Systems and Electronic Resources Librarian
Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Columbia University
The Core New Members Interest Group will be publishing a series of posts, “Tips for New Librarians” featuring advice and interviews geared towards early career librarians. Please enjoy the final in our four part series!
No matter your position or what type of library you work in, there’s a good chance you’ll have to deal with vendors on a periodic or regular basis in your career. Vendor management is a complex topic that has many nuances depending on the type of vendor and library in question, but there are some general guidelines that can be useful when you’re working with library vendors for the first time.
Depending on your role and your library’s needs, you may work with multiple types of library vendors. Some common vendor types include: publishers that provide access to electronic resources, and sell print or multimedia; companies that create applications or systems such as ILS’s, ERMs or digital archives; cataloging and metadata services; collection services such as reorganization, preservation, and binding; and library equipment vendors that sell scanners, printers, etc.
A key component of developing relationships with your vendors is taking advantage of opportunities to interact outside of your standard communications. Library conferences often have exhibition halls, roundtables, and socials where you can meet your representatives and have productive one-on-one conversations about their services and your library’s needs.
Some vendors have user group meetings and/or regular discussions. It’s another chance to advocate for your library, and to become more knowledgeable about the offered services. It’s helpful to correspond with colleagues at other institutions who are in the same user group ahead of time to compare notes. If many of you have shared concerns or similar requests, presenting a “united front” as customers is often useful for vendors to prioritize certain developments and features.
When you are attending conferences or events, look for panels that have vendor speakers- especially if there are librarian co-speakers as well. These sessions can expand your knowledge of emerging trends in publishing, technology, and research. They also provide case studies of librarian-vendor collaborations, or offer vendor’s perspectives on challenges in librarianship. These panels can deepen your understanding of vendor operations and how to work more efficiently with them.
Take advantage of your professional memberships to join committees and interest groups that deal with vendor relations directly. Many organizations have ones that offer resources and advice on working with vendors. They set up meetings and roundtables with vendor representatives and generally work to bridge the gap between vendor and librarian association members. The list below offers just a few examples, so I would encourage everyone to investigate available options in their own networks.
Finally, the most important aspect of vendor relations is how to actually communicate with them. A literature review of articles by library vendors revealed common assumptions that many librarians make, such as that vendors are motivated only by profit and don’t know anything about how libraries actually operate. Many vendor roles require MLIS degrees and/or prior experience working in different types of libraries, so you will often be interacting with staff who are well versed in librarianship! Vendors noted the adversarial and distrustful attitude that they’ve faced in business interactions with librarians, despite their common ground in wanting to help library users. They acknowledged how easy it is for both parties to hold assumptions when one does not take the time to hear the others’ perspective. Attending vendor conference sessions or joining committees with vendor members can alleviate this. It’s much easier to develop good relationships once you have a better understanding of vendors’ work or when you’re given the opportunity to collaborate on something outside of a fee based relationship.
Vendors shared the following tips to help librarians create positive relationships with their vendors. They emphasized the importance of sharing your expectations and goals up front, as well as sharing information about your library’s operations, hierarchies, and user needs so the vendors have a better understanding of your institution. Prepare for your meetings with vendors: share any required information, make sure your relevant colleagues are included, and read any documentation that the vendor provides to you. Communicate clearly if there will be any delays in payments or any other expected deliverable on your end. Keep all conversations professional and polite even if your interactions become difficult. Stay amicable even if your working relationship is terminated. Do not use public spaces or social media to vent about the company!
Given the variety of library vendors and jobs that have vendor-related responsibilities, I wanted to provide some details on my own experiences and opinions to provide more specifics on the topic.
My experience and background:
In both my current and previous positions, a large part of my daily duties involve vendor interactions. As the former Head of Continuing Resources and Collection Maintenance, I regularly communicated with publishers and vendors to set up and renew print serial subscriptions and resolve any receiving or payment problems. I also trained my staff members on best practices for vendor communications. Furthermore, I worked with library movers and book restoration companies on collection management projects, including large scale book shifts and remediation for moldy and water damaged volumes.
In my current role as the Systems and Electronic Resources Librarian, I work with vendors on a daily basis for electronic subscriptions and troubleshooting various library applications. These include the library’s ILS company, databases and e-resource vendors, proxy server support, and library equipment vendors.
My biggest piece of advice for librarians who are new to working with vendors:
Don’t hesitate to change your approach if you’re not getting responses or helpful assistance from vendor representatives. First, see if you need to switch strategies. Maybe you’re reaching out to the wrong department or wrong representative. Do some research to see if you can find alternate contact information, even if it’s a general support line or generic online help form. As a last resort, I’ve also reached out to colleagues at other institutions who also utilize the same vendors for recommendations. You can also try a different method of communication if you’re not making progress via email, particularly if it’s a tricky or complex situation. Offer to schedule a phone call or Zoom meeting (even if you’re also a Millennial who prefers to text!). In any situation, be prepared to provide as much information as you can and don’t hesitate to ask questions. You won’t see any resolution unless you and the vendor both understand the issue.
What I have found particularly challenging about working with library vendors:
As I indicated above, there is no one-size fits all approach! You have to tackle each problem from a different angle.
What I have found particularly rewarding about working with library vendors:
As an early career librarian, I’m also eager to expand my skills and learn from others in my field. And I have learned so much from many of the vendors I’ve worked with, who are seasoned and knowledgeable professionals.
Professional organizations and resources that has particularly helped in developing vendor-relations skills and forging connections with vendor representatives:
NASIG has been a great organization with an awesome mix of vendors and librarians. I’ve learned a lot from vendors that I’m on committees with, as well as presentations at their conferences.
I also recommend any networks/forums that exist for customers of certain products. I’m on Slack channels for users of both our ERM and our ILS and it’s been helpful in seeing other people’s workarounds/solutions to system problems.
Examples of Vendor Relations Committees and Interest Groups
- NISO: Standards Committees
- AALL: Committee on Relations with Information Vendors
- ALA Core: Publisher-Vendor-Library Relations Interest Group
- ACRL: – Politics, Policy, and International Relations Section, Vendor/Publisher Liaison and Review Committee
- ACRL: Science and Technology Section, Vendor/Publisher Relations Task Force
- RUSA: Vendor Relations Committee
- NASIG: Vendor & Publisher Engagement Task Force
More Resources on Vendor Management and Vendor Relations
- Against the Grain (ISSN: 1043-2094)
- Collaborative Librarianship (ISSN: 1943-7528)
- The Serials Librarian (ISSN: 0361-526X)
- NISO Standards Committee
Anderson, R. (2013, January 10). “Six Mistakes the Library Staff Are Making,” The Scholarly Kitchen. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/01/10/six-mistakes-the-library-staff-are-making
Bonfield, B. (2011, June 1). “Tangoing All the Way: Is Everything Negotiable?” In the Library with the Lead Pipe. https://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2011/tangoing-all-the-way-is-everything-negotiable
Gallagher, E. (2018). “What Collaboration Means to Me: Perspectives on Library/Vendor Collaboration,” Collaborative Librarianship: Vol. 10 : Iss. 1 , Article 3. Available at: https://digitalcommons.du.edu/collaborativelibrarianship/vol10/iss1/3
Ginanni, K., Anne E. McKee, Jenni Wilson & Linda A. Brown (2015). “Yer Doin’ it Wrong: How NOT to Interact with Vendors, Publishers, or Librarians”, The Serials Librarian, 68:1-4, 255-261. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/0361526X.2015.1023131