Category Archives: The Vendor Files

Conversational boundaries

Any phone call from a sales rep that includes more than one of the following:

A) Overt whining from the sales rep,

B) Repeated insistence that “I’ve been doing this for 40 years” as justification for something I’m arguing with,

C) Refusal to end the conversation when I express, for the fifth time that I am not the right person to talk to, that I have provided you with the correct contact information, and that I don’t want to talk to you,

D) Me responding to your disclosure that my employee is not calling you back with “”So, are you just calling to complain about my employee? Because I’ve told you several times I won’t be the one making this decision, and that I don’t micromanage my staff, and that vendor choice is [X]’s decision to make. So I’m not sure what you want from me. Are you asking me to go reprimand my employee? I won’t be doing that.”

E) Repeatedly saying “well I guess I know when I’m being told NO” while still talking about what I just said “no” about,

F) Which is then followed by a whiny rant telling me why the competitor’s product is subpar and therefore how we’ve clearly made the wrong decision.

… will get me to hang up on you.

Just FYI.

Put it on the record: My responses to Sage’s responses

First, a point of correction and clarity: It appears that the conflict between our middlemen and SAGE can be attributed to simple muddy communication; SAGE doesn’t care where I buy my stuff or how I buy it. I can switch from WALDO to Lyrasis at any time. (Worth noting, though, is that SAGE offers the two the same terms, so it won’t actually get me anything to move between them. Thus it is technically true that they won’t let me move to get better pricing, because they don’t offer better pricing. But they are not trying to control my behavior re: purchasing through middlemen or consortia.)

Second: Let’s talk about the public offer I got during the on-stage Q & A portion of my Charleston speech, to share coffee with SAGE’s VP for Sales.

I deflected while I was on stage, saying something about how it’d been a particularly busy week for me and thus my lack of reply to the offers that came in email to meet in Charleston. That was true, as far as I went. There’s more, though.

Here’s what I replied via email when I had time to think about being articulate:

I wasn’t going engage in this debate from the stage at Charleston, as I was paid to be there and to do a particular job, which wasn’t to resolve my own vendor conflicts during the opening plenary. However, I do appreciate your willingness to come forward publicly. I also know that you did yourself a favor in doing so, since you now look better in the eyes of the crowd than you otherwise would. And I thank you for proving my point: when one speaks publicly, one can in fact enable change in our vendor/library partnerships.

All of that said, I am flying home today and did not make a coffee date with you, nor return your phone call. That’s very intentional. I want all of this in writing. I understand (truly!) that tone and intent can be lost in writing, but I believe that the written record is the only reliable record. I’d rather conduct these conversations by email. And, in equal seriousness: If you can’t explain your pricing structure clearly in writing, then you have a bigger problem than whether or not I blog about you in a negative light. There is no reason why a phone call should be required to explain how you price and sell your product.

[reiteration of the details of our local concern and repeated request for clarity on pricing models.]

That was on November 8, at 8:30 am. I’ve not heard back yet, though it’s only been 2 business days and there was a sizeable SAGE contingent obviously quite busy at Charleston. I’m not judging terribly harshly (yet); I know what my re-entry from travel looks like, and have sympathy.

I share this to model one way that we, as librarians, can choose to communicate with vendor partners. You don’t have to take my tone, or my stand. You don’t have to agree with me or with my issues and approach. But I beg of you: get it in writing. I don’t want to spend my institution’s money with any partner who won’t commit to their terms in writing, and I’m not sure why you would want to, either.

After Charleston, I had a Twitter conversation in which a librarian indicated disappointment that I didn’t meet the SAGE reps for coffee, since I was thus shutting down communication. I think that I’m doing the opposite; I’m encouraging and demanding communication that’s repeatable, shareable, and good for our community, not just good for Potsdam and Jenica. The same person asked how I would get it on the record, then, and proposed a conference panel to discuss issues between vendors and librarians. I think that if a conference wants to do that, more power to them, but I still don’t believe that (unless it is recorded and widely shared) that’s ‘putting it on the record'; that’s just another conversation that can be retracted, amended, and discredited later.

Want it on the record? Want to stop the silencing and the bullying and the closed-door negotiations and the abusive licensing terms and the confusion, all of which hold us back rather than drive us forward? Put it in writing. Then put it on the web where it can be accessed, reused, and learned from.

Another place to say No: HBR and EBSCO

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article out about the newest challenge to educational access to scholarly content, this time a particularly egregious example from the Harvard Business Review. Some cogent paragraphs that explain the thing:

Although Harvard Business Review articles have been included in the journal aggregator EBSCO since 2000, as of August 1 the publisher began blocking full access to the 500 most popular articles, meaning students and professors can no longer download, print, or link directly to them. Harvard has long asserted that a digital library subscription cannot substitute for the separate licenses and fees involved when the articles are assigned in courses. Yet it says it has encountered widespread abuse of that policy, with professors referring students to the digital subscriptions.

To restore the linking ability, some of the largest business-school libraries have received quotes of roughly $200,000 annually—a number the publisher, a nonprofit subsidiary of Harvard University, confirms—although the press says the average quote is below $10,000. Alternatively, business schools can pay for journal articles that are assigned in class on an à-la-carte basis or under various “umbrella” plans. Those latter arrangements have long existed. (Some business schools already have expansive licensing arrangements with Harvard that mean they are unaffected.)

On October 28, business-reference librarians within the American Library Association approved a statement that the press’s “profit-driven practices diverge from the intent of scholarly communication and impinge on higher education and libraries’ core social mission to preserve and make accessible records of scholarship.”

“There’s a feeling of being held hostage: In order to get back the access you have enjoyed for over a decade, you have to pay these additional fees,” said Andy Spackman, a business librarian at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University and chair of the business-reference librarians’ group.
More here:

Kevin Smith, on his Scholarly Communications @ Duke blog, once again provides an impassioned and deeply logical response:

Properly viewed, I suggest, this is not a dispute between libraries, or faculties, and Harvard.  It is a dispute between Harvard Business Publications and EBSCO over how to divide up the pie.  And libraries should refuse to make the pie bigger just to settle that dispute.

To be clear, the functions that HPB says are being wrongly exploited — printing, downloading and persistent linking — have been a part of the EBSCO databases for years.  HBP would argue that their special licensing terms with EBSCO (which were impossible to convey to faculty, since they make no sense) have always forbidden classroom use.  But the truth is, these technological changes are intended to prevent faculty from even giving students a reference to an article and asking the students to read that article on their own.  HBP wants to recover a separate fee even for that.

So the demands made by HBP really do break the EBSCO database as it has been purchased for years.  If libraries are going to lose functionality they have been buying over that time, they must demand a reduction in the price that is paid to EBSCO.  What is remarkable in this case is that the value of the lost functionality is easily quantifiable; it is represented by the new licensing fee that HBP plans to charge.

This is what I mean by insisting that this is a dispute between EBSCO and Harvard.  Libraries should refuse to pay more significantly more for the same functionality, especially since that functionality is so central to what we buy journal aggregator databases for.

– See more at:

Smith closes with this: “This is the moment to strengthen our spines and refuse to pour more money into the fraught relationship between Harvard and EBSCO; we must let them settle the matter between themselves.  If we do not draw this line in the sand, we will continue to get that sand kicked in our faces.” I’m pretty sure you all know I agree with him 100%.

More from SAGE


We asked another middleman agency to get us a quote from SAGE, out of curiosity: Would it be more explicable? Would it be a better deal for us?

We got our answer today. Per our last email from that middleman agency, “Sage will not allow current subscribers to transfer to a different consortia at a lower price.  They require them to keep the same pricing.”

So, not only do they get to arbitrarily determine what we should pay and how they define that amount, they won’t sell to us if we look for better deals than we currently have negotiated.

Tell me again why libraries give money to “partners” like these?

Note: See update from 11/12/2013 here.

Speaking in Charleston

If you’ve been following my relationship and conversation with vendors, you may be interested to know that I’ll be giving Thursday morning’s opening plenary address at the Charleston Conference next week:

Librarians In The Post-Digital Information Era: Reclaiming Our Rights and Responsibilities

The best libraries were never simply buyers and warehouses for information, but something more, centered around synthesis and access and creativity. As the information ecosystem has shifted, forcing our attention to the operational side of How We Manage Information, some of us have lost sight of that. We hand over our shrinking resources to prominent for-profit publishers and vendors because it’s How The System Works, without considering what our role in that system is, has been, and might be. It’s time to remind everyone that the power of libraries lies not in our passivity but in our action, and reclaim and redefine our roles within it. Drawing on her experiences with the American Chemical Society, faculty perceptions of scholarship and libraries, and local and national conversations about library acquisitions, Jenica Rogers will share her vision of what librarians’ rights and responsibilities are and can be in the postdigital information economy.

You can bet I’ll be talking about the things you hope I’ll be talking about. If you’re there, please come say hello. I’ll be the pregnant one, on stage.

If you can’t be in Charleston, it’s my understanding that the presentation will be recorded and posted online, and if that happens, I will share later.