After a long state-wide review and feedback gathering process, the NC LIVE Resource Advisory Committee began last Friday to discuss its recommended NC LIVE database subscriptions for 2012-14. Since the NC LIVE budget is slightly smaller this time around, the committee’s deliberations probably got complicated. But the stakes are always high, since many public libraries in the state and some of the smaller academic libraries rely exclusively on NC LIVE for all their research databases.
The committee uses BLINC: Business Librarianship in North Carolina as its advisory group for business content, a service we BLINC members are happy to provide. (In the old days of NC LIVE, then under different leadership, BLINC had to take guerrilla action to provide input as a group – but we never really knew if our reports were read. So we greatly appreciate our current relationship with the fine folks at NC LIVE.)
Last winter NC LIVE asked BLINC to provide a ranking (with analysis) of the most important types of business research (ex. company directories, industry analysis, articles, market data, etc.) and the most useful sources for each of those types. BLINC devoted most of our winter workshop to begin this examination, and then finished up via email and an online meeting.
Early this year several business database vendors called me (as the current BLINC chair, and maybe also because they know me through Carolina Consortium negotiations) regarding the NC LIVE process, asking for details on the process and time line or on BLINC’s role. So vendor relations have been on my mind lately.
Therefore I read with interest Brett Bonfield‘s recent post “Tangoing All the Way: Is Everything Negotiable?” over at In the Library with a Lead Pipe. (That’s a neat title for a post, although I ended up with Nick Cave’s “Hiding All Away” from Abittour Blues in my head. Subconscious irony, given the lyrics?) Mr. Bonfield was the lone public librarian at Library Journal’s January round table on ILSs, and is also assisting the boycott against HarperCollins for its restrictive ebook DRM for library customers.
Certainly ILS vendors and mass market book publishers are very different creatures than vendors of specialized business databases. And Mr. Bonfield is addressing important issues like cost sustainability and libraries coordinating their responses to business practices not in their best interest. But I don’t like the overall negative and adversarial tone regarding vendors. For example, regarding “vendors as people” (do vendors ever need to discuss “librarians as people”?), he writes “A lot of the best librarians work for vendors, which stands to reason: often that’s where the most money is, both for compensation and for innovation.” Sure, but that’s also where some of the jobs are — it’s not as easy getting a permanent, full time position in a library these days. And librarians-as-vendors can lead to some excellent career development and service to the profession. One of the most impressive students in my UNC SILS class successfully sought out a vendor position right out of grad school; now she is the director of the Digital Libraries Federation.
Business research is a subject area which the vendors are numerous and competitive. There aren’t any monopolistic databases like SciFinder, PsycINFO, or the MLA Bibliography. When BLINC librarians gather for a quarterly workshop (or a special get-together devoted to collection management), we discuss and compare business content and vendors with wild abandon. But that does not make vendors our adversaries.
When I was teaching LIS 613, Business Information Sources & Services, one of the best class discussions was led by Craig Flansburg, then a vendor for the Economist Intelligence Unit. Craig volunteered to drive up from Charlotte to talk with the students about how vendors and libraries work together, the different pricing models used for corporate, governmental, and academic customers, and yes, what it’s like to be a vendor.
Vendors are essential elements of the library industry, along with patrons, students, and/or faculty. Yes, some vendor reps are annoying. Some are polite but pretty ignorant. But most vendor reps are both nice and smart. (Sometimes a favorite vendor is bought by an international holding company that immediately mandates higher profit margins, and then the vendor rep has to justify to you the big price increase. So we can pity the vendor rep, too.)
Let me wrap up with some suggestions for new liaisons:
- Get to know the vendors for your subject areas as people, not just as sales reps;
- Volunteer to provide feedback and constructive criticism on proposed and existing products; most vendors will welcome your thoughts;
- Get together (in person or electronically) with your liaison counterparts from other libraries and share what you know about your vendors and their products;
- If you have a role in a MLS program, see if library-vendor relationships are covered somewhere in the core curriculum. If not, volunteer to organize a panel discussion?