Working Together: Tips for Vendors
When I was in library school, Lynn Wiley (who was at that time head of interlibrary loan at UIUC) said something about library vendors that made a big impression on me. She said that vendors are our partners â€“ we could not do what we do without the content and service products they provide, and they could not do what they do without us, either â€“ we provide an audience, an infrastructure, and end-user education for them. Throughout my career, first as an interlibrary loan librarian and now as an electronic resources librarian, I have let this idea be a guiding principle for me. I sincerely try to take time to talk to my sales and service reps and respond when they contact me, and one of the major reasons I never miss an ALA is because I feel like itâ€™s essential for me to spend time on the exhibit floor touching base with vendors and publishers to learn whatâ€™s new. I easily get 100 e mails a day because I try to sign up for every vendor update list I can â€“ itâ€™s my job to know about database upgrades, downtime, content changes, etc., and I try to be conscientious about passing that information on to my colleagues. I have learned so much about whatâ€™s going on in the information services industry, and â€“ just as importantly â€“ whatâ€™s going on with other libraries in my region and in the country from my vendor contacts, and I truly value my relationships with them.
I donâ€™t know how many librarians approach their relationships with vendors this way, but I imagine lots of us do. However, some vendors make my job easier â€“ others donâ€™t. I try to remind myself that sales reps are working in the business world, not the world of academia, and they have MBAs and quotas and deadlines that are probably getting harder to meet as our budgets shrink. I try to be forgiving when I feel like theyâ€™re pestering me, and remind myself theyâ€™re just doing their jobs. But a recent trial has produced a sales rep whoâ€™s really trying my patience by calling once a week, pressuring me for a decision, and sending â€œfollow-upâ€ e mails to my department chair and even dean. I have tried to respond to her queries with helpful information about our process and where we are in it, but Iâ€™m finding myself hoping sincerely our collections librarians decide not to buy this product because I donâ€™t want to end up in a long-term relationship with this vendor at all.
So as spring trial season begins, I would like to offer some tips for vendors who want to partner with librarians and make our jobs easier, because making my job easier is the best way to ensure my long-term good will and a mutually beneficial relationship.
- E mail is the best way to reach me. I have probably been sitting at my desk in my office by my phone less than a dozen hours in the last two weeks. Instead of in my office, I have been at the reference desk, in a million meetings, and doing research for a conference paper Iâ€™m presenting this month. In those dozen hours at my desk I was working hard in software I canâ€™t access wirelessly or from home. Getting a phone call during that time from a vendor who wants to sell me something is just poor timing for the vendor. A lot of times when Iâ€™m at my desk I donâ€™t even answer the phone unless the call is coming from someone on campus for this very reason. E mail me. I hate the phone, itâ€™s a terrible way to reach me, I donâ€™t necessarily get to check my voice mail every day, and I will respond to your e mail.
- Libraries are on an annual budget cycle. Thatâ€™s right. We usually make major purchasing decisions twice a year â€“ once at the end of the calendar year (because we love those end-of-the-year deals vendors offer) and once in the spring, before the fiscal year begins in July. We may trial your product at any time, but we are only likely to make a purchasing decision one of those two times. Thus, while vendors may feel pressure to get us to make a decision, we feel no pressure at all, because we know the money doesnâ€™t exist until the new budget cycle starts and now, with all the cuts going on, budgets never even come out on schedule, so weâ€™re always behind. Therefore the decision process is long, is often delayed, and will not happen until the last possible moment. I do not tell my colleagues in reference and collection development when we need to get something. They tell me. They set the schedule. No matter how often you call (or, preferably, e mail), that schedule will never be in my hands.
- Make sure I get information I need. I think vendors should start combining sales and service. Maybe some do. But I feel like sales reps who want to sell me something are always figuring out how to contact me, while service information like database updates or downtime or content changes â€“ vitally important information that I need to receive â€“ often doesnâ€™t get to me, or isnâ€™t released in a timely manner. I have signed up for every e mail list I can, and every time we purchase something new I make a point of contacting the vendor and asking to be added to the list of people to receive technical and content updates, but I still feel like I have trouble getting that information. Vendors: libraries are truly interested in service and content. If you provide me with great information about that in a timely way, I am way more likely to listen when you have something new to sell.
- Make my job easier. I want to promote your products. There is nothing I would like to see more than our usage statistics for databases rise. Send me posters, pens, binder clips. The latest update to the OCLC Perceptions survey tells us patrons notice in-library flyers and promotions. If you send them, Iâ€™ll put them up. If you send me information in e mail, Iâ€™ll forward it to my subject liaison colleagues. If we buy something new, offer an in-person training or webinar for our librarians â€“ Iâ€™m likely to take advantage of it.
- Inform me! I want to know what other libraries are doing, and I want to know where you think information services are going. What trends are you noticing in use statistics, in patron queries, in research patterns? Vendors have rich data and wide contacts. If you share that kind of information with me, Iâ€™ll eat it up, I promise, and Iâ€™ll listen to you when you have something to tell me.
If any vendors are reading this they might be thinking, well, whatâ€™s in it for me? I hope they think that my good will and influence with my students and colleagues is reward enough, because I certainly donâ€™t have direct purchasing decision-making and I am not a subject liaison and I canâ€™t guarantee weâ€™ll have any money any time soon. Which is another problem, perhaps, with the way e-resources librariansâ€™ jobs are structured, and perhaps a topic for another post.