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fistI’ve been thinking about vendors lately.  Mostly about vendors who don’t do so well, who hurt their customers, rip every last dollar from our wallets that they can, and walk away laughing haughtily.

I read some articles from people discussing virtual reference solutions, and what products are better than others, including what vendors provide better support and sales experiences.  In California, we are losing our statewide online reference cooperative, so we’re left scrambling with only a few months to pick new products.  The resulting fracas is intriguing — the gloves have come off and the anger people have felt at particular vendors is coming out full force.

Also, Meredith Farkas recently wrote about EBSCO’s role as an evil empire, and lists several major faux pas they’ve made in recent months. Incidentally, Farkas’s boss received a phone call from EBSCO’s VP of Marketing right after her post.  Nobody called Farkas, just her boss.  That in and of itself is interesting.

My general opinion of EBSCO is not a good one.  As I commented on Meredith’s site, I have worked with EBSCO & other database vendors for the last 9 years. EBSCO consistently pulls titles, has ridiculously long embargos (which they also change at will), gives misleading or incorrect information during sales presentations, pressures publishers into exclusive deals (it’s either only us, or we won’t work with you), and repackages and sells the same content in different bundles–double-charging libraries and giving a false impression that the library is getting more content than they are.  I was very disappointed when our library switched from Gale to EBSCO this past year and these problems further solidify my position. I would love to think EBSCO could change but the long term pattern of behavior makes me think it’s corporate culture…and that’s hard to change.

However, it’s not just the virtual reference companies or EBSCO, and we all know it.

Why do we in libraries tolerate this kind of arrogant behavior from a vendor?  We’re the ones with the money.  They should be doing what we want.  We need to vote with our wallets and choose to work with vendors who provide the best possible products for the money, are fast to respond to technology trends, do not engage in shady business practices, and treat their customers with respect.

I encourage everyone to make your vendors aware that you are not happy with their behavior (it’s not like they’re going  to smack you in the face for saying so).  I also encourage everyone to vote with your wallets the next time you get to make a vendor choice — pick the one that does what you want, how you want it, and who has a good reputation with your peers.  Don’t automatically go for the lowest price.  You’ll pay for it in different ways later, believe you me.

I also encourage everyone to be vocal to your colleagues, online and off, about which vendors you have problems with.  I think it’s fairly well-established in libraryland which vendors are on the “dislike” list.  And you know what?  I’ll cite the vendors on my own list right here.  In my work with libraries I personally have had problems with Reed Elsevier, EBSCO, Reference USA, 3M, Innovative Interfaces, and OCLC (sadly).  Some combination of poor ethics, price gouging, misleading sales pitches, lying, hoarding, poor product development, horrible customer service, and/or plain bad products has led to these vendors making my list.

When people ask me my opinions about products or companies, I give them freely, good or bad.  Then again, I’m known for being rather mouthy and have gotten myself on some social black lists by doing so.  I’m at peace with that.  It’s who I am.  Actually, I find it amusing to hear reports of CEOs, salespeople, or project managers using four-letter words to describe me — all because I gave their product a single bad review on my website.  Really?  I’d much rather that vendors contacted me to talk about why they got a bad review, instead of throwing stones at someone giving them ideas about improving the product, albeit without the smiles, whipped cream, and cherries that usually accompany focus group discussions that they’re probably more accustomed to.

Many others in the library field are not able or willing to vocalize their negative feelings about vendors, either out of fear or angering the vendor, fear of angering their employer, or perhaps some other reason still invisible to me.

I plead with all of you to speak your minds, to be honest, and to help your fellow libraries by saying the good and the bad both.

And I plead with all library vendors to remember: you get our money because we choose to give it to you.  Remember who the customer is in this relationship.  Do everything you can to make your customers happy while still meeting your bottom line — for without us, you will be in bankruptcy court before long.

“Unethical Library Vendors: A Call to Arms for Libraries to Fight Back”

  1. Jimmy the Geek Says:

    You can add TLC (The Library Corporation) to the list as well. From promising modules that never are delivered to misleading server specs to not fixing their software, they have issues that need to be addressed and they don’t appear to care to fix them, based on tech support posts I have exchanged with them.

    We are going to be speaking with our wallet very soon. You hear that, TLC?

  2. JS in NY Says:

    I wish that every librarian in the US would read this and act on it – if libraries acted more like customers and less like hostages, we might collectively be able to make a difference!

  3. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by librarianmer: RT @TheLiB: New blog post on LiB: Unethical Library Vendors: A Call to Arms for Libraries to Fight Back:

  4. Andrew Says:

    It’s the old divide and rule game. There’s got to be someway for libraries to organize (ALA, SLA ACRL are you listening?) that’s not illegal.
    h/t to Ahniwa Ferrari who shared this on FB.

  5. GC Says:

    Thank you for writing this. In utter exasperation, I ended up writing about posting about my experiences here I After reading your post, I think I should go back and add vendor names to the situations described.

  6. Patricia Genat Says:

    Good words! As a vendor who beleives in the quality of our people and our service, it’s great to hear some strong feedback from librarians. I agree wholeheartedly – I’d much rather here about where I have disapointed or provided inferior service. Sometimes I can fix it, sometimes I can’t , but either way I’ll be a better vendor and libraries will have better healthy competition for their public dollar.
    Thank You.
    PS – I’m an Australian provider, but will be at ALA in June, so look forward to networking madly.

  7. Patricia Genat Says:

    Good words! As a vendor who beleives in the quality of our people and our service, it’s great to hear some strong feedback from librarians. I agree wholeheartedly – I’d much rather hear about where I have disapointed or provided inferior service. Sometimes I can fix it, sometimes I can’t , but either way I’ll be a better vendor and libraries will have better healthy competition for their public dollar.
    Thank You.
    PS – I’m an Australian provider, but will be at ALA in June, so look forward to networking madly.

  8. Dana Roth Says:

    In my mind, the cowardly act of directly contacting a librarian’s boss defines an EVIL EMPIRE.

  9. Meredith Says:

    I can’t say for sure why my boss was contacted instead of me, but my assumption was that it was about mending the relationship between EBSCO and our library, in which case it would make sense for him to talk with my Director. It would have been nice to also have received some word from EBSCO (either on my blog or via email/phone/etc.), but I understand that if their motive is to make our library happy with them again, contacting my boss makes the most sense. Just trying to put the best spin on it since none of us really know for sure what their motives were for calling my boss.

  10. Stephen Abram Says:

    Hi Sarah:

    I know I’m not without a conflict of interest but you and your subscribers might want to know about this Facebook group:

    Librarians for Fair Access!/group.php?gid=294859370125&ref=ts

    They also had a booth staffed by librarians and end-users at PLA and another one is planned for ALA in DC.

    My CEO has been quite vocal as a vendor about the issues with the practice of exclusive licenses for full text periodical content. I’m proud we’ve taken a stand.

    I’ll see you at CIL next week!



  11. Christine Ayar Illichmann Says:

    As a librarian that works for a vendor (Evanced Solutions) I certainly understand your point of view. When I was a library director, I was infuriated by vendors that would drastically increase pricing and then become annoyed when I’d call to request explainations of invoices line by line. The pressure to “pay up and shut up” is something librarians should not stand for.

    At Evanced Solutions, we love when our customers actually come to us with concerns. We find it very frustrating to have a customer cancel a product subscription only to hear they were unhappy with things we could have fixed or possibly addressed in a future product release. What is worse is facing potential customers who just assume that because we are a vendor, we are out to take every dime they have. “Bad” vendors ruin it for those of us who are trying to be fair and understand the economic and social pressures faced by libraries.

  12. Diane Eidelman Says:

    All of the experiences you outlined that you find so distasteful from Ebsco, I have experienced with Gale. Their technical support was awful. They couldn’t get our accounts working and straight, and their pricing is very high. Proquest has had exclusive rights to the Wall Street Journal for years. These pissing contests will continue as long as there are vendors out there competing with each other. I don”t like exclusive agreements, but information is never free. Keep complaining and organizing. Get on advisory committees to the vendors to further express your outrage. Just remember that Ebsco is not the only vendor with exclusive contracts. And don’t even get me started about ReferenceUSA.

  13. Rob Cullin Says:

    I just wanted to say that some vendors such as ours are just as frustrated with a lot of the other vendors as you are. I’d never sit here and try to say that we are perfect at Evanced Solutions. We’ve made mistakes and failed to meet a few promises over the years, no one is perfect no matter how hard we try.

    What I do know is that there are vendors in the library market that do care (like Evanced), and that don’t attach a dollar figure to every decision. We’ve always put high expectations on our customer service quality at the expense of our bottom line, as we’ve always taken the long view that the relationship with our customers will always payoff in the end if it is positive, open, and we do our best to serve their needs. We try to recognize that our customers (libraries) are serving the public and therefore we try to serve them in return. I hope that if ANY of our customers is reading this blog and isn’t 100% happy with our products or services that they would please let us know. We want to know so we can fix it.
    Rob Cullin
    CSO / Co-Founder
    Evanced Solutions

  14. Wayne Says:

    Thanks for the excellent post and the call to do something about it. We see quite a range of vendor service or disservice in the way that they handle our requests about various e-resources (databases, single journals, packages, ebooks): the worst are the ones who do not provide phone numbers and so force you to emai or submit and eform, and so put the response time sqaurely in their hands. The best are the ones — I have to say, like Elsevier this very day for me — who not only provide a phone number, but let me talk to a very friendly guy who solved our problem over the phone — excellent. Contrast that with a journal from another publihser, with no phone number, and for which we’ve been waiting two months for an answer to our webform (I’ve now followed up with a director or VP by email).

  15. Robin K. Blum Says:

    I noticed that the vendors you cite that fall into the unfair or poor category are mostly bigger companies. It’s not necessarily always the big ones that make profit their only mission, but more often than not that’s the case. I’d like to remind librarians to give small vendors a shot…you might find that they make an extra effort to satisfy their customers, and respond in a timely manner to special requests. We want to build our base in the library community too. Remember the old slogan “we try harder”?

  16. jessamyn Says:

    One of the biggest challenges to organizing in some way is that our professional organizations rely on the money they get from these vendors. You’ve seen the big signs at conferences about these “library champions”

    As a peofession we can’t even get it togther to be against filtering because there are libraries that HAVE to filter who we’d be alienating. It’s a real pickle. That said, I think the best thing that we can do is not sign new contracts and tell them why we’re not signing. No more bad agreements and publicity for shoddy service and substandard equipment.

    My #1 is Overdrive whose barely functioning websites for digital audiobooks has helped a whole generation of tech novice Vermonters think that computers are hard.

  17. Barbara Fister Says:

    I’m really reluctant to join a Facebook group set up by Gale to protest its rival company’s policies. If there will be any serious challenge to the status quo it has to come from scholars and librarians. (I know this doesn’t address exclusive arrangements made for popular magazine content … but libraries should maybe stop worrying about paying a premium to provide database access since people who want a few easy articles on a current topic are likely to be pretty satisfied with what they find free on the Web.) Scholarly societies that strike deals that deliberately make their scholarship rare and expensive should go stand in the corner, and anyone who publishes their research with them should join them, and so should every member of a tenure and promotion committee who thinks producing expensive rarities is a good thing for the advancement of knowledge.

    Until we make it very public that we won’t buy this stuff on behalf of people idiotic enough to support this racket, nothing will change.

    Sadly, when it’s all bundled and owned by one or two mega-corporations, it’s going to be hard to launch serious resistance. But isn’t organization supposedly one of our skills and access to information one of our values?

  18. Simon Marcus Says:

    Hi everyone:

    My name is Simon Marcus, I am the COO at TLC, the company mentioned earlier in this post by Jimmy the Geek. Jimmy, I am sorry you have had such a bad experience. I would love a chance to speak with you directly about your issues. My email is, my number is 800.325.7759. TLC has shifted in the last 3 years to an Agile development model. At our national user group meeting each year, I have a session where I remind our customers what we said we were going to try to get done in the last year, let them know what we did (and didn’t) get done, and give them a sense of our plans for the upcoming year. We make a transcript of that session available on our blog. All development is done with the assistance of focus groups of customers who get demos of our software every two weeks as it is being built, and see their feedback worked into the product as we go.

    We ain’t no evil empire. We are a small, family owned and operated company in West Virginia that has dedicated itself to making and keeping our customers happy for 35 years. Like Christine from eVanced said above, we love to hear from our customers – its the only way we know whether we are getting things right or not. Like Rob said, we too, make plenty of mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes have left promises broken, but that is never our intent. We always do our best to set things right.

    I am sitting at my desk in the middle of the support floor right now listening to a bunch of really smart, hard working people try to solve problems for our libraries. The fellow sitting just in front of me spent the last two weeks sleeping in hotels rooms all over Louisiana on a whirl-wind check-in tour with many of our customers there. The fellow sitting next to me spent all night last night trying to solve a hardware problem for a customer. If we have an unhappy customer, it’s a matter of pride for us to try to turn things around. We can’t always do everything you want us to do, but we try to be honest about what is and is not possible.

    I know lots of good people who work for our competitors and other vendors. (I even know some good people at Ebsco!) I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you we care a great deal, and are always eager for constructive conversations about what we can do better.

  19. See Also… » Jailbreak your library? Says:

    [...] and Sarah’s provocative posts, Has EBSCO become the new evil empire? (Meredith), Unethical Library Vendors: A Call to Arms for Libraries to Fight Back (Sarah), and A lot of Davids make one heck of a Goliath (Mer, again). But the more I thought about [...]

  20. BW Says:

    You can add Envisionware to this list. I worked in a public service position for years. A few grand in usability research and a few lines of changed code (seriously, that is ALL it would take), would have saved us literally hundreds of hours of work. This means hundreds of confused customers who often got angry or thought they couldn’t use computers at all because of the language Envisionware chose to use.

    In this case, I think a big part of this issue was that the lines of communication weren’t open between public service staff and the people making the vendor decisions. Maybe if they knew how many hours and how much public support this terrible product was costing them, they would have put more pressure on Envisionware to either update their product or lose a big customer.

  21. Nathan Thomas Says:

    This is what good vendors do:

  22. Nicolette Says:

    Thank you for your posts. I have had the same problem with EBSCO. When I had to downgrade one of their databases they would not tell me how much it costs but tried to use it as an opportunity to get me drop all competing vendor products and become an Ebsco only shop.

  23. Vendors, libraries and change « Library Chic Says:

    [...] Vendors, libraries and change Posted on April 8, 2010 by Courtney F So the latest hubbub over in the LSW FriendFeed room is all about database vendors and how libraries (and librarians) respond to them…Steve Lawson has written about it on his blog, See Also…, and received some FriendFeed comments as well.  (All of which started with Meredith Farkas and Sarah Houghton-Jan aka Librarian in Black) [...]

  24. Rationality « The Waki Librarian Says:

    [...] we deal (or not deal) with library vendors. The Librarian in Black wrote a fantastic post against unethical library vendors. I hope the vendors are listening along with the rest of the library world so we can finally make [...]

  25. Tommy Johansson Says:

    Sarah, you Librarian in Black, I love you for this article!
    Let´s unite in this worldwide struggel!

    A Swedish Librarian

  26. Dan C Says:

    It always amazes me when vendors seem shocked that we librarians talk to each other about our experiences and or contracts. I remember saying to one vendor who tried to up our costs by 600% when our London office was getting a better deal, “You think I won’t talk about this to other libraries? You think this won’t get around?”

    We’re good at informal connections, but yes, yes, we should try to be more organized and maybe they will listen.

  27. Trust me, I’m a librarian « (d)atalog(ue) Says:

    [...] vs. proprietary software, etc.  EBSCO, in particular, has been taking some flak lately for their recent practices (as the article says, “good news for Elsevier“, who is not fondly looked-up in the [...]

  28. MJ Ray Says:

    I’m glad to see this post. As a member of one of the few library management system support co-operatives (and much smaller than OCLC who don’t even reply to my emails), I think more active and critical librarians is a good thing for us. We don’t always get it right, but we do our best and if all else fails, we give libraries the power to help make it right (even if that means replacing us!), instead of stringing them along.

    “One of the biggest challenges to organizing in some way is that our professional organizations rely on the money they get from these vendors” – this is a big problem, as is the Old Librarians Network, where vendors who hire ex-librarian consultants get preferential treatment. Why does it happen? Why aren’t librarians in control of their professional organizations and why do so few realise that every dollar that goes from a vendor to a professional organization is probably a dollar that some library somewhere was overcharged?

  29. Rachael Says:

    Second on the ReferenceUSA fail. Pricing fail, customer service fail, honesty fail.

    I will add NewsBank to that list as well.

    Ultimately, I get the feeling that vendors think librarians are stupid. I feel patronized and humored whenever I talk to the majority of them.

  30. Nate Erb Says:

    I am an IT consultant at a small town library in Wisconsin, and volunteer just as much time there as I bill . The technology waste I seen and cleaned up there is remarkable. There are unfortunately a lot of black sheep in the business, as always caveat emptor.

  31. A lot of Davids make one heck of a Goliath | Information Wants To Be Free Says:

    [...] response to my post a few days ago about EBSCO, Sarah Houghton-Jan just wrote an impassioned post about unethical vendor practices, suggesting that we let our vendors know when we are not happy with what they’re doing. While [...]

  32. Tryin’ to Get My Mojo Workin’ | In the Library with the Lead Pipe Says:

    [...] can no longer pay the rising costs of journal subscriptions and are possibly falling victim to unethical library vendors? For example, the University of California  is having trouble with the pricing of Nature [...]

  33. I'm not really a Librarian Says:

    I worked in Acquisitions for over 15 years at a large research library. When I started, my supervisors directed me to never “put all my eggs in one basket” and distribute orders between vendors. The strategy worked very well–if our discounts or service were substandard, I could (and did) threaten to change vendors. Unfortunately now–electronic resources are often locked into exclusive packages, and management and IT pressure staff into vendor consolidation to make payments and system infrastructure easier. Unfortunately, these consolidations mean worse service for the end user, and service comparisons are irrelevant. If a vendor has exclusive electronic content, they don’t seem very inclined to make small interface changes that would improve the user experience because it has no impact on their bottom line. The same can be true of vendors that “own” major titles that are automatic slam-dunk purchases for libraries (eg. Nature). The other thing that bothers me is that I have heard that serials vendors such as Elsevier want a profit margin of 25%, whereas traditional book publishing has been happy with 5%….if true, that is really evil.

  34. Lippy Librarian Says:

    Agree with the TLC issues/problems. They promise solutions and don’t deliver.

  35. MJ Ray Says:

    Small updates: I have had a reply from OCLC and I think there’s still the same blindness to where vendor money comes from.

  36. LPT Done Says:

    3M and Envisionware are on my bad guy or bad product list.

  37. Mary C Says:

    I used to work for a library vendor. (I’m not saying which one!). As a vendor/salesperson, I came across at least 100 different librarians that would not give me the time of day. Even when they were already purchasing my product from a distributor; many times at a significant mark-up. Why is that? I know people are busy, but isn’t saving money a good thing?

  38. Sarah Says:

    @Mary C: I can understand that. From the librarian’s perspective, it seems like nine times out of ten a library vendor calling me means they’re trying to sell me something new, make me spend more money…not save money. That’s the bias that we go into that interaction with unfortunately.

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