feeling pointy

I have had a very bad week regarding vendors — the disheartening, maddening kind — and in the interests of advancing libraries’ understanding of how our vendor community treats us, I’m going to name names. Secrets in the dark just ensure that we all get the same (bad) treatment. We can’t stand for that.

One issue seems to be the complicated bureaucracy required by New York State purchasing combined with a disappointing choice made by our vendor about their billing practices. Since they are trying, and we are trying, and we both seem to be failing: No names. But it adds to my frustration.

Another issue is that it seems EBSCO no longer has a simple or clear price list. They used to. That was one of the things i loved about them — no negotiation about price, no wondering where that number came from… oh well. In many ways, they are still a very good partner to us. One example of that is that a sales rep from EBSCO emailed a faculty member on my campus directly, offering a trial of a new product. I was looped in by the professor, who is savvy enough to know we have limited funds and that the Libraries are the purchasing agent for information products. But I was unhappy; if the sales force offers candy to our users, and we have to say “NO CANDY FOR YOU” because there is no budget for candy, who looks like the black hat Bad Guy? Me. So I sent a message to my contact at EBSCO, and he was not only understanding but called me back immediately and offered to speak to the sales force about that tactic.  Bad action, but great response. Thanks.

Then there’s Proquest. Proquest has still not fixed the issues in their new interface, though they are communicating much more effectively. Unfortunately, the communications aren’t accurate. We were told that RILM and MLA — the databases we did NOT move from Proquest, because they still worked — were available to use on the Proquest interface now, though if we desired to continue using CSA’s interface, we could. Except our CSA interface had expired weeks before, and we’d already been forced over to Proquest. Which flatly doesn’t work. We can’t link to full-text using Serials Solutions. I would note the irony: Serials Solutions is a Proquest company, and while the SerSol linking works with every. single. one. of our other vendor interfaces, it’s utterly borked in PQ. We are in steady, courteous, and professional communication with both tech and training support at Proquest, but the bottom line is that the interface isn’t functional. Which is too bad, because they did put nice features into it. But no number of cup holders will make up for the fact that your car only shifts into neutral and reverse, but not drive.

And then. There’s the American Chemical Society.  A decade and two jobs ago I learned that this society was not only a publisher but also the accrediting body for Chemistry programs, and as such, required accredited programs to subscribe to their publications. Sounded like a racket to me then, still does, and nothing has changed in the intervening decade.  We continue to subscribe to their (very good) content, and they continue to raise prices. This week has been a bad week for my opinion of them — I learned that the statewide package we were sold several years ago by agencies supposed to have our best interests in heart included provisions for nearly 6% annual price increases, mandated annual content additions for which we could then be charged list price, raising the overall package cost (onto which the 6% increases are added). (I can’t decide if I’m angrier with the vendor who asked for those terms, or the supposed allies who agreed to them and called them a good deal.) Another SUNY library director reported that they base their price structure on Carnegie classification, and don’t seem to care that most SUNY Masters I institutions (like mine) don’t have any graduate students in Chemistry, and that they appear to structure pricing based on “Carnegie classification, usage, and moon phase”. Another of my peers reported that they in fact cannot mandate our title holdings, because we have a longstanding misunderstanding about their role in accreditation. I have dedicated hours to figuring out where we stand, communicating with the faculty in our Chemistry department, and researching prices, policies, and needs — as has the Collection Development Coordinator. But it’s worth it, because our ACS expenses are 9.9% of my overall materials budget.

I wish I were kidding.

So we spend a lot of money with them, and when we ask for clear answers as we navigate our budgeting… here is what was suggested to one of our librarians by an American Chemical Society representative this week, when asked what titles meet their accreditation requirements:

There are multiple journals that may be used to meet the breadth requirements for journal subscriptions.  You should check with the chair of the chemistry program to determine which journal titles best fit the needs of the chemistry curriculum and the research activities of the faculty and students.

Please let me know if you have any further questions about the library requirements.

On Monday, I sent this reply after the issue was escalated to me.

You were asked a specific and clear question. Instead of answering it, you chose to tell us how to do our work. This advice was unsought and unhelpful: we have active collaboration with our Chemistry department, we are clear on what the research activities of our students and faculty are, and I do not need a vendor representative instructing me on how to proceed with campus collection and relationship-building.  As I would hope that we are a valued ACS customer, I expect that you will answer our earnest and appropriate questions about how best to meet your accreditation standards.

To repeat, “How do I know which journals fulfill which areas of the content list? e.g. what criteria does Langmuir fulfill?”

Awaiting your helpful reply,


I am, professionally and personally, livid; I do not appreciate condescension, eradication of librarians’ professional expertise, or sidestepping of questions that are completely valid in a consumer-seller relationship in which a carefully delineated accreditation relationship is also involved. Our vendors seem to think that going straight to the faculty is going to benefit them, but I don’t understand their logic in sidestepping librarians. We’re the ones with the budgets. We’re the ones they have to work with. Yes, our faculty are influential, key stakeholders and partners, and are the source of our research agenda and teaching and learning needs, but still: How is undermining and alienating the librarian middleman going to help business?

Anger and bewilderment aside, I’m caught between the proverbial rock and hard place — I must support the faculty and students who rely on the research materials published by the ACS. But I must also strive to manage the budgets, resources, and needs of the entire academic community in the most effective, responsible, and clever way possible.

It’s true in all the cases above. I have a big picture to balance, and vendor relationships causing complications to that picture. I have little room to negotiate, few (or no) options to choose from, and no clear path to success. The trend appears to be moving away from treating librarians as partners, and toward treating us as roadblocks to be evaded. It’s hard to see a path to meaningful progress in that environment. Being stuck between the rock of the vendors and the hard place of our community needs, I am beginning to feel a little squished. And it’s making me feel pointy.

Also, no one from ACS has replied to me yet. Proquest and EBSCO have both made sincere efforts to reach out. Who do you want to do business with?

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