Archive for the 'Vendor Colloquium' Category

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

Vendor Colloquium: The reporter’s role – and other reporting

Discussions about the possibility of reporting the Colloquium by blogging began in early January, because the publication lead-time for AALL Spectrum meant that a feature-length article would not appear until after the AALL Annual Meeting in July.

As the designated report, my responsibility was to observe and report, without including my comments, observations, or opinions, and not to participate in the discussion.

The reporting of the blog was fairly exhaustive and complete with little left out. It’s not a verbatim transcript of course, and that’s why I’ve suggested that attendees email me privately about any errors or omissions so that I can expand the reporting to provide a more complete, nuanced contextual understanding of the two days. Note well: I will not attribute any comments to an individual other than the facilitator, Maureen Sullivan and Roberta Shaffer’s remarks during her keynote presentation.

If you have questions about the completeness of any post, please consider commenting here rather than just posting on your own blog.

The reporting process: During the Colloquium, I took notes in MindNode Pro, organized them, exported to RTF, edited, revised in Word, posted the draft to WordPress where Julia O’Donnell, AALL communications director, edited for style, grammar, and punctuation.

Again, the reporting did not include my comments or observations; that will come over the next few days.

Yesterday one of the participants, Greg Lambert, shared his notes as 3 XtraNormal video presentations to the PLL lists, writing:

For those of you interested, I took my notes and memories of the keynote speech that Roberta Shaffer (Law Librarian of Congress) gave at the AALL Vendor Colloquium on Monday and put it into three XtraNormal video presentations.

Part One: Rule of Law as a Coral Reef ( <> )
Part Two: Trends in Law and Law Practice ( <> )
Part Three: The Changing Roles Today ( <> )

I have to admit that the videos are surprisingly helpful in digesting the information being discussed.

Now, one thing to remember is that I went off of my notes and memories here, and the actual discussion was in the hour and a half range… whereas the videos total less than 30 minutes. So, there are probably things I left out, and things that I might have interpreted from the keynote that may not be exactly as Roberta said them. So, if it sounds great… then that’s probably all due to Roberta. If it sounds odd or wrong… then blame me and my notes.

Vendor Colloquium Day Two Part Two

The next portion of the day focused on the value that law librarians bring to the flow of legal information and the challenges that they face from content creators and users. Then the group brainstormed a list of shared principles and expectations of outcomes going forward.

What is the value that librarians bring to the flow of legal information?

  • Marketing to customers without a profit motive, thus being objective in their assessments and evaluations of the tools for use by potential customers
  • Exposing end users to editorial expertise
  • Being a conduit to help vendors improve their products with feedback from users
  • Authoring content and helping publishers find authors
  • Providing curated collections that support their institutions in accomplishing their goals; librarians accomplish this through cataloging, preservation, building and expanding or contracting the collection to meet users information needs, providing reference service and instruction and training in using all the resources in the library
  • Generating revenue for law firms
  • Providing insight for new product development
  • Making patrons successful
  • Being the watchdogs over the legal information industry, pointing out when they are inaccurate
  • Incredibly strong networkers
  • Protectors of privacy
  • Dutiful stewards of resources.

What are the challenges librarians face from content creators and content users?

  • Increasing demands with decreasing budgets; providing broad and comprehensive collections with finite funds while maintaining staff morale. In short, librarians are asked to do more, better, faster and with less.
  • Marketing themselves, proving and/or articulating the value of the library and librarians in the face of misperceptions of customers (library users) and of C-level, procurement officers or other decisions makers of the nature of legal information and what librarians and libraries are about
  • Balancing access with licensing and copyright restrictions
  • Contract negotiations
  • Invoicing inaccuracies
  • Disintermediation; convincing users that they need education and training for most effective use of resources
  • Law school librarians face expanded responsibilities outside of traditional roles; are being forced out of their comfort zones
  • Determining what “authority” is and adapting collection development policies to rapidly changing user needs, ensuring long-term availability of information for the users
  • Maintaining competencies and depth and breadth of knowledge for collection assessment; generally keeping up with new stuff
  • Responding to the information needs of a much more diverse customer base: from pro se patrons to experienced attorneys and faculty and students around the world, plus interdisciplinary research forcing academia to collect non-legal resources and an increased focus on empirical research
  • Frequently changing models for dealing with legal information vendors; feels like vendors are constantly changing who to talk to and what the options are; difficult to build a relationship
  • Coping with the changed structure of and offerings of the legal vendors and how that impacts the parent institution
  • Increased amount of time it takes to acquire material, especially with contract negotiations
  • End users wanting to buy more themselves
  • Finding the true base line price or “most favored nation”
  • Challenge to engage in civil discourse amongst librarians when they disagree
  • Vitriolic communication styles impede civil discourse and may create negative perceptions of librarians by the outside community
  • How to get out in front of flame wars; learning how to communicate in this new mode of social media. What is the most appropriate way to respond? Rapid vs responsible, reasonable.
  • Creating a new culture of new forms of communications; the complexity of the business means that it can take time to investigate and respond

Round table of librarians and publishers

This discussion was a brainstorming session to begin identifying potential shared principles. The resulting draft list will be handed over to a working group (to be formed from Colloquium attendees), which will refine the principles and turn them into a document that will be shared with the AALL membership. The attendees also discussed what they expect to come out of the Colloquium and what would make it a successful event.

Some of the responses included:

  • Make the action plan executable and implemented, with measurable outcomes
  • Memorialize the conversations
  • Tangible collaboration on preservation, authentication, and digital rights management
  • A mechanism for ongoing dialogue at an organizational level and a means for AALL membership and other content providers to have a voice in that ongoing conversation
  • Assurances that the vendors will take the message back and that it will be heard within their organizations
  • Improving process for procurement, invoicing, etc.

Moving forward

The attendees agreed that AALL President Joyce Janto would send a message out to the AALL membership by the end of the week describing the event and next steps. They also requested a memorialization of the discussion and flip-charts, which will be shared with AALL members and beyond within a short time-frame. They also took volunteers for a working group, which will refine the shared principles, create and implement an action plan, and establish a plan for communication among the AALL membership and vendors.

The attendees also participated in a quick evaluation of the Colloquium, listing positives and negatives of the experience, to be used for future events like this one.

Closing remarks

AALL President Joyce Janto expressed appreciation to the attendees for working so hard. The group had engaged in a good conversation that should lead to many positive results. She expressed thanks to participants, planners, staff, and facilitator for their efforts.

Vendor Colloquium Day Two Part One

Facilitator Maureen Sullivan opened the second day’s morning session by announcing a slight change in the agenda and format. Based on observing the group yesterday, she felt more work could be accomplished by discussing the value added by vendors and librarians to the flow of legal information and the challenges each face as group of the whole rather than small groups. After those discussions, the group would begin to develop possible action plans and soliciting volunteers to draft shared principles.

“What’s the value vendors bring to the flow of legal information?”

The discussion answers included:

  • By providing secondary sources and finding tools
  • Maintaining a trusted source for gathering and authenticating legal information and providing editorial quality control in an efficient and timely manner, thus contributing to “authority”
  • Experimenting generally, investing in new technologies and new authors
  • Entrepreneurial, they see and seek to make the law and complementary materials available to niche markets
  • Serving as a point of contact for sources of legal information; thus saving the time of information professionals and enabling them to add value to their clients/customers/users
  • Providing a source of information about user behaviors, i.e., Ehich databases, files are searched
  • Making containers, i.e, text containers/books that have an inherent preservation aspect
  • Monetizing the sharing of intellectual output across national lines
  • Creating standards and share them with librarians sometimes
  • Facilitating the flow of legal information from insight to analysis
  • Supporting librarians by sponsoring librarian meetings and providing groups to work specifically with law librarians
  • Providing relevant customer service for the dissemination and usage of information
  • Expanding beyond the traditional core of legal information to mashups and ancillary products/services to make lawyers and law firms more profitable and improving the quality of legal services delivered to clients

What are the challenges vendors face from content creators, content customers, and content users?


  • Explaining how suppliers, who are also competitors, sometimes place restrictions on the use and re-use of information
  • Innovating while customers experience shrinking budgets
  • Meeting the disparate needs of shareholders and customers
  • Keeping print, even when not profitable
  • Customer support – when the company has so many different products that knowing the full line is impossible
  • Customers expect legal news and analysis simultaneously; wanting more and to pay less for it
  • Createing a more efficient marketplace to find information, which is slowed by diverse needs of users segments
  • Greater segmentation and disparity between the segments of customers who have a perceived need to know more faster and who have shorter attention spans
  • Trust – skepticism among segments of AALL membership regarding the true motives of publishers because of legal publishing consolidation and expansion into new service areas
  • Complaints about pricing in different formats and format changes
  • Competition from new sources, such as Google, Bloombergand self-publishing, with a shrinking market of writers/authors of analytical content
  • Increasing need for specialized information and specialized analysis responding to changes about how law is produced and used – are indexes and cross-reference tables still useful/needed for the end-user?
  • Preserving electronic data with versioning control
  • Many different models in contract negotiations
  • Ever-changing and increasing possible delivery modes to reading devices, e.g. users want mobile access; how to invest in innovation while keeping the cost under control and to find the best way to educate trainers with the ever changing set of tools and content
  • Hard to share with competitors
  • Communicating “no,” or an answer the customer doesn’t want to hear; explaining the evolution and roll-out of new products (the risk of bloggers and tweeters misrepresenting or sharing information out of context)
  • Building relationships based on trust and civil discourse when librarians feel pressured by their bosses and skeptical of publisher’s motives
  • Globalization of business lines
  • Blending of business and consumer expectations changes the customer expectation for how legal information is delivered
  • Explaining the value of legal information to a non-consumer of legal information, i.e. CFO, administrator

Posted by Mark Estes.

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.

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 2023

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