An SCCLL Librarian’s Notes from the Vendor Colloquium

Greg Lambert’s excellent coverage of Roberta Schaffer’s talk and Mark Estes’ reporting here on the group deliberation left me wondering what I might be able to contribute to the body of information about the AALL Vendor Colloquium.   I have 26 handwritten pages of notes; surely, some of that would be of interest to my colleagues.  Since my perspective is primarily that of a librarian at a public and subscription law library, I will start by offering my own notes from Ann Fessenden’s presentation (a statement of the challenges facing state, court, and county law libraries (SCCLL) and questions for the publishers) and from the discussion that followed.   Then I will identify the attendees’ shared principles that seem to speak to these concerns.

The SCCLL Environment
• SCCLL typically serve the public trust whether or not they are open directly to the public.  We report to a wide range of governing organizations.  Some are funded wholly by public funds.  Other SCCLL’s budgets are supplemented with, or solely funded by, private revenue.
• Government entities are desperately cutting budgets.  This has had a major impact on SCCLL, resulting in significant cuts to collections, staffing, and services even while the cost of materials rises.
• SCCLL librarians meet users’ real and personal legal issues, often supporting the needs of self-represented litigants.  We are need legal information resources and training materials designed with the end user in mind.
• Print remains very important in the SCCLL environment.
• SCCLL are concerned about issues related to official, authentic primary law as we support litigators, judges, and public patrons.
• We are challenged by licensing issues that limit our ability to offer remote access to our users.
• SCCLL librarians often negotiate licenses on behalf of other government offices.
• We often require billing and payment flexibility, given revenue cycles and local law and procedures.
• Many SCCLL have nontraditional functions, like outreach, self-help, and speaker series.
• SCCLL are dedicated to promoting rule of law and access to justice.

SCCLL Questions for the Vendors
Given these factors, SCCLL librarians need to know:
• Will vendors offer accessible print and online self-help materials, including those written in languages other than English?
• What are vendors doing to ensure preservation and authentication of, and permanent access to, primary materials?
• What might vendors do to offer affordable, accessible resources for the public and for government entities?  How can the vendors’ need to be profitable be balanced with the libraries’ shrinking financial resources?
• What is the vendors’ commitment to the affordable print materials for the foreseeable future?
• Are vendors willing to commit to provision of usage data so that SCCLL librarians can make decisions based on resources’ value?
• Can vendors work with SCCLL librarians on flexible, customizable terms in licensing agreements?
• What is the impact of the self-publishing and open access trends on commercial publishers?

Shared Principles
Day 2 of the Vendor Colloquium included the identification of shared principles, those common commitments around which one might reasonably hope some tangible action and mutual benefits might emerge.  From my vantage point as a SCCLL librarian at the Vendor Colloquium, these are the values and beliefs (as I jotted them down) that seem to address these questions and concerns, though I’m sure they will resonate with librarians at other library types as well.  This is not a complete list.
• A passion for legal information and its wide and effective dissemination
• Recognition that publishers and librarians are partners in serving the justice system
• An interest in improved trust and a commitment to quality in customer service
• The information proficiency of end users
• A commitment to metrics to demonstrate return on investment
• A shared interest in preservation and authenticity
• A mutual acknowledgment of end users’ changing habits and expectations
• A commitment to streamline the procurement and payment process
• Recognition of the inherent tension in the customer/supplier, for-profit, non-profit relationships

What’s Next?
As announced by Joyce Manna Janto, a Working Group, on which I will serve, is “charged with refining these shared principles and developing an action plan”.  I used to work with someone who would say, cynically, “…rubber meets the road…” at least twice a day, and always when leaving a meeting with the administration.  As a Colloquium attendee, a member of CRIV, and a professional colleague, I appreciate the concern of those who have that same thought.  I expect that legal information vendors and law librarians will be engaged in ongoing dialogue and action as a result of the Colloquium.  The question now is how exactly to institutionalize this by incorporating the dialogue and commitments into the everyday life of our association.

–Posted by Mary Jenkins, Law Librarian & Director, Hamilton County Law Library

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