Archive for March 1st, 2011

Vendor Colloquium: Closing remarks of day one

Facilitator Maureen Sullivan summarized the day, observing that there’s strong evidence of opportunities to work together. Namely:

  • Address preservation questions
  • Different service models
  • Increasing transparency about pricing structures
  • Partnering for training of end users in order to maximize the end-user experience
  • Learning about each other to clarify similarities and differences

Then she laid out the format of the next day:

  • A discussion around the value that legal publishers and law librarians add to the flow of legal information and the challenges each group faces
  • In the afternoon the group will begin to engage in developing shared principles and action steps

Vendor Colloquium: “What would law librarians like to ask legal publishers about their institutions?”

This continued the format of brief remarks by three librarian representatives and then some discussion from the floor.

A common theme: Librarians appreciate the need for profit, but how do you expect librarians to continue to purchase your materials with flat or shrinking budgets when you continue to raise prices? How do librarians cope with breaking apart bundled pricing plans when the subscription budget must be reduced?

The academic librarians would like to know:

  • Are you too big to fail?
  • Will you start spinning off product lines? Do you see still further consolidation in the industry?

Academic librarians would like to see publishers address these issues:

  • The meaning and interplay of ownership-access-licensing
  • Consortia pricing for regional purchases
  • Expeditiously fixing billing issues when multiple accounts in a university have been combined under the library account
  • Simplified licensing and contract negotiation process

The court librarians would like:

  • Materials for self-represented litigants in multiple languages
  • Long-term availability of digital legal information
  • A common licensing language
  • Usage information of subscription databases
  • Vendors’ perceptions of the impact of self publishing on the legal publishing industry
  • At what point does print become uneconomical to produce?

Law firm librarians would like to know:

  • The vendor expectations of cost management companies/consultants – what are the non-disclosure agreements?
  • How/when will vendors’ back-office accounting systems be improved?
  • How should librarians communicate their dissatisfaction with service, product, etc.?
  • Simplify subscription options
  • Standard license agreement
  • What are the plans for looseleaf services?
  • What projections do you have for law practice outsourcing (LPO)? Will you develop an LPO for research?
  • Pricing models: how are the subscriptions set? How do vendors decide to price in what way?

Discussion/reaction to the librarians questions/comments:

  • Most interactions with customer service are positive – what should librarians do with the 20 percent of substandard experiences? Could a vendor ombudsman adequately address these?
  • Can a model invoice format and standard license agreement be developed?
  • Have the vendors done an adequate job explaining their pricing? Do librarians/customers have unreasonable expectations of what the price should be in the “Google generation”?
  • Ongoing preservation – if publishers aren’t preservationists and libraries don’t own the legal information any longer, who’s responsible?
  • Legal process outsourcing (LPO): opportunities and threats. When large vendor owns an LPO, does it lend credibility to the outsourcing processes? What do LPOs portend for the future? Will there be a continuing market for all the lawyers that law schools produce? What if law schools start scaling back their class sizes? What does that cascade to libraries and to publishers?
  • Legal work is itself a type of outsourced work. If outsourcing is a good way to serve the legal needs of clients, why not outsource other processes?
  • What/how do publishers decide when to change format?

Vendor Colloquium: “What would legal publishers like to ask law librarians about their institutions?”

This portion of the Colloquium had each of the publishers raising questions that they would like to ask librarians about their institutions or about librarians themselves. The questions included:

  • Why does there remain such a disconnect between librarians’ perceptions about the quality of our customer service and our stated commitment to high quality customer service?
  • How would librarians like to participate in deciding what new products vendors will offer?
  • What is the preferred method of contact for communicating with librarians?
  • At what point is it “okay” for a vendor to contact the librarian’s end users directly?
  • How can vendors more effectively explain pricing to the library so that librarians can in turn explain it to their bosses?
  • How can vendors help librarians?
  • What are the librarians’ self-perceptions of how law firms view their expertise?
  • How do law librarians add value?

The discussion flowed across all of the questions while not necessarily following them sequentially. One question that went unanswered was when can vendors contact end users directly.

Librarians know their firms, organizations, or institutions outside their normal role as librarian and thus can help publishers contact the correct person or persons about a new product.

Librarians and publishers alike grapple with how to get end-users to attend training. Users don’t show up, preferring instead to wait until they “need to know,” and then they want just a bit of training on exactly what they believe they need. There may be opportunities for librarians and publishers to collaborate on developing training tools and resolving training issues.

The measurement of usage by the number of subscriptions or the number of searches may not accurately indicate the value of a certain title. An infrequently used title could be essential in answering an extremely important once-a-year question.

In addressing the question of customer service disconnect, a librarian suggested that part of it stems from lack of feedback to the librarian about the outcome of his/her complaint or suggestion. The librarian poses the question or suggestion and never hears back. A possible solution suggested was an ombudsman for each vendor: call this number and you will be connected with someone who will call you back.

This segment of the colloquium showed that librarians and publishers, sharing a common community of interest, have mutual responsibilities to seek understanding.

Vendor Colloquium: “What would consumers of legal information like to tell or like to ask both librarians and publishers?”

Maureen Sullivan began this portion of the Colloquium by asking each participant to briefly describe his/her role as a stakeholder or consumer of legal information. She then led a discussion as a kind of question answer session where a stakeholder posed a question to librarians and publishers and the group answered/discussed the question.

One topic asked was what is the current mix of print and electronic in legal publishing?  According to Roberta Shaffer, who had a research assistant call 30 publishers in preparation for her keynote, the publishers don’t know. Part of that uncertainty depends on definitions: how to count something that is available in both print and electronic format? Further, how do you count it when publishers sell services/software with their titles?

Another question asked: why will organizations need librarians when the books go away? The answers revolved around defining the librarian’s role as gatekeepers or herders or wranglers, helping to organize and access information. Publishers want both “gatekeepers” and access to end-users.  This can cause tension between librarians and publishers when the publisher feels the librarian is keeping the sales rep away from the end users. But, sometimes the end user has put the librarian in that role of gatekeeper or consultant to analyze and recommend the best tool to buy.

This led to a discussion of the appropriate amount of information and form of information to give to a lawyer who asked for a “briefing book” or a “go-to-lunch-with-a-client” report. Historically librarians tended to gather a lot of information, organize, and de-dupe it and present it to the lawyer as a “two-foot stack of paper”; now the librarians present a synthesized one- to two-page summary. (The stack of supporting data is available if the lawyer wants it.)

Vendor Colloquium: “What would law librarians like to tell legal publishers about their institutions?”

Next during the Colloquium, Jane Holland, Ann Fessenden, and Joyce Janto presented respectively the questions to legal publishers from law firm librarians; state, court, and county law librarians; and academic librarians.

The goals of the law firm libraries include meeting the legal information needs of their attorneys whose goal in turn is to solve client problems. The goal of an academic library is to provide education and resources for the education of lawyers. In the court or county library it is to meet the needs of its users; sometimes that means maintaining access to historical resources to validate cited authority and other times it means solving immediate legal issues presented by consumers.

Common to each library type are reduced budgets, limited or reduced physical space, increased expectations by end-users, and reduced funding at the other law libraries that they have historically relied upon as a backup to their own collections. Each library faces similar competing interests: for budget allocation – someone always wants something better and more and for less; librarians, administrators and end-users want a better understanding of the rationale for publisher pricing; the invoicing and billing practices of vendors cause headaches for all types of libraries.

Unique to law firm libraries: clients expect discounts so that the charge-backs for the cost of CALR is no longer possible. Because the legal publishers now provide non-traditional services, like back office systems, the law firm librarian now must redefine his/her role as gatekeeper to the law firm for the legal publisher. Do they continue to play a central role in all contract negotiations involving the legal vendor or not?

The many variations of the State, Court, and County Law Libraries SIS members each serve a different segment of the public. Some clearly serve the end-user, while other libraries, like agency libraries, serve the public who are government employees. For the law library serving the true public, its common needs include developing self-help programs and materials – including in languages other than English; teaching tools about how to do research; preservation; and having remote access to databases, flexible affordable subscriptions to databases, and flexible billing and payment options.

Academic libraries serve the unique role of training future users for law firm and court libraries. The challenge they face is creating a real world experience in the unreal ivory tower of academia. Budget constraints can mean that the student can learn only one CALR tool that the student perceives as “free.” The faculty is a diverse group: some doing nontraditional research outside of law, which means the library must acquire expensive non-legal materials, while other faculty continue to research and write in traditional areas of law and expect everything to be in the library as it once was. In the academic law library, as in the court library, everything must be authentic and consistent.

Libraries serving the public have more self-represented litigants or consumers doing their own legal work than lawyers. These library users require more librarian time to teach them how to find what they want than do lawyers.

Roberta Shaffer Handout

The four-page, double-sided handout from Roberta Shaffer’s key note presentation is here Note well: this is formatted for a folded handout, namely the first page when folded becomes page one and page four.  Page four is a Worde of Roberta’s presentation.

Vendor Colloquium: “What would legal publishers like to tell law librarians about their industry?”

Facilitator Maureen Sullivan prefaced this portion of the program with her view that the Colloquium attendees comprise a community with common concerns; that the best learning occurs when we identify areas of disagreement, share ideas, and listen carefully – good work comes from sharing disagreements. Further, she believes people collaborate best when they know each other.

The format for each vendor presentation was roughly the same: brief comments about the company and some specific remarks about their reactions to the librarian questions.
Highlights of their presentations included: acknowledging the importance of collaboration with the library community; information needs vary between customers; that the “new normal” includes mobile and impacts everyone, not just librarians; customers and customer service support are important to their business model; and watching law students helps them track for innovation and recognize that people are learning in multiple ways. One observed that he saw a plastic surgeon watching a video on how to do a procedure while waiting at a Phoenix airport and wondered how it could be applied in the legal education/publishing world. All publishers listen to customers, relying on customers to refine and redefine their products.

One challenge vendors face is the difficulty in finding treatise authors. It used to be that treatises were the primary secondary source. Then white papers became important, and now blawgs provide content. Specifically vendors must figure out how to monetize the new format of blawgs and integrate them into the workflow of the practicing lawyer.

Reactions to the vendor presentations (a facilitated discussion):

Responses to the presentation included observations that: there will be more formats (different readers/portable devices); digital multimedia present challenges to vendors as well as librarians; emerging competitors and providers like Google complicate the picture; technology challenges librarians and vendors; of increasing importance is niche content or subject splices of databases so that a small firm or practitioner gets just what it needs rather than other content it doesn’t use; customers want to understand how content and services are priced to them while also wanting high-quality customer service; and despite vendor efforts to provide high quality customer service, some librarians express frustration at the quality of service they received.

Comments ranged from: librarians, publishers, and end users need to share insights and understandings with each other; requests to help law librarians prepare for training their end-users when there is a new product roll-out; and some large vendors still have silos of product lines that don’t cross-sell across disciplines in a time when libraries have collection across disciplines.

Questions raised during the session included:

  • Should vendors watch the behavior of users and let that shape new products? Or should vendors be developing tools that lead users to better research results?
  • Should, or must, the librarian be involved with decisions related to back-office or practice support services from an information vendor?
  • Library sizes are shrinking; there will be fewer books for future generations, so how do we rise to the challenge of more properly managing the multiple formats used in research?

To be continued. . .

March 2011

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