If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Tales From the Dark Side


What happens when a librarian changes jobs and goes to work for a vendor? Sometimes the librarian’s colleagues may view this as an act of betrayal. And sometimes the reverse happens: a vendor representative joins a library. Having been on both sides of this issue myself (although when I worked for a vendor, it was in database production, not sales), I was very interested to attend this session. The moderator, Dina Dreifuerst, a law librarian at Bracewell & Giulani, LLP, posed questions to the panel, and each participant then gave their views. Here are two of the questions and the responses to them.
What are some of the tricks you learned while working for a vendor?
The vendor-librarian relationship is very effective for both sides when it is well managed. Be clear on both sides about what you want and can give. Both sides need to be honest with each other. Honey works better than vinegar!
Vendors offer a tremendous amount of training, lunches, etc. and it’s all free to librarians—just ask!
Working for a vendor lets you go into other libraries and see how they operate. As a librarian, you need to operate from a business point of view. Learn business, listening, and negotiating skills, and take your own emotions out of the negotiation as much as you can. Vendors need to understand that librarians have constraints on them. Don’t waste each other’s time. Make sure you are very clear about what you can and cannot do under your contract.
Everybody’s time is more precious than ever before. Be honest, up front, and build the relationship whether you are a librarian or vendor.
Both sides need to develop their business acumen. Libraries are businesses within businesses. Vendors need to accept that library budgets will be cut, maybe only temporarily, and work with librarians. They need to focus on post-contract service: listen to what librarians need, and offer many training opportunities. Librarians need to clearly present their views to the vendors.
When vendors get reorganized, inform the librarians and tell them who their new sales representative is. Recognize that it takes time to re-establish relationships.
What misperceptions would you like to correct about vendors?
Not all vendors are out there to pull the wool over your eyes. Everybody is in business to make a profit, and there are many business models to deal with. We are all in this to safeguard the interests of all. Keep things honest and as straightforward as possible. 
It is not a bad thing for a librarian to work for a vendor. Having the skills to work with librarians is what made you attractive to them. It is not going to the dark side! Vendors are not plotting the demise of librarians!
It is important to be truthful with the librarians. Vendors really want it to be a win-win situation for both sides. Librarians can help them do that by clearly communicating their needs and expectations, and explaining the firm’s culture and priorities, decision-making process, short and long term goals. Identify your specialty areas, opportunities, competitive dynamics, which will help vendor create the most useful package of products.


Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

One Response to “If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Tales From the Dark Side”

  1. Karen Krupka June 28, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    The moderator was actually Tricia Thomas of Alston and Bird. Dina Dreifuerst was on the panel, she is on the left next to the moderator. I attended the conference; I am a long-time SLA Legal Division Members and am acquainted with several of the people on the panel.