July 19, 2011
The World of Actionable Actions, Part IV: The Cold Comfort of Government Intervention for Consumer Advocacy
[W]hat do you, the consumer, consider to be a quality update to a legal treatise? It’s rare to find lawyers talking about such things, and law librarians had a perfect opportunity to do so at the recent AALL Vendor Colloquium, but instead limited their focus to pricing and subscription models, vendor communications, digital v. print, etc. Honestly, what difference does all of that make if you don’t know what standards vendors use to measure the underlying quality of the product?
At the time Wilson wrote that post, the Shared Principles for Law Librarians and Legal Information Vendors (June 1, 2011) and Action Plan: Draft for Comment (June 13, 2011) had not yet been published. So what do those documents say?
As "an aspirational foundation for further work and communication, similar to a mission statement, and are the basis for the development of a corresponding action plan," two "shared principles" and their corresponding goal statements are:
Shared Principle: We each are committed to providing library users the highest quality research tools and information content, even in times of social and economic transformation.
Part II – Continuation of Current Work, Goal II-C: Create formal and informal means for vendors, librarians, and stakeholders to have the opportunity and platform to engage in dialogue about the future of legal information publishing and vendor-librarian relations.
Shared Principle: We recognize the importance of collaboration as the most effective and respectful way to share information; such collaboration can result in mutually beneficial high quality products and services.
Part I – New Project Work, Goal I-C. Identify and promote methods of demonstrating return on investment (ROI) and reporting usage statistics and metrics.
Part II – Continuation of Current Work, Goal II-A. Clarify the roles of the Vendor Liaison, CRIV and other entities involved in vendor relations.
Part II – Continuation of Current Work, Goal II-B. Improve vendor relations communications.
You decide, but like Wilson I have to conclude that editorial quality and updating standards should have but were not major themes addressed in AALL's behind-closed-doors Vendor Colloquium as revealed in those officially sanctioned documents. Nor was this matter even listed under Part III of the so-called action plan as an issue to be developed for future consideration.
Some 10 weeks after his On editing & updating standards post, Wilson adds in a Slaw post, PUNY LAWYERS, PUNY LIBRARIANS. HUNK SMASH! a Brief Comment on Fighting Words & Legal Publishers:
And as best as I can tell, we’ve spent the last 40 years taking an accounting of the misunderstandings — many of which have been the same for over 70 years — but that’s about it. That goes for the latest Vendor Colloquium as well. Just more accounting of grievances and misunderstandings (read: lip service). ... So where does this leave us?
Where does this leave us? Once again, we can turn Jason Wilson. In his June 16, 2011 Slaw post, PUNY LAWYERS, PUNY LIBRARIANS. HUNK SMASH! a Brief Comment on Fighting Words & Legal Publishers, he writes:
While government action may be cold comfort to many of us in this business, whether consumers or vendors, it is probably the only thing that will make a difference. I know that many readers of this column believe their online words can effect change, but I’m here to tell you they can’t. That’s not to say stop writing, but just recognize that in one way or another lawyers, law librarians, and legal publishers have been exchanging pleasantries and barbs for over a hundred years, and not a lot has changed. Just the technology.
I have to agree. Wilson illustrated the cold comfort of government intervention by citing to the 2009 Florida Attorney General-Matthew Bender settlement of the Company's shipment of unordered merchandise and negative option plans. The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance required Matthew Bender to (1) pay $2 million and (2) change the Company's business practices nationally. Wilson adds:
Not surprisingly, in the same year as the Matthew Bender settlement, the [Florida] Attorney General opened an investigation into West Publishing for “receipt of unordered merchandise.” The AG’s office cannot comment on ongoing investigations, but as a legal publishing consumer and vendor, I am very curious to know the scope of the investigation and what has been learned so far. I hope the resolution of the civil investigation will help us all... .
We must face the real world of actionable actions. The only thing that is going to change vendor business practices is taking action that prompts government intervention, be it at the state level or at the federal level or both. We can talk, we can write, all we want -- we should continue to do so publicly as Wilson recommends, but at some point, we law librarians have to take real action as consumer advocates.
If the past is prologue, we shouldn't expect our professional association of institutional buyers to lead the way. AALL is too busy securing vendor revenue, too submissive under its self-imposed version of BDSM known as antitrustism to offer any leadership initiatives on its own for this form of cold comfort. The output from Vendor Colloquium is just the most recent example of this. It offers no reason to believe that AALL lives in the real world of actionable actions, at least not yet.
This World of Actionable Actions series of LLB posts stated off with the following statement on May 4, 2011:
The ways and means to reforming the current and long-standing status quo in the buyer-legal publishing vendor relationship will not be quick or easy. But there are ways and means. Just like there is a "universe of thinkable thoughts" (Berring) in the context of legal research, there is a world of actionable actions in the context of conducting business with legal publishers. It is "doable."
However, many professional law librarians have simply given up all hope of accomplishing anything. Why? Could it be because their primary reference point is their own professional association and its dismal track record? Of course, AALL's track record has contributed to the long-standing and progressively worsening status quo in the vendor-institutional buyer relationship.
It is up to law librarians who take their role as institutional buyer representatives seriously to take the necessary corrective actions -- inside or outside of AALL. [JH]
Previous installments in LLB's The World of Actionable Actions series:
- Institutional Buyers, Individual Consumers and the Legal Publishing Industry (May 4, 2011)
- Addressing Vendor Inefficiencies Because Format and Quality Matters (May 11, 2011)
- Who Protects Individual Buyers of Commercial Legal Resources When Their Legitimate but Ill-informed Expectations Aren't Fulfilled by Their Acquisitions? (July 13, 2011)