Selecting Online Vendors

by Sean King

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction

 

Educate and Survey Several Vendors

 

Preparing for the Demonstration

 

Vendors and Consortia

 

Examples of New Strategies Being Used by Vendors

 

Conclusion

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Most librarians must work with library vendors.  Vendors provide books, journals, integrated library systems, and electronic databases.  This chapter focuses on vendors providing electronic access, referred to as online vendors.  Sometimes the process of vendor selection can be rewarding.  Other times it can be miserable.  Before negotiations start, libraries must consider the needs of their patrons and budget limitations.  The librarian who deals with vendors must be knowledgeable and familiar with how vendors operate.

 

 

Educate and Survey Several Vendors

 

Instead of picking vendors at random or selecting the most popular vendors at the time, Coco suggests that libraries send information to vendors before inviting them for a demonstration.  This information will educate them about the library.  These can include newsletters, brochures, and a link to the libraryís web site.  Also send a list of requirements for each product, along with questions about products that you want the vendor to answer.  Include technical, customer support, and management questions.  The vendorís answers will help determine if the library is a valued customer, and give the library more topics and questions to discuss during a demonstration.

 

 

Preparing for the Demonstration

 

Before a representative comes for a demonstration, a library can do several things to learn about online products:

 A library should inform the representative of technical questions the group plans to ask.  This will help the vendor decide if a technical person should also come to the demonstration to explain technical concepts.  Also inform the vendor of the features the group wants to see.  Then the representative can prepare to highlight the features that the library wants and answer any questions from the group.  Otherwise the representative will give a standard demonstration that may not address the topics that are applicable to the library.  Inform the vendor of time limits.  Not only will this help the representative prioritize information, but the librarians can plan the rest of their day without worrying about the presentation going overtime and interfering with their schedule.  The vendor should bring the following materials to aid librarians during the demonstration:

 Ask the vendor what materials the representative will need for the demonstration.  This will save time as no one will have to run around trying to find equipment.  Some questions to ask include:

 Remember to allow time for setup before the demonstration, and inform the vendor when to arrive to give enough time to prepare.

 

There are several factors to keep in mind during the selection process.  One is customer support.  Libraries need to ask vendors if there is a toll-free number to call and what hours the number is staffed.  If the library serves an educational institution, ask about remote access.  Can patrons access the database via the web?  Is a username and password required?  What about distance education students?

 

 

Vendors and Consortia

 

Consortia assist member libraries to improve user access to information resources.  A major advantage of consortia is securing lower prices from vendors.  This helps individual libraries offer a wider range of resources to users.  Consortia may provide indexing, abstracting, and full-text databases to academic libraries, but if the databases are licensed with individual library funds, the decision-making rests in the hands of those libraries.  Other times the members share in the financing of electronic resources.

 

Vendors also benefit from working with consortia.  Sloan provides an example from the Illinois Library Computer Systems Organization (ILCSO).  ILCSO surveys member libraries to determine the databases that each library wants.  This information is compiled and one purchase order is sent to the vendor.  Libraries are billed directly; ILCSO collects the money, and sends a lump sum payment to the vendor.  ILCSO also handles troubleshooting and technical support for vendor products.  Not all consortia do this, but many vendors are happy with this arrangement because they do not have to deal with each individual library.

 

This approach also saves time in libraries.  Each library does not have to keep records for many different products.  In the case of academic libraries, university attorneys usually review all contracts.  Vendors appreciate having a central license and not having to deal with several different university attorneys.

 

Other benefits to vendors include:

 

Examples of New Strategies Being Used by Vendors

 

Many vendors have come up with new strategies to make their software integration products stand out from the crowd.  Dorman highlights some of these. JonesKnowledge.com offers a customizable system that integrates all library resources into one space.  To learn more, go to http://www.e-globallibrary.com.  The WebFeat translation engine is an interface in which libraries can customize the look and wording of the search prompt and what indexes are used in a search.  The system searches many databases simultaneously.  More information about WebFeat can be found at http://www.webfeat.org/.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Selecting a vendor can be a difficult process.  Once familiar with this process, it is not so painful.  Libraries must do their homework before contacting vendors.  When contact is made, libraries must continually ask questions that address library needs, and technical questions in preparation for the time after purchase.  Libraries will need to prepare for a vendorís site visit and demonstration.  Have a PC or laptop already setup, and make sure Internet access is working.  Librarians should ask the representative as many questions as they can during the demonstration, as this is the best chance to learn about the databases being offered.  Libraries should consider if joining a consortium will benefit them by allow access to more databases, usually at less cost.  Some consortia even handle database maintenance and troubleshooting.  Finally, libraries need to be aware of new products on the market.  Many of todayís products not only offer full text, but searching across multiple databases as well.  Libraries can customize the look and searching functions of some databases to meet their needs.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Coco, Carolyn. 1999.  Working with Library Vendors: Trouble Free Negotiations.  LLA Bulletin v61 n3    (Winter 1999): 163-71.

 

Dorman, David.  2001.  Games Vendors Play.  American Libraries v32 n3 (Mar 2001): 65-68.

Sloan, Bernie.  2000.  Understanding Consortia Better: What Vendors Can Learn.  Library Journal v125 n5  (Mar 15, 2000): 57-58.