July 20, 2011
Consumer Advocacy to Start on July 25: Library Consumer Advocacy Caucus to Meet during AALL Philly 2011
The Library Consumer Advocacy Caucus will meet during AALL's annual meeting to start the process of engaging in real advocacy. From Caucus Chair Michael Ginsburg's recent Library Consumer Advocacy Caucus blog post's open invitation to participate:
Please join us for our 12-1 p.m. meeting on July 25th at the Philadelphia office of Drinker Biddle (One Logan Square, Ste. 2000, at the corner of 18th & Cherry Streets). We will discuss the status of our registration with AALL, decide our form of organization, and consider our initial priorities.
A recent On Firmer Ground blog post, A Call To Support Consumer Advocacy For Law Libraries, reports:
Earlier this year, AALL hosted a Vendor Colloquium that left consumer advocacy almost entirely unaddressed. ... A Colloquium Working Group developed an Action Plan to implement AALL’s “Shared Principles For Law Librarians and Legal Information Vendors.” The Working Group invited AALL members to comment on the Action Plan. In response, twenty Caucus members have signed the ... comment to encourage more vigorous consumer advocacy by AALL.
Do note that since the above July 13th On Firmer Ground post, I have heard that the number of signatories has increased from 20 Caucus members to 32 and the library institutional demographics are:
- Academic Sector (public and private): 56%
- Private Sector: 31%
- Public Sector: 6%
- Other: 6%
Quoting from the Caucus response to the Vendor Colloquium Working Group as published in On Firmer Ground:
Dear Vendor Colloquium Working Group:
Thank you for inviting AALL members to comment on your Action Plan. The undersigned are among AALL members who want AALL to revitalize its commitment to consumer advocacy. Some of us bring to our recommendation many years of experience as AALL members and law librarians.
We appreciate your dedication to improving librarian-vendor relations, and we support goals designed to aid communication. However, the Action Plan has a serious shortcoming: it falls far short of AALL’s promise as a consumer advocate. The “partnership” ideal endorsed in the Action Plan appears to apply to all legal information vendors, whether or not they have extensive histories of anti-consumer practices. In fact, you do not define “partnership” or “consumer advocacy,” and appear to limit consumer advocacy to discussion during an Annual Meeting program. At any rate, we support the idea of engaging smaller legal publishers, under Goal II-C, and any other legal-content vendors who follow consumer and antitrust law in their business practices.
Even before the ongoing economic crisis, law libraries could not afford the cumulative costs of anticompetitive and unfair business practices by some vendors of legal and law-related information. In 2006, an attorney for the Information Access Alliance testified on skyrocketing subscription prices and unreasonable contractual constraints from single-firm, anticompetive conduct. Although his testimony concerns harm to research libraries from “bundling” of scholarly journals, the same type of conduct has harmed law libraries when they renew their subscription contracts. As described in a recent Library Journal interview, evidence also abounds of unfair business practices. A few of the many examples include:
- opaque, confusing, and deceptive pricing models for online subscriptions and for “bundled” portfolios of print or print-and-online subscriptions;
- non-disclosure demands in contracts;
- inclusion of more or fewer titles than requested in bundled subscription contracts, with inadequate or no options for correction;
- serious, widespread failures in editing, indexing, updating, and revising of publications
The business misconduct has reached a scale of devastating impact on law libraries. It has imperiled not just the quality and integrity of their services, but also, in many cases, their long-term sustainability.
Law libraries and allied consumers of information services should work together to remedy anti-consumer practices within the industry. They can do so without violating antitrust law. They may act in coalition to petition appropriate governmental bodies for remedies vital to their collective interests, and to the public interest.
We would rally behind AALL if it did everything possible to advance this vision of consumer advocacy. We would welcome collaboration with AALL’s leaders. So we recommend, as a first step, that AALL’s Executive Board embrace our proposal of a more robust consumer advocacy than AALL has pursued. At your request, we would be happy to elaborate on the proposal. We also ask that a future Colloquium focus on the means and goals of consumer advocacy, with digital or phone-conferencing access to all members, and a full, open record of proceedings.
Go to On Firmer Ground's A Call To Support Consumer Advocacy For Law Libraries for links to supporting references and take the blog's RSS feed while you are there. Remember this blog is a collaborative effort of SLA's Legal Division, AALL's Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section, CALL/ACBD and BIALL. I'm thinking both AALL and some of our more very expensive vendors are anxiously monitoring the blog's posts because the blog's primary audience spending is what moves the market. However, academic and public sector law librarians should also take the blog's RSS feed IMHO.
It's about time to engage in vigorous consumer advocacy. Many members of the Caucus hope their professional association would whole heartedly support their efforts. If not, AALL will once again find itself trying to catch up to the pack to justify its "leadership" role.
Of course the July 25th Caucus meeting is not sanctioned by AALL and will be conducted off-site, but not too far off-site. Interested? Even if the meeting is standing room only, you can bring your brown bag lunch. No doubt like-minded law librarians will rotate from sitting to standing for all. [JH]