This post by Stephen Arnold takes a hard look at commercial vendor marketing practices and states clearly the need for librarians and the value of information professionals.  The inspiration for the post came from an Ad that West used.  Law Library Blog summarizes the highlights here.

I especially appreciate Mr. Arnold’s  post because it comes from a non-library perspective.  Users of information that verbalize the value of librarians and understand the challenges that librarians face in managing and providing information speak louder and have more impact than librarians who defend each other.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend our positions, I just think we must have strong allies outside of our library world.  It’s like doctors who don’t like to talk to lawyers about doing business.  Professionals who use the products and understand the value have a larger impact.

The call for higher standards in how commercial vendors operate in the information industry is a must.  We know that bean counters don’t always appreciate the way things work in libraries and institutions. Selling directly to the “user” will allow higher usage, unsanctioned use of “out-of-contract” files and provide more beans for the counting.

Keeping in mind that resources are tight and some things must be selected over others.  Vendors who appreciate those choices and work with the gatekeepers, will find loyal customers who work to keep the valuable information that makes an institutions work easier.  Working around that usually results in a nothing but a bad aftertaste and true distrust of the sneaky movers and a readiness to cancel or decrease usage as fast as possible.

So I propose a call to action for individual institutions and their vendors.

  1. Communicate clearly your expectations in marketing and outreach to direct users.
    1. Explain the consequences of failing to meet those expectation.  Note:  This requires a consequence.
  2. Be direct with vendors about the choices that you are willing to make.
    1. Let them know which items are of most value to you and which are easily let go if they don’t operate within your expectations.
  3. If vendors present at your institution to users, have the vendor highlight the importance of the relationship with the library staff.

Now I know that most direct vendor/library relations are good, excellent even, and that’s fabulous.  If you explain to your vendors these ground rules, or others that you think are important for your own organization, then they will communicate that up the chain.  If all of us do this, the bean counters will eventually be overcome by the value placed on customer service and relationships and the need to value information professionals and may even get to know his librarians by name.

Constance Ard August 28, 2009

Note:  A portion of this text was used for a Kentucky Chapter SLA post.