Vendors that delight me

In the midst of my railing against fate regarding the ACS a few weeks ago, I was asked to write a post about any vendors that delight me. I agreed, because there are some and their behavior deserves recognition. And my inbox today has a list of ways vendors are failing at invoicing us per pre-agreed terms, which is annoying as all get out. So. I will focus on some good stuff instead of the bad stuff, as an exercise in optimism. How do vendors in libraryland delight me?

Paying personal attention. My EBSCO rep, Jim Kropelin, worked with me for most of the 6 years that I was Collection Development Coordinator, and when EBSCO rearranged the sales and customer support roles, he still replied to my emails and questions though it was likely not his responsibility to do so any longer. He still seeks me out when he can, despite changes in both of our roles, and he knows our subscription list off the top of his head. He knows our programs. He knows our history with his company. He listens to me. When I  complained about other sales folks at EBSCO contacting our faculty directly, I complained to him. Not only did he call me back immediately, but he shared information about our renewal list — concern over some databases we hadn’t renewed, seeking feedback on why we’d made those choices. As it turned out, his concern alerted us to a problem with a middle-man and the orders we had placed through them, and we discovered it before we inconvenienced our patrons.  If not for that pro-active question, we would have learned about the problem when we unexpectedly lost access to the content, which is no one’s favorite way to learn things.

Working well with the State of New York. This one’s pretty local, but probably can be extrapolated widely. I work in the heart of a ludicrously complex bureaucracy. Remarkably little of New York’s notoriously high tax burden comes to SUNY, but the maze of regulation applies to us fully. Vendors who can, will, and do navigate those waters with eagerness and grace are the ones who we love. Getting on state contract, sitting down to negotiate statewide pricing, offering attractive packages during bidding processes, and acknowledging our budget cycles: These things make us love you. The vendors who don’t acknowledge how tightly our hands are tied are the ones who leave us frustrated and struggling to remember why we wanted to buy from them in the first place.  EBSCO has been great about finding a space at the New York table. Proquest has not. Our subscriptions reflect the relative ease created by those choices.

Reasonable and forward-looking policies and terms. Seriously, Lexis-Nexis? You won’t allow use by walk-in users at a college campus? There are, like, a dozen of them. Would it kill you to be like every. other. vendor and allow those dozen people to access your resource? I guess you think it will. Well, you suck. Also on the Suck List are the vendors who refuse to acknowledge that information resources are often shared via the Interlibrary Loan services of libraries, that faculty want to put articles on reserve, use them in online coursepacks, and share materials with students via the course management system. Also, the ones who seem to think that limiting printing for users will somehow protect the publisher’s rights to the content. What delights us is licenses that are a) short, b) allow more than they restrict, and c) indicate that the company understands that our goal is to connect users with information. Also, not treating us and our users like we’re all potential thieves? That’s nice, too.

Practicing radical transparency. Tim Spalding of LibraryThing commented on an earlier post that many (and I insert “traditional”)  librarians sort of suck at being partners in transparency, but I love him for trying. I want price sheets that show how a cost was calculated. I want clear descriptions of what we’ll be getting for our money. I want sales people who can talk to me, negotiate with me if necessary, and explain things to me, all without using phrases like “I’ll need to check with my manager on that”. How about you don’t check, but instead just tell me true things? I like true things.

Not drinking the Kool-Aid. Libraries have always done lots of things, and we’ve always done them in certain ways, and we believe these truths to be self-evident. Thing is, sometimes we’re totally freakin’ wrong. Our true things are lies. So when a vendor says “Hey, wait, guys, that doesn’t make sense. Let’s try this instead!”, I am thrilled to be challenged. Tim Spalding comes to mind again with some of his blogging about OCLC’s records use policies. Springshare‘s approach to dumping library websites on their heads also springs (ha!) to mind. As Amy Buckland says all the damn time, modern librarians need to “challenge legacy processes.” Vendors who help us to do that, encourage us to do that, and give us tools to do that are our friends.

Being responsive and agile. Once upon a time, my libraries kept track of user counts (our version of building use statistics) in an Access database. If I had a point-of-need information request, or a curiosity about how our spaces were being used, or needed annual data, I had to ask the staff who manage the databases for reports. They had to receive my request, then whack Access with rocks until it gave them data, then send the data back to me. It was not the best process ever. Then I saw a presentation about a library statistics software product, tweeted about it, and got a message from a friend who works in user support at Springshare. She asked if I would listen to a sales pitch, because she thought Springshare had something better: LibAnalytics. I agreed, and she pitched me at ALA, and I bought it a week later. But here’s the thing: I bought it because during my free trial period I ascertained that a) it did awesome stuff in terms of allowing user flexibility in setup and then doing the calculations on the data regardless of the acrobatics of your setup, but b) it didn’t do as well with numerical data like “22 people at the reference computers at 4 pm on Tuesday” as it did with contextual data like “22 reference questions answered by 4 pm on Tuesday, 6 of them technology, 4 of those about printers”. When I identified that analysis gap, the people I was talking to escalated the question to Slaven. Slaven owns the company. Slaven asked me questions refining my issue, then he and the team created a solution to my problem, then asked me to test the solution, and then when I was satisfied, pushed it live to LibAnalytics for all customers. Now I can check real-time and see trends and data points for use of our facilities. All set up within the space of a week. I paid my invoice on the spot. I mean, really. How many vendors do that?

Make me forget about you. Early readers may note that this section was added after I hit publish, because I had intended to include but then forgot about Blake Carver, who runs LISHost. LISHost powers this site, and it powers this site for a pittance. Blake, in short, IS LISHost and (getting to my point here) makes me forget he exists, because he fixes problems faster than any commercial provider could hope for (and he’s just a single dude) without being intrusive or needy or in any way a presence other than to provide help when it’s asked for and send ridiculously small bills to his customers. He is the force behind huge swathes of libraryland’s online voice, and he is that best of all service providers: the one you can ignore. We all owe him a beer, and we should request that more vendors become providers of essential and so-good-they’re-invisible services.

So. There are a few ways to delight me. I wish more vendors did, but I’m encouraged by how many are trying, and succeeding. Who are your favorites? What delights YOU?


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