July 24, 2011
Picking Up the Tab, Part 2: Are You Frustrated by the Airing of Complaints Against Particular Vendors?
Kudos to this year's program planning committee because Philly 2011: Cream Cheese, Cheesesteak or Karaoke programming does appear to be a notch better than past years. No doubt it took helluva work and effort on their part to add a handful of relevant sessions which have cracked the traditional formulaic programming of past AALL annual meetings. Perhaps someday AALL will even get around to that 20th century invention in conference programming known as tracks. Oh wait, professional development and education programs have to be tied to some sort of homogenized AALL law librarianship policy. Certainly we are an association of institutions which have some interests in common but we are also an association of institutions that have very specific interests and concerns in the academic, private and public sectors that are unique to our employers as separate market segments. So there will be no official tracks without a change in AALL policy.
Of course, I thinking this year's pre-meeting PLL Summit could have one such track. Apparently, there is also a program submission timing matter at play here, one that resulted in scheduling this year's PLL Summitt ahead of regularly programming, just like last year's summit was. So move back the deadlines for god's sake. Not yet. But the 2011 program planning group has made a good first step in responding to member complaints.
To Do List for Killing Time during Philly 2011: Cream Cheese, Cheesesteak or Karaoke. Alas, there still remains plenty of downtime attending 2011: Cream Cheese, Cheesesteak or Karaoke, at least for this aging and decrepit law librarian. That's when killing time kicks into gear before evening dinner and bar hopping commences with colleagues to discuss matters of mutual interest. Killing time means I head to the Exhibit Hall, grab a cup of coffee at BNA (thank you, thank you, thank you). I proceed to Hein's booth, plant a big wet sloppy kiss on Dick Spinelli's lips. Then cruise the Hall, feigning OMG, that's fantastic interest before asking some questions vendors may not want to answer.
Thanks to Margie Maes, AALL Vendor Liasion, for providing the first question I will ask some vendor rep booth dwellers this year:
Are you frustrated with the public airing of complaints against particular publishers by way of blogs and AALL listservs?
Against, Really? Not "About." You see, in a memo to the Executive Board found under Tab 17 of the Board Book for the 2011 Spring Executive Board meeting [link provided below], Maes writes in the context of discussing the Vendor Colloquium:
All of the vendors are frustrated with the public airing of complaints against particular publishers but they recognize that this is not a problem AALL can control. They seem encouraged by the vendor relations program and hopeful that this will stem the flow of some of that negative communication in the future.
This was reported to the Executive Board before Kathie Price, looking in the direction of where Maes was sitting at Harvard's FOLL meeting, cautioned in no uncertain terms and in a public webcast that AALL must confront publishers over antitrust issues before it is too late.
Really, all the vendors? All 16 or so in attendance representing four vendors? Was there a roll call vote on that? Does this "all" include vendors who place themselves at a competitive disadvantage by compiling with AALL's publishing industry guidelines while others in the room do not and hence become a cause of public criticism?
Hell, some vendors publicly air complaints about other publishers. Oops, I believe those may not have been invited to the Vendor Colloquium meeting. Vendor representatives that were invited: BNA 3, Hein 3, LexisNexis 3, Thomson Reuters 4, and Wolter Kluwers 3. I'm thinking that two reps from each vendor would have been enough. That would have allowed for four more vendors being invited, you know perhaps a struggling indie or two, perhaps ALM, Fastcase, CaseMaker ... . Nothing beats an association of institutional buyers telling some vendors you are too insignificant to sit at our table in a behind-closed-doors meeting.
Perhaps, vendors who repeatedly execute corporate screw-ups don't like the public airing of complaints but they are oftentimes matters of public record. They have not, however, been deemed sufficiently important for AALL to make official, public statements, even when asked to do so by an in-coming AALL Executive Board member. So much for consumer advocacy. So much for informing the membership. Perhaps that is why law librarians (and some publishers) are airing complaints in public.
Do vendors also not like the private airing of complaints in this new era of "customer experience and education" via AALL listserv messages posts by law librarian members? On this score, we know two things. First, all major vendors assign someone to monitor listservs -- its a benefit of membership, you know, and second, oftentimes that is the only way institutional buyer-members can alert fellow members to a problem and wake up the particular vendor and CRIV-Lite. The state of the buyer-vendor relationship has become one where publicizing matters of some significance by law librarians to their fellow law librarians is the only course of action left because they have little faith in AALL doing much more than allowing a vendor to post a "Dear Colleagues" push-back message.
I can tell you from repeated personal and confidential communications with vendors over the years that some vendor execs, managers and employees are not frustrated by the public airing of compliants, particular when one bad actor reads about a screw-up by another bad actor. There's a delight-in-hearing factor in play when a competitor reads about screw-ups aired publicly or on AALL listservs about another competitor -- hell, it's a momentary morale booster as such publications circulate in-house. There is also, somethings, an I-wish-we-could-get-this-changed factor in play from some about their own companies screw-ups -- alas, it's oftentimes more along the lines of "I wish Corporate HQ would understand that some of their decisions are killing our business, that we want to do a good job but our hands are tied."
Prince Valiant or Returning to the Medieval Times of the Hutesium et Clamor. In the context of AALL inaction as a consumer advocate and the gate-keeping function of the vendor liaison (I'm sorry, the "vendor relations not quite yet organized") program, of course some vendors are "hopeful" that the flow of the hue and cry negative communications will be reduced in the future! The vendors may recognize that AALL has no control over this "problem." However, it is pretty damn clear that AALL royals have been making valiant attempts to reduce library institution buyers from airing grievances.
- First there was the initial AALL My Communities TOS (revised since this June 20, 2011 post, Narco-Induced Antitrustism Paranoia: Fine Print AALL-Style for Participating in My Communities Forum).
- Second, the now notorious draft Antitrust Compliance Policy which according to President Janto will be revised in the "best interests of all members." See Tiananmen Square, AALL-Style: AALL's Proposed Antitrust Compliance Policy, Consumer Advocacy Initiatives and the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
- Finally, the AALL Vendor Liaison reports "We also tried to follow up on general complaints there were posted to listservs, while encouraging librarians to contact me or CRIV directly." (Emphasis added) Quoting from Vendor Liaison Report for the Summer 2011 Executive Board meeting found at the Tab 8 of the Board Book. (Link provided below.)
AALL Plays in a League of Its Own. At this moment in law library history, AALL has become an object of ridicule among members, vendors, and even other library associations. It is not, nor will be, taken seriously. It is has become nothing more than laughingstock.
Unfortunately until AALL can be depended upon to regularly speak out by publicly criticizing and condemning some vendor practices, the number of member voices airing complaints publicly and in online AALL communication channels will not stop and will likely increase and get louder because AALL simply is not and has not been for a very long time representing the "best interests of all members." [JH]
Resources: A law librarian recently reported that "a number of our colleagues have had trouble finding these agenda behind AALL's Berlin Wall" so the board books were posted to Scribd.
- March 25-26, 2011 AALL Executive Board Meeting Board Book
- July 21-22, 2011 AALL Executive Board Meeting Board Book
For the first part of this unintended LLB series, see Picking Up the Tab: Order Food, Drinks, and Dust Off a Caucus Formation Policy That Was Rejected in 2007.