Public library employees are subject to the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. This information sheet answers some questions about the law frequently asked by public library personnel. The following topics are covered:
- Personnel subject to the Conflict of Interest Law;
- Conflict of Interest Law training requirements;
- Gifts from library patrons and others;
- Gifts among library personnel;
- Purchasing at a discount;
- Accepting payment of travel expenses;
- Additional jobs/other contracts with the same level of government;
- Favoritism, nepotism, self-dealing and other abuses of official position;
- Private employment and business activity;
- Private transactions with other library personnel;
- "Friends of the Library" organizations and fundraising;
- Library and Friends of the Library book sales;
- Use of public library space and facilities for non-library purposes; and
- Public library employee political activity
Question: Are unpaid public library volunteers subject to the conflict of interest law?
Answer: Yes. Anyone who works or helps out at a public library is subject to the conflict of interest law. This includes unpaid volunteers, as well as members of library boards of trustees, whether paid or unpaid.
Question: The “free public library” where I work was founded in the 1800s by private citizens who incorporated a library association. It is the town’s only public library and receives some town funds. It is, however, still managed by the library association trustees, who are elected by the association’s corporate members. Library employees receive paychecks from the library, not from the town. Are the library employees subject to the conflict of interest law?
Question: Are all public library personnel, including volunteers, required to complete on-line training on the conflict of interest law?
Answer: Yes, but certain unpaid volunteers may be exempted from the on-line training requirement, as explained in our Education and Training Guidelines.
Question: A library patron whom I have assisted as a reference librarian gave me a $50 restaurant gift certificate as a thank-you for my help. May I keep the gift certificate?
Answer: No, you must return it. Public library employees are prohibited from accepting gifts worth $50 or more that are given to them because of their public positions or because of any action that they have taken or may take in those positions.
Question: Occasionally, library patrons and others send baskets of fruit, boxes of candy or flowers to the library for the library staff as a group. These gifts often exceed $50 in value. May these gifts be accepted?
Answer: Unsolicited gifts of items that are perishable or otherwise impractical to return (such as flowers, plants, floral arrangements, fruit baskets, or candy) may be accepted if the items are made generally accessible to other persons in the employee's agency and to the general public to the extent possible, or given to charity.
Question: Children and their parents who come to the library sometimes give library employees homemade gifts, such as homemade “art work” and baked goods. Must these gifts be refused or returned?
Answer: No. Such gifts, which have no retail value, may be accepted.
Question: May a library director purchase with her own funds and give to her staff members presents on their birthdays or on other special occasions?
Answer: Yes. Public employees may give each other gifts on some special occasions. The rules are stricter for gifts from subordinates to their superiors. See 930 CMR 5.08(8).
Question: A library patron offered me $10 to move her name up on the long waiting list for a current best-selling novel. I declined the offer. Was I legally required to decline?
Answer: Yes. You were legally required to decline the offer because it was an attempted bribe. Bribes of any value are illegal.
Question: Our library buys most of its books from a certain company. The company allows library employees to personally purchase books for themselves at a discount. May I use the discount?
Answer: No, if the total value of the discount is $50 or more and the discount is only available to library employees. However, you could accept if the discount were offered to all public employees or to all town employees.
Question: I am a Children’s Librarian and wish to use my personal funds to buy materials for the exclusive use of children in reading-related crafts projects in the library. May I accept a “librarian’s discount” to purchase materials solely for this use?
Answer: Yes, you may accept the discount, even if it is not offered to all public employees, because you are using the discount to buy materials for use by children in the library and not for your private use.
Question: A national library employees association offers a $50 reduction of its annual membership fees for public library employees. May I accept the discount?
Answer: Yes. A public employee may accept a reduced or waived membership fee of substantial value offered by a professional organization, if the reduced or waived fee is available to a class of similarly situated public employees of that profession.
Question: I have been invited to attend a national library science conference, and the conference organizer has offered to pay my travel expenses. May I accept the payment of my travel expenses?
Answer: Yes. If the conference organizer is a private entity, you may accept if you fill out a travel disclosure form and get the required approvals. The required form is no. 11a, located at the Municipal Employee Disclosure Forms page. If the conference organizer is another public agency, such as the Library of Congress, you may accept, and no disclosure is required.
Question: I work full-time in a state university library and would like to teach a course at a local community college on children’s literature. May I hold these two state positions?
Answer: Yes, because of a specific exemption that permits a state employee to teach part-time in any state educational institution and to be paid for doing so.
Question: I work as a part-time librarian in our town’s public library. There is an opening for a part-time librarian at the town’s middle school with very limited hours, which are compatible with my public library work schedule. May I apply for the middle school position and, if hired, work both jobs?
Answer: You may apply for the job, but whether you may, if hired, hold both positions will depend on how the conflict of interest law applies to your specific situation. Contact the Commission’s Legal Division for advice.
Question: Our town library building needs to be repainted. I am the library’s full-time custodian and do commercial painting as a side business. May I bid on the contract to paint the library and do the job if I am selected?
Answer: Not if the contract to paint the library building will be with the library itself. However, if the contract to paint the library will be with an agency or department of the town other than the library, then you may be able to do so. Contact the Commission’s Legal Division for advice.
Question: As the Young Adult Librarian in a municipal library, I recommend the hiring of high school and college students to work as paid pages. My daughter and my niece are the same age and are both very qualified to be pages. May I recommend that the library hire my daughter? My niece? If they are hired, may I supervise them?
Answer: No, you may not recommend that the library hire an immediate family member, such as your daughter, and you may not supervise her if she is hired. You may recommend that the library hire and/or you may supervise your niece as long as you file a written disclosure with your appointing authority in advance, and as long as you are able to act objectively and without bias in making such a recommendation or supervising her.
Question: In addition to being a librarian, I sell real estate. May I take business calls at work and keep some of my real estate business records on my library computer?
Answer: No. Using your library work time or the library equipment for your private business activity is prohibited.
Question: A company which provides software and related services to our library has offered me a part-time position, compatible with my library work hours, helping to market the company’s software and services to other libraries. May I accept the position and continue working at the library?
Answer: Yes, as long as you do your private job on your own time and without the use of any public resources, including your library title. You may not in your librarian position work on matters in which your private employer has a financial interest, such as whether the library should continue a contractual arrangement with the software company, unless you disclose the facts in writing and in advance to your supervisor, and receive permission to proceed.
Question: In my municipal library director position, I worked very closely with the architect on the recent design and construction of our new library building, the work on which is now nearly complete. The architect has offered me a full-time position advising the firm on library projects, which would require me to give up my library position. May I accept the job?
Answer: Yes, but you may not be paid to do work for the architectural firm in connection with the completion of the new building for the library where you served as director. Even if you are unpaid, you may not ever communicate with your former library or anyone else on behalf of your new employer concerning the completion of the new library building. In addition, you may not communicate with your former colleagues on behalf of your new employer concerning any matter that was under your responsibility in your library job (as opposed to being something you worked on personally, such as the new library building project) for one year after leaving your library job.
Question: One of the custodians at our library has a home repair business “on the side.” May I hire him to do work at my house in the evenings or on the weekend?
Answer: If you are the custodian’s administrative superior at the library and/or have any role in his supervision or evaluation, you may privately hire him to do work at your home outside of his library work hours only if he initiated the private work arrangement with you either by advertising his availability to do private repair work or by directly soliciting you for such work, and you disclose the situation to your supervisor in writing in advance.
Question: Our library has passes to area museums which are so popular there are often long waiting lists to use them. May library employees use the passes?
Answer: Yes, but only if the library employees sign up for the passes and are placed on the waiting lists in the same way as the general public.
Question: I am the director of a municipal library. The local Friends of the Library, a private nonprofit organization, is holding a fundraiser to support our summer programs. May I assist the Friends’ fundraising in my capacity as library director and during my library work hours?
Answer: Yes, as long as you first obtain the approval of your appointing authority (i.e., the library trustees), you could use your library director title and work time to assist the Friends’ fundraiser because your assistance would be for the benefit of the library. The library trustees’ approval should be in writing and maintained as a public document.
Question: I am an unpaid public library trustee, and I hold no other municipal positions. May I also serve as a member of the board of the local Friends of the Library, a private nonprofit organization?
Answer: Yes, but there will be some restrictions on what you will be able to do in the two roles. You will not be able to act on behalf of the Friends in matters in which the town has an interest. For example, you could not, on behalf of the Friends, request or apply for a municipal permit to hold a fundraising event on municipal property, or represent the Friends in an effort to gain the library trustees’ acceptance of a donation or grant offered by the Friends.
In addition, if a matter involving the Friends, such as an offered donation by the group to the library, were to come before the library trustees, you would need to make a public written disclosure under section 23(b)(3) to your appointing authority that you are a member of the Friends board of directors before acting in the matter as a trustee. In addition, you would be required by section 23(b)(2) to act fairly and impartially in the matter as a library trustee.
Question: The local Friends of the Public Library, a private nonprofit organization, would like to donate furniture to the town library specifically for the library employees’ lounge. May the library accept the donation?
Answer: Yes, because the donation is to the library and is not targeted to, nor does it benefit, any particular employee. However, the library must also comply with any procedures the town may have regarding the acceptance of gifts.
Question: The local Friends of the Library provides and replenishes a candy jar in the library lobby for library staff and patrons. Is this permitted?
Answer: Yes, because the candy is equally available to patrons and staff.
Question: The library where I am employed full-time is de-acquisitioning several sets of encyclopedias. May I purchase a set directly from the library?
Answer: No. As a full-time library employee, you may not enter into a purchase and sales transaction with the library.
Question: The local Friends of the Library, a private nonprofit organization, is holding a book sale at the library to sell books which have been donated to the Friends and books which have been discarded by the library. All of the proceeds will go to the Friends. May I purchase books at the Friends book sale, including a set of encyclopedias that the library has discarded?
Answer: Yes, provided that you do so on the same terms and conditions that are available to the general public. Because the transaction is with the Friends, your purchase will not constitute a prohibited transaction or contract with the library.
Question: May the library permit writers, artists and crafts people to use some of the library’s display cases to show their works? May library employees be allowed to use the display cases to show their books, crafts or artwork?
Answer: Yes. The library may permit the use of its display cases by artists and others, including library employees, provided that it treats all similarly situated individuals equally, so that all such individuals have the same access to the display cases and are allowed to use them under the same terms and conditions.
Question: The library has meeting spaces, including a small auditorium, which are frequently not in use by the library staff. May members of the public be allowed to use these spaces for non-library meetings and events?
Answer: Yes, as long as the library treats all similarly situated individuals equally, so that all such individuals have the same access to the library’s facilities and are allowed to use them on the same terms and conditions. The library should have written procedures governing the use of its facilities by the public.
Question: I work in the public library of the town where I reside. The town is going to vote on a tax limit override ballot question. May I serve on or assist a pro-override campaign committee?
Answer: Yes, provided that you do so on your own time and in your private capacity, you are unpaid, and you do not act as agent for the campaign committee in any matter involving the town (such as filing required campaign finance reports). See Commission Advisory 11-1: Public Employee Political Activity.
Question: Is it permissible for a public library to have a display at election time with information concerning election day and the candidates seeking office?
Answer: Yes. It is always permissible to display information concerning voting, voter registration and the date, time and place of any election. Candidate information may be displayed if information concerning all of the candidates is included in an impartial and equal manner.