwares with boolean rules to detect all unethical situations and treat them as instructed? At least, we’d save a crapload of funds spent on people who eat but still act like machines.

  20. A conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. Public sentiment would probably be different had the headline read “Local official uses publicly funded newsletter to promote relative’s products,” which is essentially what happened here. Ethical standards should not vary based on sympathy for the “little guy.” The City was right to fine him.

  21. #17 – I take it you have a problem with Cancon? But seriously, that wouldn’t likely be the case at all.

  22. I work in a Library and believe me,for the most part we’re just happy when people come in and use the facility.

    “What’s a library, dad?”
    “Oh, it’s just a place where homeless people come to shave and go BM.”

    -Family Guy

  23. Think of it this way. Why should one’s recommendation be limited to folks he doesn’t know personally? He acknowledged the relationship up front. Sure, he is likely to be biased, but every librarian is going to be biased towards their favorite authors / artists anyway. Where’s the harm?

    This is a completely separate issue from the awarding of government contracts to relatives (which happens anyway with rarely any ethical slap-down.) Do they think his influence as a librarian is so great as to drastically give his daughter’s work an unfair edge in the marketplace? That fear should have been nullified by the fact that they were giving copies away. The guy is willing to put his reputation on the line to back his daughter’s work. That is all that should have been at stake. Hell, the guy should be able to promote his own work at the risk of people deciding not to take his recommendations seriously if they choose. We see self promotion here at BB all the time, reaching a far greater audience. Where’s my free copy of Little Brother?

    If they value his selections for promotion in the newsletter, then these are not considered the official recommendations of the library, but his own picks. They should trust the guy then to pick whomever he chooses. Someone’s relative should not have to be automatically excluded for consideration in getting a nod if the relationship is fully disclosed, especially when they are giving it away for free.

  24. It was clearly an ethics violation. He was promoting a relative’s product without disclosure, abusing his position of trust. The relative received financial gain from a public employee – publicity and advertising, which she didnt pay for. Publicity and advertising is very expensive, when you dont have an insider giving it to you for free.

    Because it is a family member and is a “cute” subject, we should ignore ethics violations?

  25. Ethics is for everybody. Recommending a relative’s work without letting people know of your relation to them is unethical regardless of your position.

    There’s nothing wrong with Cory promoting “Little Brother”, but there sure as hell would be something unethical of there were a Boing Boing post saying “Hey, there’s this awesome book I just read called ‘Little Brother'” that didn’t get around to mention that one of the people who run the place wrote it.

    Ethics isn’t just for big, important people. It’s for everyone.

  26. #29 – As it’s been stated before, he did disclose the relationship, and this would have also been very clear given the local context (public high school) in which this took place. The false issue that he did not disclose the relationship does not appear to be noted in the ethics violation document; the official issue is that she is a family member. Also, publicity and advertising does not equate financial gain. The overall financial gain that she may have made from receiving free publicty and advertising in this situation again would have likely been very limited considering that he was giving free copies of the book away.

  27. @grimshaw: I stand corrected. I misread the quotation as coming from the reporter, not the newsletter itself.

    @mgfarrelly: No. People might walk out of the library with OTHER books–they’ll steal. Esp. the not-so-bright ones who are only in libraries to look up stuff on Wikipedia and print the Internet on the open-access computers.

    I don’t mind governmental entities, non-profits and non-partisan organizations providing free materials at libraries, but it crosses the lines when libraries are out-and-out promoting the work of a specific author without that author being present to answer questions and engage with patrons. Libraries are places to promote the borrowing of books first and foremost, not the promotion of one author’s financial gain over another.

    I’m all for promoting reading–hell, I abuse the crap out of my library card. But giving away free books from publishers instead of putting them into circulation deprives the reading public from access to multiple copies of the book.

    Library-sponsored reading contests are another matter, as they promote literacy. Contests should offer choices of prizes. My kids read constantly, and the summer reading programs are a motivator because they want the free books at the end. But they aren’t given a *specific* free book being pushed by a *specific* publisher tied in to a *specific* marketing campaign. Keep consumer marketing away from kids, thanks–they get enough of that through other outlets, they don’t need it at the one place that encourages individual thought and in our society.

    Promote reading is not the same as promoting a specific author.

  28. Y’know, I’m thinking of the XKCD strip where the guy is called to bed but stays at his computer saying “I can’t, someone is WRONG on the INTERNET”

    First, he disclosed it in the newsletter, so that’s not unethical in the slightest.

    Second, he was giving away books. Free, gratis, for keeps, no need to return.

    Cronyism? What ethical platonic hyper-plane do you live on? I’m in Chicago, come over by here and I’ll show you REAL cronyism at work.

    This isn’t about “heartstrings”. It’s about the misapplication of a policy without discretion on someone who was, in truth, doing his job and a little bit extra. There’s no harm to the public good here. True cronyism robs the people of the best services at the best price. For instance, our County Board here in in Chicagoland where the President has staffed out several very lucrative 6-figure jobs to his cousins.

    If only we had the stringent ethical standards of New York, right?

  29. “i doubt, however, that it’s the best book ever written.”

    well, save your criticism for the bard then.

    I think the proper angle of critique on this particular edition is on the illustrations. from the front it looks like standard manga fare.

  30. “Product placement in libraries? Again, I welcome this. I’ve constructed book displays to tie in to current movies, elections, world events and just personal interests. I guess my “Stark Industries” display over the summer that featured Iron Man graphic novels as well as non-fiction on technology was product placement. But we had to replenish it daily and ended up ordering quite a few new books on science as well as more comics.”

    The way you phrased this it actually does sound like it crosses the line from well-intentioned boosterism to something a little more sinister. What if that “Stark Industries” display hadn’t been handmade by you, but instead provided by a movie publicity company? Please post pics — we must investigate this more!

  31. Just because it is a book (tho calling a “graphic novel” a book is a bit of a stretch…) does not mean the rules do not/should not apply. Imagine the following situations:

    you are stopped by a policeman for a small traffic violation and, together with your ticket, he hands you over his cousin’s garage card…

    your child’s sports teacher distributes to the third graders leaflets of her sister’s sports store; third graders come home and insist they must shop at that store…

    judge recommends to plaintiffs using his wife’s legal practice…

    Granted these cases are contrived. But in all of them you have a public servant abusing his position to promote his immediate family’s business.

    Rules apply to violations, not individuals, and the violations are in all these cases the same as in the one mentioned in this post.

  32. If you see a sign that says Best Book Ever Written are you telling me these people take it seriously as some kind of ethics violation? Does that mean I get to sue every diner that has a big neon sign flashing World’s Best Coffee?

    Was this really an instance that needed an iron fist of punishment or could have been solved reasonably by taking the issue up directly instead of running off to file an ethics violation. Although I guess it is more insulting that the city’s “Conflict of Interest Board” decided to squeeze some cash from the guy instead of just telling him not to do it again.

  33. #31 He may have disclosed his relationship in the newsletter, but it doesnt say anything about disclosure on the table. He is in a position of authority and trust. He claimed this was the best book ever. Clearly that was a false statement intended to generate publicity for his daughter’s book. He does not truly believe his daughter wrote the best book ever. Yes, he is proud of her and he exagerated, but he also violated his position of trust.

    Publicity and advertising DOES equate to financial gain. Especially in the literary world. Especially in a school environment where companies pay or donate huge amounts to get their products placed there.

  34. So if the TSA shakes you by your socks to see if any terrorists fall out of your pockets and says “that’s the rules”, they are clearly over-reaching and wrong.

    But if a librarian gives away free copies of a book and talks it up, disclosing his relationship to the author, he need to be chastised and fined because “ethics are for everyone”.

    Rigid application of rules with no regard for context is dehumanizing.

  35. Rigid applications of rules is what this country is founded upon. Justice is blind. Apply the rules equally to all regardless of who the person is related to or how cute or proud the parent is.

  36. @18

    If this was a politician who left a stack of books written by a lobbyist on the reception desk of his constituency office, and gave them away to any constituent who was interested, then no, I would probably not be outraged.

    If the politician spent the public funds he was entrusted with guarding, on 100,000 copies of the lobbyist’s book, that would be another matter. But a dozen copies bought out of his own pocket – so what?

  37. #32, #37 – Upon closer reading of the quote, he may not have specifically stated in the newsletter that he was related, so I will now eat some humble pie on that issue. Mmm, it’s good. It still however doesn’t appear to be the issue that the board cared about (whether he disclosed the relationship), but simply that there is a relationship.

    In terms of the publicity issue, I would say that in this particular context, the level of publicity and advertising that were provided would have resulted in a negligible amount of financial gain, (compared to the financial gain that may be generated from the free advertising that the work is receiving now because of the issue being widely reported). What I was getting at is that free publicity can result in financial gain, but that it doesn’t guarantee it.

    In terms of the library setting, libraries/ school systems pay huge amounts of money to publishers, vendors, etc. to provide access for patrons to their resources (books and databases aren’t cheap, and the vendors aren’t gonna make any money by giving things away). Cafeterias on the other hand are probably another matter.

  38. @38: No, it’s equal treatment under the law. Except the TSA treats us all equally as criminals, not ethical individuals.

  39. Just because it is a book (tho calling a “graphic novel” a book is a bit of a stretch…)

    Ouch. Be nice, now.

    I’m seeing all these comments about the great ‘violation of trust’ this librarian has committed. Are librarians really considered authority figures in society? A library’s newsletter about books has no more weight on my mind and decisions than, say, a movie critique’s column. You can agree or disagree, pick up the book(for free) or don’t. He didn’t elaborate some sordid conspiracy to generate profit for his daughter and the only big publicity stunt he pulled was offering the books for free. Wow. Big fraud case here.

    I don’t mind governmental entities, non-profits and non-partisan organizations providing free materials at libraries, but it crosses the lines when libraries are out-and-out promoting the work of a specific author without that author being present to answer questions and engage with patrons.

    If any author out there feels violated because their book wasn’t pitched and it is ‘not fair’, I’m pretty sure no one would kick them out for asking the library to give out their book as publicity. The last 20 times I saw authors prsenting their own, new book was at the book store, not the public library. And they weren’t giving away any books for free.

    But really what it comes down to is that when I see someone getting slammed for expressing his joy and sharing something, perhaps a bit personal BUT totally and obviously harmless to his community, I understand why most people just don’t want to bother trying to get involved anymore.

  40. I guess the people in charge didn’t have the same reaction I did to the father writing “Best Book Ever Written”… which was AWWWWW!

  41. So it is okay to break the rules if the gain is small? stealing a couple thousand from a bank is tiny compared to the hundreds of billions being stolen by wallstreet. Maybe we should just relax the rules for these cute little bank robbers.

    Especially if the bank robbers end up making more money later from all the free publicity from outraged readers who think they shouldnt have been punished at all.

    The proud dad thought the publicity and advertising were valuable or he wouldnt have bothered. He used his position of influence to promote a relatives product. It is an ethics violation.

    Relaxing rules arbitrarily leads to further corruption, not less.

  42. @Spud/Mwschmeer:

    I’m addressing you both since you both seem on this “Justice is Blind”.

    First, you’re using that old saw in the wrong way. Justice is blind to wealth, race and privilage, not to the context of the offense. That would make justice blind, deaf and, frankly, dumb.

    Second, this is not a court of law, this is a body enforcing and “ethics code” in a manner that is both capricious and ridiculous. They’ve chosen to fine an educator hundreds of dollars. This is the same system that refuses to acknowledge the value of educators by paying them well.

    Third, you’re ignoring the facts to make your arguments. He clearly stated his relationship in the newsletter and in the library itself he was giving the book away. Again, giving. For free. Yes, you can see this as promotion, but that’s, at best, myopic.

    The rigidity of your ethical standards are simply nonsense. They go beyond common sense and instead ask people to exist in a moral vacuum, where the cop shaking down the dealer is on part with a librarian giving away books. That’s moral equivocation and, as Chaucer noted, that path to hell is paved with it.

  43. Since when was a librarian a ‘position of trust’?

    Relaxing rules arbitrarily does not lead to corruption. Rules are relaxed all over the place all the goddam time. For instance, today I got stopped for riding my bike on the pavement by a PSCO. Technically she should have given me a fine, but because I argued my case (the road was full of asshole traffic and the pavement was empty) and I was vaguely charming (a nudge is as good as a wink to a blind man) I didn’t get fined. OH NOES! Corruption!

    Also – I get the feeling that ‘the daughter’ probably had her book published by a ‘publishing company’ which had already paid for its own ‘promotion’. I doubt that she, or the publishing company, needed this tiny, minuscule, insignificant extra push.

    But…what the hell…you guys are right. Only rich people with access to PR companies and that kind of thing should be allowed to have their products promoted. Anywhere. Plutocracy for the win!

  44. #43 – “Are librarians really considered authority figures in society?”

    Not to sound too touchy, but, well, we’re professionals and we consider ourselves to be “authorities” or “experts” on various library issues, depending on our particular schooling and practical experience (such as intellectual freedom, reader’s advisory, collection development, reference services, information retrieval, etc. etc.). This doesn’t mean that we’re authority figures in the same way that an police officer, judge, etc, would be seen, just that we can speak about or do certain things with “authority”. Your comment I think says alot about the public’s perception of the profession, however.

  45. #44 – Nothing was stolen. There’s no comparison between this situation and someone robbing a bank.

    #46 – Librarian’s are entrusted with a number of things (respecting and ensuring a patron’s privacy, for one), but none that I think apply in this situation (I agree with your other comments, just wanted to state that).

  46. DD4U#35: In the examples you portray, if they were giving it away, I would have no problem. In fact, judges do advocate public defenders from their bench. If one advocated his daughter as the bestest public defender in all the world, I would not resent his advice or think it unethical.

    SPUD@37: Clearly you missed the part in the original post and in several comments above that the work is by William Shakespeare. Perhaps the guy really does believe it to be the best book ever written. Perhaps that is why his daughter chose that particular book to illustrate. A manga illustrated version is going to be more accessible to kids than dry text, and this is a great way to give an introductory point to the Bard.

    SPUD@44: The individual details of any case are always important in dispensing justice. That’s why we have judges hearing cases, so that they can apply the spirit of a given law to the particular circumstances of any case, and not just a blanket sentence being mandated by robots indiscriminately in all but misdemeanor traffic violations.

  47. If he wanted to be ethical about it, he needed to be proclaiming his daughter’s involvement at least as loudly as he was promoting the book.

    If he put up a big sign “MY DAUGHTER illustrated this GREAT BOOK! Everybody buy one!” it would be OK. Nobody in their right mind would object.

    If he recommended it (even once!) without disclosing his interests, that’s unethical. Not shoot-the-bastard unethical or fine-the-creep-$500 unethical, more like ask-him-nicely-to-do-it-right unethical.

    When I was in school, I was in awe of the mighty librarians. Of course that was when dinosaurs ruled the earth, so perhaps librarians today get no respect (as well as incredibly low salaries). In my day librarians were known for their rigid enforcement of the rules; woe betide the child who spoke above a whisper in the school library! You’d be fed to the allosaurs post-haste.


  48. MGFARRELLY@45: Well put. If your comment had cached before I started mine, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. =D

  49. Good example of interesting ethical problems, not that this one in particular is so very hard. I mean, the guy is being so over-the-top about it that it’s almost impossible not to recognize that he is not trying to be an impartial observer. In the general case, though, it’s definitely fun to try and figure out when bias in advocating for something is obvious enough that you can get away with it.

  50. Relaxing rules arbitrarily leads to further corruption, not less.

    Who said arbitrarily?

    Having some blanket rule without looking at intent or outcome is arbitrary. Making an actual, educated judgement serves people, it doesn’t corrupt them.

    If we blindly enforce rules without making a decision based on whether an act is negative/damaging/malicious, we lose all value of what is right and wrong(No need for thinking: we have Rules!). I totally agree with MGFARRELLY saying that removing that individual, contextual element is dehumanizing. It is like punishing a child for accidentally spilling milk: you won’t teach him good behaviour, you will merely confuse and stigmatize him.

    If we accept that basically well-intentioned and harmless people get punished for breaking some cryptic, all encompassing rule, we’re not helping ethics. We’re just backing a sloppy and irresponsible system.

    And by the way, your ‘rigid application of rules’ is notoriously biased in favour of the rich and powerful. People with infinitely more power and influence than some librarian break serious, ethical rules daily with impunity because they know who to pay (and how much) to get out of sticky situations. Your justice isn’t blind. It rather likes shiny objects.

  51. @Sekino:

    We need look no further than the economic superbomb currently exploding world-wide for an example of the very powerful using their influence to not only ignore ethical guidelines, but to rewrite them in their own service.

    But let’s get that damn librarian and his pile of free books. Justice without perspective is soulless.

  52. @ GRIMSHAW:

    I apologize profusively for my statement as it was poorly delivered. I was referring as ‘authority figure’ indeed as a position such as a judge or policeman. In no way it was meant to demean a librarian’s authority and knowledge within his profession. I should have made that clearer. Cheers :)

    I was just countering to the idea that, somehow, this librarian tore at the very fabric of morality with his actions. It just sounds extremely heavy handed to me.

  53. Well, hopefully the publicity will be worth it, I’m buying it for my graphic novel collection too now, didn’t know it was out there.

  54. #45 – somehow because he is a low-paid teacher it is okay to break the rules?

    It is myopic to think that breaking the rules should be punished, even though there is no money exchange, just free promotion? It is myopic because the spin says I should be outraged over the excessive fine for him just being an awshucks! proud parent? Or is it myopic because I didnt agree that this manga book probably really is the best book ever written and all us readers should go out and buy it at amazon because clearly this is big government overstepping our liberties? Or is it myopic because I did catch that she isnt a cute little teen writer, but an adult getting free publicity from a public employee in a public building? Can I put my book on his library table and get his endorsement too?

  55. Can I put my book on his library table and get his endorsement too?

    You know, if you asked nicely and gave it free, he probably would.

  56. It is so heartwarming to see another ethics panel hard at work spending the gratuitously large budget of our schools. Punishing nepotism where the letter of the law was violated, but not the spirit. The spirit is then crushed by our adherence to the letter of the law alone. Bwahahahaaa. I love it when the first stone is cast!

  57. #58 – oh, yeah the poor destitute father has to gasp! pay $500 for an ethics violation, half what he was originally charged. And his poor daughter gasp! has to watch as her book gets bought up across the globe and written up in the NYTimes and boing boing and poor them with absolutely no noticeable gain from this. Those evil bureaucrats! Trying to adhere to simple ethics rules and on taxpayer time. How dare they.

  58. A tempest in a teapot! Much ado about nothing!

    Seriously, promoting a book in a library is a conflict of interest?!

    Because… promoting a book in the library context means… it will be checked out more often… and that’s a benefit to… the librarian in what way?

    Each member of this “Conflicts of Interest Board” should be fined $500 and boot off of it for wasting the city’s resources on this bullshit.

  59. @ Sekino – No worries, and thanks for the reply! I agree with both your and Mgfarrelly’s stance on this.

  60. I am a teacher and a parent. But I must also confess to having repeatedly jaywalked and exceeded the posted speed limit. I also photocopied the full text of more than one library book while I was in grad school.

    Where do I turn myself in?

  61. Is it just me or does this entire episode read like some near future science fiction novel shelved in some underutilized and underfunded library somewhere? I imagine a 10,000 page volume titled, “The Society With its Head Stuck Up its Own Asshole.”

  62. #59

    Actually $500 bucks is a sizable amount of money. Maybe you’re swimming in it, but I know that if someone fined me $500 I’d be…well…confused because I live in the UK. But if I was fined an equivalent amount I’d be seriously put-out. Maybe this guy is one of those superstar librarians we hear about in the gossip pages, but it doesn’t seem that way.

    And his daughter wouldn’t be getting this NYTimes/boingboing publicity for her book if the ethics board wasn’t clearly stuffed with a bunch of twunts. Doesn’t seem like he was aiming for this kind of national publicity.

  63. Spud, you gotta try harder man. If the ethics panel had done nothing, then I rather doubt it would have been written about here or elsewhere.

    I guess it was uncool to use the newsletter space for it, but after a certain amount of time at a job you do, in fact, get to take liberties. I fail to see the damage caused by the taking of said liberties. Why ANY outrage?

    When it comes time for a promotion at his job, despite the unforseen benefits of the nasty ethics violation he has comitted, it will matter, no matter how eloquent his required 1500 word exposition is.

    This has gone down on his permanent record. ;)

  64. And yes…I’m a moron. That should either be $500 or 500 bucks.

    Don’t blame me. Blame the English education system.

  65. “Where do I turn myself in?”

    To SPUD’s ignore-all-the-facts-myopic-witch-hunt-robot-library-police, of course, where you can count yourself lucky if you get to pay half of an egregious fine.

  66. #52 – I am curious about your assertion that rigid application of rules somehow aids the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful take advantage of the exact opposite. Loopholes are ambiguities and arbitrary enforcement. Usually in the name of the children. The well-intentioned breaking of rules – that just happens to benefit those that break those rules.

    This is a similar situation – the spin is she is a struggling student trying to bring a classic to the poor uneducated masses and only gets pennies per book. But the reality is that she is a 28 year old adult getting fairly compensated for her work. It is not a charity. And her father used his position and place of work to promote this for-profit venture.

    Maybe he wasnt very successful at promoting it in the library or in the school system but someone sure was – how else did this story get picked up in the biggest press in the country? As a writer getting this kind of publicity is priceless. But we are not supposed to look at that, just at the heavy-handed fine.

    But it is all well-intentioned and happened by accident, right? No harm was done. And when the next relative tries the same thing, we should just ignore that too. And when the next relative stretches it a little further, no worries.

    But we arent even ignoring it, the majority here are arguing against enforcement and punishing the ethics panel instead. Getting rid of regulations worked really well for the mortgage industry. Lets actively promote ignoring ethics rules – for the children!

  67. hello, greetings from Earth. Buy the book, the “ethics” people are twits, let’s see what massive NYC corruption gets turned up in a year or so. Oh, and it won’t be by the “ethics” people.

  68. #69 – yeah small cheaters are wholesome. Lets change the subject to the big cheaters that get away scott free because the ethics panels are disbanded or punished much like this one is.

  69. SPUD@68: Once again, you ignore all the relevant details to force your point. No one is actively promoting ignoring ethics rules. We (the detractors to your opinion) just don’t believe that this was the appropriate action in this case.

    Many have suggested what a better course of action it would have been simply to ask the man to stop. Surely he is not without school board superiors.

    To slap such a large fine on such a low salaried individual, not to mention the blot on his record, was simply heavy handed nonsense under the circumstances. I am really glad this has backfired, giving a black-eye to the school district in addition to loads more publicity for the book.

  70. How does the majority here interpret this situation as rigid, consistent enforcement?

    “the conflicts board is empowered to interpret the code and bring cases when warranted. Last week, for example, the conflicts board ruled that City Council members would not violate the charter were they to vote to extend or abolish the term limits now scheduled to remove them from office.”

    It appears to be relative to what the conflicts board thinks is self-serving, and not really anything that can be defined as finite ethics.

  71. #71 – way to hyperbolise the argument out of all recognisable shape. Now I don’t know who I am or where I live.


  72. I am curious about your assertion that rigid application of rules somehow aids the rich and powerful.

    I said that your rigid application of rules was a myth. If you can afford the right representation, there will be a loophole for you on just about any rule. True ethics have very little to do with it. Ever wonder why we live in a barely veiled plutocracy?

  73. Ooh, the villagers are out again with their torches and pitchforks.

    Many commenters have said that it’s an ethics violation. Prove it. Who is the victim? What are the actual or potential damages? Is there an uneven power relationship that implies a diminished capacity to give consent?

    This is an example of parroting a rule without understanding its underlying principles.

  74. #72 – Why are you glad that it got loads more publicity for the book?

    I understand if you think it was excessive and that the school should get called on that aspect. I disagree that it was heavy-handed. The whole point of a fine is to prevent people from doing it, not to charge them for services rendered after the fact.

    That you are glad for the publicity implies that you think financial gain for an ethics violation is deserved. How does that do anything other than encourage and enbolden more ethics violations?

  75. Why do I get the feeling that a lot of people think that “ethics boards” are things that only big, bad corporations should face, and that the rest of us should, by definition, never have to account for our actions ethically speaking.

    But I guess since the big, bad corporations find loopholes, little people should too, and we should just throw this nasty little idea of “ethics” out entirely as inconvenient.

    Suggestion: replace the book title with “Why DRM is Required to Save Music.”. Do you guys still think the ethics board is run by a bunch of twits?

  76. SPUD@72: You reference your own post there. Such promotion of your own posts is a clear ethics violation and you should be fined by the BB moderators to the full extent of your own narrow interpretation of the rules. You didn’t stand to make any money from it? Tough. We don’t make the rules, we just blindly apply them across the board.

  77. SPUD@80: I am glad it is getting loads more publicity because then the book sales might be able to offset the ridiculous and heavy-handed fine, plain and simple.

    SBURNAP@81: I don’t know why you got that impression because no one here has said that. Do you need practice building straw men or something?

  78. Antonius asked for proof this was an ethical violation (hi Antonious!). OK, here goes… as a purely intellectual exercise.

    The librarian agreed to be paid to perform a service for the taxpayers of the school district in return for wages. It’s pretty reasonably to assume that there is a contract involved, and that the contract states that the librarian may not perform outside commercial activities during working hours without appropriate permission and oversight. Therefore, promoting a book in the library is breach of contract, therefore the victim is the taxpayer. The damage is of course microscopically negligible – it’s like the equivalent of surfing boingboing at work for five minutes when you haven’t anything else to do – so the $500 fine is not appropriate. A one-cent symbolic fine would be better, save the big fines for big transgressions.

    A simpler proof would involve invocation of Kant’s categorical imperative, but people tend to blow off Kant these days. So, a contract is a promise, one should not break promises unless its unavoidable. There ya go.


  79. The proud dad thought the publicity and advertising were valuable or he wouldnt have bothered. He used his position of influence to promote a relatives product. It is an ethics violation.

    Or maybe he just thought that a graphic novel like this (which just so happened to be ILLUSTRATED by his daughter) might be a great way to get kids interested in the works of Shakespeare.

  80. @Spud:

    I have a patron who often returns her books very past due. Usually books aren’t returned to librarians, but she brings them to me. I know, from other people, that she’s in an abusive marriage. I know that she’s putting herself through school on the sly and trying to get away from the jerk. We’ve never talked about it, but I know it’s hard for her to get out of the house so often her books are late. I should charge her, and I’ve likely cost my library a fair bit of money (3-5 bucks each time, maybe 50 bucks in the time I’ve been there) to do this. But I’ll do it, and do it gladly. I’m depriving my employer of fends, looking the other way at an offense and acting outside my authority. So what?

    Law and ethics without the human element, without the context of the situation, are just dead words. If you can’t grasp that I beg you to reconnect with people in some way. Give your time and volunteer, see people as more than just moral actors on a level plane.

    Society does not crumble when we look the other way or ignore ‘lapses’ like this one, but it is diminished when we are intractable and inflexible.

    Lots of well-meaning people have taken time on this thread to speak plainly and calmly to you. I think you should appreciate that.

  81. @Takuan:

    Nothing like using a famous literary character in an argument about libraries. Between me mentioning Jean Valjean and your instruction I believe literature has been well-served.

  82. I guess the numbers change after you post here. Phikus, obviously I was referencing your post where you are glad that the librarian’s ethics violations result in monetary gain for his daughter.

    Just to put some perspective on this, boing boing charges 2525.00 per week for a banner ad. This story is better than a banner ad. It is a permanent story with an image, that is getting lots of page views. For free. The New York Times charges much more than that, and this is in the news section, so you cant even get in that area without a good PR department.

    So for a fine of $500 this ethics violation is getting more than $2525 from boingboing alone. Good return on your unethical behavior.

    Now what if the school picked up the book for a class? How many copies would that mean? He did claim as a librarian that this was the best book ever, so why couldnt a teacher take his word for it and suggest it be picked up for classroom use?

    The article said he could have lost his job and could have lost his teaching certificate. Instead he got a slap on the wrist. It is not excessive. Just because he is or was a teacher doesnt mean that he is not paid. The article doesnt say what his salary is, but all you folks think he is some destitute teacher supporting his student daughter’s ambitious efforts. Not so. He is promoting his ADULT daughter’s product on government property – illegally. He got off lightly.

    All you folks arguing that this is mindless jackbootery are doing a disservice to ethics. Ethics is about honesty and fairness. Arguing that it is okay to be a little dishonest and playing a little favoritism is okay – only helps the violators and hurts those of us (taxpayers) that think everyone should be treated fairly and not be allowed to abuse their positions – regardless of their intentions or how little it hurts the rest of us.

  83. yh lts jst gr tht bcs y thnk t s ky fr smn t gt rwrdd fr thcl vltns nd y cnt s th hrm n smn bsng thr pstn fr fnncl gn, lts jst gr tht t s ky nd lts jst gr tht nfrcmnt f thcs s bd.

    nd lts ll gt md bcs th bg gys gt wy wth trgs thcs vltns bt fght fr th lttl gy t gt wy wth thcs vltns.

    r… w cld b cnsstnt. Whn smn brks thcs rls, w trt t lk t s, n thcs vltn. Cnsstncy – nt blnd mypc nfrcmnt – cnsstncy.

  84. Ww, hw cm ll th vwls dspprd frm my pst?

    Yh lts jst gr tht bcs y thnk t s ky fr smn t gt rwrdd fr thcs vltns nd y cnt s th hrm n smn bsng thr pstn fr fnncl gn, lts jst gr tht t s ky nd lts jst gr tht nfrcmnt f thcs s bd.

    nd lts ll gt md bcs th bg gys gt wy wth trgs thcs vltns bt fght fr th lttl gy t gt wy wth thcs vltns.

    r… w cld b cnsstnt. Whn smn brks thcs rls, w trt t lk t s, n thcs vltn. Cnsstncy – nt blnd mypc nfrcmnt – cnsstncy.

  85. Also – Antonius: good call on the pie break. I had a chicken and mushroom pie. It was delicious. However, that is the second pie I have had this week (the first being a chicken, leek and mushroom pie with a cheese and cider sauce). When my heart fails me, you will be hearing from my lawyers.

  86. This librarian promoted the book under the title “Grandt’s Picks” and put a few copies on the display table. I don’t know about some of the other commenters, but I have never been under the impression that personal recommendations or library display tables were decided by true random selection or by how they were rated by some mythical “objective” source. Both are obviously places where you should expect opinion not unbiased accuracy; not unlike “employee picks” at a video store, or someone recommending a restaurant (and even better, taking me out for free).

    As far as I can see, all he did was recommend and share a book he liked. “Best Book Ever Written”–does this phrase have any meaning outside of personal opinion? So what if it was his daughter’s book? I, deeply in my heart, think that my mother makes the world’s best pot roast, and, if she had a restaurant, I would recommend it to everybody.

    If he had arranged for the library to purchase copies of the book without revealing his relationship, that would be an ethics violation. From reading the article, I fail to see the ethics violation in a librarian recommending or giving away books.

  87. I’ll have you know I prepared an excellent turkey pot pie with phyllo crust the other day. The secret is using reduced turkey stock as gravy base. That and the freshest of kissing sweet garden vegetables with a soupcon of human flesh. (memo: sharpen chef’s knife)

    Pie is the answer.

  88. Cephalo,
    I had this same conversation with a librarian. About how they should have a “Staff Picks” thing like at the record store or video store. I would love to see something like that, but have not.

    For what it is worth, I have now killed 1/4 the lawn and have been tilling the hell out of it in preparation for planting of garden vegetables. I was planning to make saurkraut/kimchi type of foods with it, but veggie pies would be lovely too.

  89. #12 Tgg161 has nailed the issue here, as unpopular and silly as it seems.

    While the severity of the $500 is a point of contention, the fact that he is employed as a public servant carries certain obligations of which he should have been aware. Disclosure would have been prudent.

    Yes, it all seems trivial. But imagine where this discussion would go if the book in questions was his brother-in-law’s “How To Make Easy Money Out Of Real Estate”, or the like?

  90. Look, in the absolute sense, what he did was an ethical violation. However, those who suggest that justice and/or the law cannot/should not take circumstances and intent into account have no idea how the law works, nor ( apparently ) any education in western ethical systems. There are grades and shades to any law or policy.

    Even if you kill someone, the punishment ranges from none ( justifiable homicide/self defense ) to the death penalty ( capital murder ) and literally every stop in between. Every gradation depends on your intent, and the circumstances surrounding the event.

    Ethical systems are the same. The harshest punishments are reserved for those who acted with premeditation and ill intent. An ethical lapse committed innocently, or without intent to harm is punished more lightly than one that is not, even when the outcome is pronouncedly negative ( as it was NOT in this case ).

    In this case, it is reasonable to believe that he erred innocently. Neither he, nor his daughter would have gained in any meaningful measure by his actions, nor any of their predictable outcomes. Those who get free copies of a book seldom buy it again in the near term, and what little ‘promotion and advertising’ benefit she reaped was likely far outshone by the fact that the book is listed on Amazon, and carried (on the shelf ) by Barnes & Noble.

    Given those circumstances, the fine seems beyond excessive. The proper, measured response to this would have been.

    “We are concerned that this activity could be interpreted as inappropriate nepotism. We appreciate your position as a librarian and a father, but in positions such as ours, the appearance of impropriety can be as damaging as the real thing. As such, we would ask that you please refrain from promoting or distributing books in which you have a personal or financial stake. If such a conflict arises again, we will be forced to take more precipitous action”

    Many Thanks,
    The Ethics Board.

  91. @reginald Glad I’m not alone :)

    I’ve had many paragraphs typed out and keep not clicking that post button…

    For the record, $500 seems too steep to me :-/

  92. OF COURSE it was an ethics violation.

    it was also not a terribly large one.

    Very much on par (in terms of degree of ethical violation) with the Girl Scout cookie extortion racket my office mates pull on me at the behest of their children.

    Then again, Samoa’s rock.

  93. #104 EEOYRE

    Look at past rulings… A principal was fined $2,250 for using his position to solicit subordinates into attending a fund-raising dinner for a not-for-profit organisation.

    Yes, there is a sliding scale. $500 seems about as low as it goes.

    But then, I no idea ….

  94. I’m still waiting for those rationales on why it was an ethics violation. So far, only Charlie has come up with one rather strained one. Victims? Damages? Diminished capacity? Polly want a cracker?

  95. I’m actually glad this is at least a 50/50 argument, because it’s not at all as cut and dried as most (including Mark) are making it.

    This is a very complicated ethical case that falls right on the line. I can see why the librarian getting slapped with a $500 fine seems pretty harsh to a lot of people, but obviously that wasn’t the harshest treatment he could have received – he still apparently has (and wants) the job there.

    I’d bet he probably feels he made a mistake by over promoting his daughter’s book, and anyone who doesn’t think that lots of parents use a publicly funded library newsletter for ideas for gift purchases doesn’t know many parents. I bet many of those parents were irked, and many others felt bad for the librarian. It just isn’t cut and dried either way.

    The reality though is that he isn’t horribly victimized in the end. He still has his job, and he paid $500 posthumously for the service of using the library to promote his daughter’s book and well as for the future promotion value of the current news and blog item. If his daughter is half as generous to family members as he is, he’ll likely make it back.

  96. Someday, when/if my (yet to be written) dissertation gets published, I want my dad to send a notice out to everyone he knows telling them it’s the “Best Book Ever Written.” Anyone reading that (and seeing our last names) will get the tongue-in-cheek over-the-top paternal pride. But it will still make me very very happy.

    Meanwhile, I’m really in the mood for pie. Pie, indeed, is the answer.

  97. @#108 Antinous

    Using his position to promote a person or firm associated with a public servant.

    Simple conflict of interest as defined by the Charter.

    Ethics is a set of principles – as such, it does not require specific victims, damages or necessitate the diminishment of one’s capacity to fulfil their role.
    It is a broad platform designed to uphold the integrity of an institution/s.

    For all its inflexibility, you are better off with it than without it.

    No, Polly cannot have a cracker as that violates section 2443…

    1. Using his position to promote a person or firm associated with a public servant. Simple conflict of interest as defined by the Charter. Ethics is a set of principles – as such, it does not require specific victims, damages or necessitate the diminishment of one’s capacity to fulfil their role. It is a broad platform designed to uphold the integrity of an institution/s.

      Codswallop. You just said that it is what it is because it is what it is. Ethics is not just a set of principles. Ethics is an algorithm for determining the rightness or wrongness of an action. When you reduce it to a set of pre-set principles, you are just parroting someone else’s judgment that was rendered at another time and place. It might apply or it might not. Prove that what he did was wrong by some standard other than “it’s just wrong.”

  98. You could say the same about the Constitution?
    It is what it is because it is.

    But if you insert “Person A” and “Person A’s associate” into your ethical decision-making algorithm, you are likely to end up with a slap on the wrist or a $500 fine.

  99. “Nothing is, but what is not”

    Dick Cheney installed as Mayor of NYC!
    Banners on every street corner: “Best Mayor Ever!”

    Halliburton to takeover all library operations.

  100. Too bad the daughter didn’t illustrate that other play of Shakespeare’s. You know, the one where the guy insists on his pound of flesh.

  101. @69 – Lol at the word twunt. Now in my vocab.

    I don’t have a problem with a slap on the wrist, I think $500 is EXCESSIVE

    @117 IAWUC

    Also, (not an endorsement for Amazon, but) if you buy it as part of the series there, you get 4 for 3– I also got Hamlet, Shakespeare, and Tempest and spent less than 30 bucks. LOL. My manga Shakespeare collection begins, thanks to ethics violations and BoingBOING..

  102. I think that a $500 fine for whatever this guy actually did wrong, is a small price to pay for all the great publicity for his daughters manga book that this controversy has caused. I wonder if this guy actually planned this out, it would be amazing if he did.

  103. So if you’re an author or illustrator and you have any relatives working in libraries, their libraries are not allowed to stock your book? As for promoting a book that the library carries, isn’t that what libraries are supposed to do? I don’t see the problem here.

  104. “#111 posted by reginald , October 23, 2008 9:19 PM
    @#108 Antinous

    Using his position to promote a person or firm associated with a public servant.

    Simple conflict of interest as defined by the Charter.”

    As part of the librarian’s job he is required to fill in a ‘recommended by’ section in the newsletter. The book (or books) the librarian wants to recommend to students are all books that family members have worked on. So…

    Which is the worse ethical violation… full disclosure and recommending a family member’s book or lying to students and recommending a book which he does not like solely to avoid the first situation?

    He did not have the library purchase copies of the book. He did not remove other publisher’s copies of Macbeth from the shelves. I personally can’t really see a conflict or an ethics violation.

    What would happen if his daughter worked for the paper supplier for Penguin or Harper Collins? What if his daughter worked for the Postal Service or UPS? Would that exclude the library from using those publishing companies, or those delivery methods? How far does full disclosure reach?

    When you ask a person to give their opinion, how can they violate any ethics other than their own when answering?

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