Relatively Speaking: Fostering Productive Library-Vendor Communications

Doralyn Rossmann

@doralyn on Twitter

Kirsten Ostergaard

Presentation Outline

  • A review of challenges libraries face

  • Library-Vendor Survey

  • Results and analysis

  • Recommendations for effective relationships


  • Montana State University

  • CD Team of 4

  • Work with 50+ vendors

  • Local challenges

Literature Review

"One message is clear: librarians do not want to hear about new products over the telephone."


Tenopir, 2005

"A growing and disturbing phenomenon is the inability to obtain immediate technical support..."


Raley and Smith, 2006

Survey Methodology

  • Two surveys

  • Draft surveys vetted by vendor reps and librarians

  • Surveys sent to Coll-lib, ERIL-L, LibLicense-L, ScholComm, and SERIALST email lists

  • Available from Thursday, November 12, 2015 to Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Survey Results

  • Vendors: N=35

  • Librarians: N=158 (-non U.S.)

    • 52% public academic

    • 48% private academic

Where Vendors Get Info about Libraries

  • Internal Systems: 90%

  • Talk with Librarians: 90%

  • Review Library web site: 83%

How Librarians Communicate w/Vendors

  • Email: 99%

  • Telephone: 98%

  • In-person visits: 86%


Communication Activity

Most Preferred

Least Preferred

Hearing about new resources



Asking about new resources


Postal Mail, Telephone

Receiving license agreements




Telephone, Email

Postal Mail

Receiving an invoice


Postal Mail

Training and marketing


Telephone, Postal Mail

Librarians' Preferences 

Purpose of Meetings



Most Important

Least Important


Providing feedback to vendor on existing products and services, Negotiating prices

Socializing with vendor representatives


Making sales, Getting customer feedback on existing products and services

Socializing with library employees


Pressures Vendors Face


  • Managing different library needs

  • Travel

  • Higher sales volume

  • Internal issues to company

  • More customer contact

  • Price negotiations

  • Keeping current with products

  • Responding to customer requests

"I always appreciate when librarians are honest with me, whether the feedback is good or bad. Any response is always appreciated! And it helps me know what to bring to their attention when the time is right."


-Quote from Vendor Survey Response

A: "In the most passive and ineffectual way: missed calls, respond back via email. [I] hope they take the hint… [I] just don't have time for a phone call…"


-Quote from Librarian Survey Response

Q: How Do You Relay Communication Preferences to Vendors?

Analysis of Results: Librarians

  • Usually prefer email

  • Troubleshooting: telephone or email

  • Don't unilaterally convey communication preferences

Analysis of Results: Vendors

  • Don't unilaterally ask communication preferences

  • Internal database for tracking

  • Greater preference for telephone & in-person communication

  • Face many pressures

Recommendations for Libraries

Establish vendor guidelines

Website for Vendors

Create a webpage with information specifically for vendors. Information to include:

  • Quick facts about your organization & community

  • Library data and goals

  • Primary contacts

  • Communication guidelines

Shared Email Alias


Vendor Email Folders

Direct Communication about Expectations

Recommendations for Vendors

Ask for Library Communication Preferences

Record Library Communication Preferences

Respect Library Communication Preferences

Explain Vendor Pressures

Concluding Thoughts

  • Effective communication

  • Efficient communication

  • Respectful communication


  • Ostergaard, K., & Rossmann, D. (2016). Vendor Relations Strategies for Libraries. Against the Grain, 27(6), 14–16.

  • Raley, S. & Smith, J. (2006). Community College/Library Vendor Relations: You Can’t Always Get What You Want . . . Or Can You? Journal of LIbrary Administration 44(3/4): 187-202.

  • Tenopir, C. (2005) Vendor Communication. Library Journal 130(10): 42.

Relatively Speaking

By kirsteno3

Relatively Speaking

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