Issues in Vendor/Library Relations -- Schooled

Against the Grain, Jul 2016

By Bob Nardini, Published on 07/14/16

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Issues in Vendor/Library Relations -- Schooled

Issues in Vendor/Librar y Relations -- Schooled Bob Nardini Ingram Library Services Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Library and Information Science Commons Recommended Citation - Issues in Vendor/Library Relations — Schooled Lhaven’t lived in that particular city for ast week I saw my old library school. I many years, and opportunities to see it don’t present often. But I always enjoy the chance to walk by old haunts and do so when I can. Long ago the school diluted and then removed the troublesome “library” word from its name, which had first changed to “library and information science,” if memory serves, and then to “information science” or “information studies,” or possibly both in two separate phases. Today it’s more simply the “Faculty of Information,” or as displayed on the side of the building, the “iSchool.” Those of us who attended library school long ago should probably, by this time, be disbarred. A good rule of thumb might be to strip credentials from anyone who studied at an institution with the word “library” in it, as my school had stripped the word from its name. In my own case, I’d have to turn in the “M.L.S.” degree I’ve held for these past thirty-plus years. “iSchools” have been out there for some time, but even so the phrase looked smart and got my attention. Probably that’s the point, for a school that wants to be noticed in a way that a medical school, without need of new notice, doesn’t call itself the “mSchool,” nor a law school the “lSchool.” If you walked by the iSchool and knew nothing whatever about it, you might wonder what the place was. “Faculty of Information” isn’t much of a clue, since passersby might reason that each and every school on campus was somehow a “faculty of information.” But the iSchools seem to be doing alright. They have an organization whose website reports: “Good news in a bad economy: iSchools are hiring faculty,” then proves that with a link to 36 job openings. That means there must be students. And in fact, I’ve had a couple of recent opportunities to talk to information school students. Some professors periodically invite in vendors to talk to their class, as a way of showing a glimpse of the business side of the field they’re about to enter. When I was in “library school” this sort of thing didn’t happen, not to me at least. I don’t recall even a mention of the business side, let alone cameo moments in front of the class for vendors. I was early for my last vendor cameo and so was able sit quietly off to the side and observe for an hour or so. This class had 17 students, which the professor had divided into two groups. The assignment was to debate the pros and cons of library consortia. Everything was in full swing when I sat down, with volleys shot back-and-forth across the r o o m , f i r s t o n e g r o u p , t h e n the other, with brief strategy huddles in between. The “pro” group seemed to have the best of it, with the weight of economics on their side. The “con” group, of necessity, turned to arguments with moral weight. “Let’s put users before the collaborative,” and “don’t perpetuate the status quo.” The cons warned against building uniform collections and argued that libraries should group together alright, but only to increase the force of their collective dissent against swallowing the Big Deal. “You don’t need to buy together to protest together,” said the cons in closing argument prior to a climactic show of hands. continued on page 72 Vendor Library Relations from page 71 The pros won that, but the cons had made a good run. If there had been a betting line, they’d have beaten the spread. For an “information school” class, I thought these students had come pretty close to discussing what actually goes on in libraries. This runs counter to what’s a common complaint of today’s jobholders about new librarians, that they have a weak grasp of the “real world” of libraries. This group, it seemed to me, once out there in the real world, wouldn’t be completely in the woods when the time came to jointly assess a journals package, or an eBook deal, or a database offer, not, at least, lost in the surrounding group dynamics. Following a break it was my turn, and after the debate I tried to make the point that consortia aren’t only and always about getting a good price. A group of libraries with money in hand can influence vendor development priorities. This kind of dynamic can produce winners all around — for the vendor, new business and a new service that can be brought to other libraries; for the libraries, a new way to stretch the budget or to gain efficiencies that hadn’t before been possible. Libraries and vendors, when this occurs, can help each other grow. That seemed a new point of view, contrary to what they’d heard in other classes. “We thought,” one student said, “that vendors all were evil.” The class I was visiting was called “Managing Vendor Relations,” but evidently other courses took a less blandly benign view of what vendors are about. I suppose there is evil in the world of library vendors, true enough; but so far as I can see, no more so than in any other walk of life. Part of my assignment for the day, in fact, was to talk about how a student in their chair might end up working as a vendor one day, with my own case as case in point, how I came to move from librarian to the other side, a change that had never been in my plans. It was all harmless enough. I’d been a reference librarian, after a few years needed a change of scenery, and the new job I found happened to be with a small book vendor, located nearby. A few slides helped tell the story. Some were meant to illustrate change over the years since I’d made that switch, less any particular change than the degree of it I’d seen in libraries, and that they could certainly expect to see over their own careers. One slide showed the deep forest green of a run of H.W. Wilson’s Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, each spine nearly the width of a catalog card, a staple if ever there was one to librarians in the early 1980s, a “reference tool” I’d learned about in library school and must have put to use easily a thousand times for reference questions over my several years behind that desk. I am sure that even today, through muscle memory alone, I could walk a patron to the Reference shelves, remove two or three of those sturdy volumes that opened so flatly onto an index table, flip through the fine pages — thin as a membrane, almost translucent — and within minutes have a nice list of magazine articles ready on nearly any subject a patron could raise. Where would we have been without the Reader’s Guide? Another show of hands. Who had used the Reader’s Guide? The students were young, but I figured a few of them must somehow, somewhere have encountered the Reader’s Guide. We could have a shared salute to an artifact that in its day had done good service. But there were no hands. Some of you must at least know of the Reader’s Guide? No, no one had heard of it, not the students, not even the professor. If this was a lesson about change, it was a lesson most of all for me — whose library training was apparently closer to the age of Melvil Dewey than to the experience of this classroom in 2012. I told the students they were fortunate their professor gave them some exposure to the business side of libraries, since one way or another each of them would need to reckon with it. All I’d learned about in library school were things like — and searching for the most arcane piece of knowledge I could recall — things like, my memory served up, what a main entry was. They laughed. The class actually knew what a main entry was. Another surprise. And a connection, although not where I’d have thought to find one. After class, one of the students walked up for a chat. The lesson about change must have gotten through to her too, since she said to me, referring to those Reader’s Guide days, “It seems like a much simpler time,” and what could I do but agree? Acquisitions Archaeology — Professional Ethics Column Editor: Jesse Holden (Head, Acquisitions, USC Libraries, University of Southern California) <> Tdards of Acquisitions Practice” was he “Statement on Principles and Stanadopted by the ALCTS Board of Directors at ALA Midwinter on February 7, 1994.1 The “Statement” had been developed by the Acquisitions Section Ethics Task Force. While this statement seems to fulfill the destiny of the task force in a rote kind of organizational way, something is clearly wrong. How is it that an ethics task force develops a “statement on principles and standards?” Why not develop a code of ethics? The “Statement” stands, to this day, as the closest thing we have in acquisitions to a code of ethics. But it does not garner the formal designation of a “code” and is saddled with a rather prosaic title. One would, presumably, know exactly what a “code of ethics” is but what, exactly, is a “statement on principles and standards?” More than a year before the adoption of the “Statement,” the conversation about ethics was well underway. Karen A. Schmidt declares that “ethics is the hot topic of the nineties,” and not just for libraries.2 Barbara Dean, Assistant Coordinator for Collection Analysis at Fairfax County Public Library, takes this topic head-on in “an attempt to codify the principles acquisitions librarians, their institutions, and their suppliers agree belong in a code of ethics” in the November 1992 issue of Against the Grain.3 That the eightpoint code she posits is not perfect should not be a surprise; ethical codes are seldom set in stone after one person puts an idea in an article. But neither should it have derailed the entire project of a professional code of ethics. However, that is exactly what seems to have happened. Three responses to Dean’s “Code” are included in this issue of ATG immediately following her proposed code that all seem to converge on one point: the apparent impossibility to codify the ethics of professionals involved in library acquisitions. Of course, it is clearly possible to codify ethics of a professional organization. Most professional organizations have an official code of ethics (including, significantly, ALA). A quick glance at Merriam-Webster Online will give us a working definition of “ethics” as the “principles of conduct governing a group” or, even more simply, “a guiding philosophy.” The threshold for having ethics in the general sense, therefore, is quite low. In a more technical sense, ethics is “the philosophical study of morality.”4 This latter definition is significant because it underscores the moral dimention of any ethical investigation. The first respondent to Dean’s “Code” indicates, while the effort of seeking and defining ethical standards is “a noble cause,” the effort “may be impossible” — and seeks to demonstrate as much by pointing out that many facets of acquisitions librarianship may fall into a gray area.5 This is a troubling notion, that as a group of professionals engaged in ostensibly the same kind of work that we are not able to define our ethical standards; the working definition of ethics noted above casts a wide net indeed. The second respondent notes that failing to write (that is, codify) our own ethics allows us to endow ourselves with “flexible ethics,” used specifically to “assuage any guilt for continued on page 73

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Bob Nardini. Issues in Vendor/Library Relations -- Schooled, Against the Grain, 2016,