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Librarians' Involvements With Vendors - A Commentary

:: Brian Simboli, Science Librarian at E.W. Fairchild Martindale Library at Lehigh University, offers the following commentary on the subject of vendors soliciting input from and working with librarians to improve their products:

    I was rather surprised this week to come across a vendor's website that solicits ideas about new products but that includes a disclaimer suggesting that the submitter of information agrees that the vendor can use the information without remuneration.

    There is, I think, an unfortunate tendency to regard librarian input about product enhancements as yet one more generous service that librarians provide, thereby overlooking the depth of accumulated experience that they have acquired over years of serving their populations. Perhaps this is part and parcel of the longstanding and ever-more incorrect perception of librarians as persons who hide away in the stacks. That perception is gradually eroding, of course, as librarians have become more and more business-like; witness, e.g., how vocal they have been about aspects of the serials crisis.

    The tendency does not always exhibit itself; I know of one case in which librarians were able to cut a very fair deal on a library product by virtue of having provided lots of input about it. Also, if librarians are dealing with non-profit organizations, there is a respectable pro bono dimension to providing insight on how to improve products. Furthermore, there is all the reason in the world for librarians to sit on vendor panels as a way of providing feedback about vendor services.

    It is of course within the right of vendors to solicit new ideas. I would recommend, however, to my colleagues that they be wary of giving away the store when they talk to vendors about new products or product enhancements. It is of course within the right of vendors to request such feedback, but it is worth keeping in mind that significant feedback (i.e., feedback over and above merely pointing out problems with current services) can--and I think should-- result in lowered pricing for an institution, tailored to the benefits that the vendor accrues. And in fact the results of such arrangements can contribute greatly to both vendors and the institutions to whom they sell products. Everyone wins.

Brian's commentary was posted to a number of listservs this morning.

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