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. . .

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