Wednesday, November 21, 2007
At our meeting this month, the members of your Executive Board held a wide-ranging discussion about vendor relations. We agreed on the importance of communicating more directly with you about issues relating to vendors and also decided that a small group of board members would be tasked with developing some concrete new approaches within a short time period. This letter is the first step in our new communications effort. We have also developed a new Vendor Relations page on AALLNET, where vendor relations news and resources will be posted.
It is true that AALL receives many financial contributions from our vendors, not just sponsorship of some Annual Meeting events, but also support for professional development opportunities such as scholarships, grants, continuing education programs, and publications. Many vendors' library relations staff members are active, involved members of AALL, who serve on and chair committees, present programs, and otherwise contribute their professional abilities to the AALL community. AALL leaders and staff value these contributions, but we do NOT make decisions on the basis of concern for loss of revenue provided by vendors or out of fear of any other adverse reactions from them.
AALL has several policies that are relevant to vendor relations. The AALL leadership and staff believe in and follow these policies, which include Policy on Collaborative Activities and Joint Agreements, AALL Ethical Principles, and Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest Policy. Particularly relevant is the following from the Acceptance of Donations and Sponsorships section of the Policy on Collaborative Activities and Joint Agreements: "donations are accepted with the mutual understanding that they involve no grant of control or influence over the content of the activity to the donor."
Answers to Your Questions
We have been hearing many questions about such matters as the absence of Thomson West prices from the AALL Price Index for Legal Publications, the scheduling of Annual Meeting activities opposite vendor events, the cancellation of a special interest section program for the 2007 Annual Meeting, the editing of a recent CRIV Sheet article, and general concerns about why AALL doesn't do more to try to influence pricing. To get the answers to all of these questions and more, please click on the FAQ section of our new Vendor Relations page.
Funding Received from Vendors
Members have also asked how much money AALL receives from vendors, what sort of influence these contributions give them, and what portion of our income is derived from vendors. The dollar levels of vendor sponsorship are announced each year at the Annual Meeting and are also available on our AALLNET Sponsor Recognition page. Also, each year potential donors are sent a brochure that outlines sponsorship opportunities for the Annual Meeting and describes how AALL acknowledges the vendors' contributions. The 2007 brochure is currently available on AALLNET, and a similar one is under development for the 2008 meeting in Portland. In addition, information about all of our income and expenses is provided each year in the "From the Treasurer" column in the May issue of AALL Spectrum, and in the treasurer's report that is distributed at the Annual Business Meeting.
However, in order to make sure vendor sponsorship information is clear and readily available, we have developed a new table showing vendor contributions for the last year to both the Annual Meeting and to other Association programs, such as scholarships, grants, awards, and publications. This information is now available in the Funding from Vendors section of our AALLNET Vendor Relations page.
How AALL Currently Assists Members in Dealing with Vendors
Did you know that the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV) can help you resolve disputes and learn negotiation skills? A wide range of tools are available on its Web site. Also, at this month's meeting, the Executive Board approved new guidelines to strengthen and reinvigorate CRIV's vendor site visits program. And if you're not familiar with the AALL Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers, or Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources, be sure to take a look. These are tools that we can all use in our dealings with vendors and encourage the vendors to use as well.
As I mentioned, a board working group is reviewing a wide range of issues relating to vendor relations and will recommend additional specific steps. Among the topics they will consider are possible changes in our Strategic Directions to address vendor relations, the gathering of information for the Price Index, possible strengthening of the Guide to Fair Business Practices, clarification of our sponsorship policies, the necessity of limiting programs or publications due to antitrust concerns, strategies to encourage and promote greater competition and enhanced customer service in the legal information industry, and ways to improve communications with vendors and with the membership. I have asked this group to report back to the board with concrete suggestions by the end of the year.
We Need Your Input
As these efforts move forward, we need to hear from you! If you would like to comment on AALL's vendor relations policies, or have questions that are not answered by the FAQs, please send your comments to the full board, or feel free to directly contact me, Executive Director Kate Hagan, or any member of the Executive Board to express your views.
I thank you for your interest in and commitment to AALL, and I look forward to joining with you in dialogue and action to strengthen and support AALL and its members.
Ann T. Fessenden