ARCHIVED: Update on Vendor Relations

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

There has been a lot of discussion and many concerns expressed in our Membership Survey and throughout the year about vendor practices and about AALL�s relationships with vendors. Therefore, in November I appointed a working group of Executive Board members, plus the chair of the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV), to consider possible changes in some of our approaches to vendor relations and communications. At our meeting earlier this month, the board approved several recommendations of the working group.

AALL very much values the support of our vendor partners. We appreciate their contributions to our educational programs, our scholarships and grants, and our Annual Meeting and chapter events. We are pleased to have them as exhibitors at our meetings, since that gives our members the opportunity to learn about new products and services. We also value opportunities to work with them to improve legal research products, which benefits all of us.

The changes approved by the board are designed to clarify and confirm the important roles played by both librarians and legal publishers in the development and dissemination of legal information and the responsibilities each of us has to the legal community.

Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers

AALL's Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers is premised on the belief that good customer service and positive customer relations benefit legal publishers as well as customers. Equally fundamental is the understanding that the relationship between publishers and customers must be built on mutual respect and trust.

The guide provides guidelines for legal publishers doing business with librarians and other consumers of legal information. It describes standards for the business practices of publishers that most directly affect librarians and other legal information consumers.

The guide was intended to be a living document, which could respond to changes in the legal information field. Originally approved by the AALL Executive Board in 2002, the second edition was approved in 2006. In order to promote clarity and consistency, the board determined that a revision to Principle Two, Disclosure, was needed at this time.

In the second edition, Principle Two, "Disclosure," reads:

Publishers should provide full disclosure about their products, services, prices, and transactions insofar as allowed without violating contractual agreements or revealing proprietary information.

Librarians need accurate, comparative price data in order to make informed purchase decisions. There has been a lot of member concern that not all major vendors are included in recent editions of the AALL Price Index for Legal Publications. In order to clarify and strengthen the disclosure provision of the guide, the board has amended Principle Two to now read:

Publishers should provide full disclosure about their products, services, retail prices, and transactions in order to enable library professionals to make informed acquisitions decisions.

Of course, the principles in the Guide to Fair Business Practices are voluntary standards that we encourage legal publishers to follow. Likewise, participation in the Price Index is voluntary. We will continue to strongly encourage all legal publishers to follow the guide and to participate in the Price Index.

Sponsorship Policy

The board recognizes that depending too heavily on sponsorships is problematic, and it will seek ways to reduce reliance on sponsorships and increase other revenue sources. It has also adopted a new Sponsorship Policy, which states in part:

The Association reserves the right to refuse any offer of sponsorship at its absolute discretion or to negotiate with the sponsor concerning any aspect of a proposed sponsorship. The Association has the right to refuse sponsorships provided by business entities that do not contribute information to the Price Index for Legal Publications and/or comply with the Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers.

And, like our old policy, the new one states:

Sponsorships do not imply endorsement of products or services by the Association. A sponsorship does not imply any exclusive arrangement with the Association. A sponsorship does not imply any grant of control or influence to the donor over the content of any Association activity, publication, position, or policy.

Of course, we have never been required to accept a sponsorship from any company, but it is the intent of the board to make clear that there are particular reasons that we are likely to decline a sponsorship in the future.

For our Annual Meeting this year in Portland, sponsorship agreements have already been completed, and sponsorship funds received; therefore, the new policy goes into effect October 1. It applies only to the national organization, which includes special interest sections but not chapters. Chapters are independently organized and can set their own policies as long as they do not conflict with AALL�s bylaws.

Approach to Association Antitrust

No specific action was taken regarding our approach to association antitrust, but the board is exploring the feasibility of a special program on this topic during the 2008 Annual Meeting in Portland. Also, the board will continue to work with our legal counsel to explore ways in which AALL can minimize its exposure to antitrust liability without unnecessarily inhibiting the free flow of ideas within the Association.

Encouraging Competition and Customer Service

As a way to encourage and promote greater competition and enhanced customer service in the legal information industry, the Executive Board will create a "Consortium Review Task Force." The task force's job will be to investigate the feasibility of developing an AALL consortium, which would operate as a "buying cooperative" for members. Please contact me if you are interested in recommending a colleague or volunteering for the task force. Experience with consortium operations is preferred.

AALL will also refocus its efforts on promoting Project Counter, which advocates adoption of uniform standards for recording and reporting online usage data, and will encourage the use of open source products and free online sources. The board has asked CRIV to help educate members on advantages and disadvantages of non-disclosure agreements, pricing approaches that are in the best interest of consumers, negotiation strategies, and best practices to promote competition.

Communications with Vendors and with the Membership

The board is revisiting a proposal from a few years ago to establish a vendor relations representative. Intended to be comparable to the Washington affairs representative, the purpose of a vendor relations representative would be to improve AALL's information policy advocacy with vendors. The board previously rejected this proposal due to uncertainty about the duties the representative would perform or the specific policies he or she would espouse.

However, interest in this idea remains strong, so the board will immediately seek a consultant who can further explore these matters and report to the board at its fall meeting. The desired qualities for the consultant include:

  • renowned stature in the profession;
  • ability to work well with both members and publishers; and
  • a record of innovation and contribution to the profession.

An announcement of the availability of this position will be posted soon, but in the meantime, if you know of someone who meets these qualifications and might be interested, please encourage him or her to contact me or Kate Hagan, AALL executive director.

Another approach we're taking is to talk directly to upper management of the vendors. During the next couple of months, Executive Director Kate Hagan and I will make a series of visits to several of our vendors. Our goals will be to explain the board's actions and our members' concerns and hopefully learn more about issues that the vendors face as well. Please let me know if you have suggestions of specific issues that you think we should address.

The Executive Board welcomes your comments and suggestions as we implement these initiatives and continue to seek solutions in this challenging area. Please feel free to contact me or other members of the board.


Ann T. Fessenden
AALL President