A successful library/vendor relationship requires effort from both sides. Factors that impact this partnership were recently discussed during the 2017 Charleston Conference.
Librarians have a lot to manage in their day-to-day jobs that includes balancing and maintaining successful relationships with their vendors. Most libraries work, in at least some capacity, with multiple vendors — including, but not limited to, subscription agents, print book and e-book aggregators, library service vendors and ILS vendors. Librarians deal with many vendors, and vendors work with many libraries, and it takes effort on both sides to create and maintain a successful partnership. The outcomes of these partnerships affect not just the librarian and the vendor, but also the end-users at the library and the institution as a whole.
While there are many benefits to working with a vendor, including consolidated ordering and invoicing, streamlined customer service, a more efficient workflow, and most importantly, time savings, the relationship goes both ways. A successful partnership provides mutual benefits for both the library and the vendor. The library benefits from the expertise, resources and economies of scale that a vendor can offer, while the vendor benefits from the perspective and workflow knowledge that the library can provide.
At the 2017 Charleston Conference, Maggie Farrell, dean of libraries at UNLV; Barbara Kawecki, director of customer retention for the Western U.S. at GOBI Library Solutions from EBSCO; and Rick Branham, vice president of pre-sales solutions & academic library initiatives from SirsiDynix, presented “Transforming the Library/Vendor Relationship.” The session drew on the various perspectives on the library/vendor relationship. The presenters reviewed the reasons why libraries partner with vendors, the benefits of and best tools for collaboration and the different types of library/vendor relationships.
A successful partnership provides mutual benefits for both the library and the vendor. The library benefits from the expertise, resources and economies of scale that a vendor can offer, while the vendor benefits from the perspective and workflow knowledge that the library can provide.
The discussion examined the four stages of a successful library/vendor relationship.
Identifying Your Goals
The librarian or vendor must first identify its goal in seeking out a partnership. What problem is the librarian trying to solve? Are librarians looking for a partner to help develop a workflow solution specific to their library? Is the vendor seeking out a library to provide input on the development of a new service? No matter what the goal is, it must first be clearly identified before moving onto the next stage, looking for the right partner.
Finding and Vetting Partners
Once the goal is identified and documented, the next step is finding and vetting the best partner to work with. Whether you are reaching out to a new partner, or taking on a new project with a current partner, it’s important to take time during this stage to make sure you are working with the right partner. Once the initial outreach has taken place and the library and vendor have mutually decided to move forward with a partnership, the next step is to evaluate the needs of both sides and discuss common solutions. Once that has been done, it is vital to document and clarify those needs and agree on a timeline, allowing time for sharing, review and revision before the partnership is established.
Caring and Feeding of the Partnership
After the partnership is established, the next stage is to care for the relationship. At this stage, librarians and vendors are actively working together, and there are a number of things required to make sure the partnership stays on track. To keep communication productive and moving forward, make sure the right people are working together. Sometimes a project can slow down or hit a snag simply because the right people from both sides aren’t in contact, or have to go through too many people to work together. Communication is vital at this stage, and continuous observation to explore whether the relationship is going as expected or any issues arise, will help keep the partnership on track.
Ending a Partnership
Whether a partnership ends amicably, with both sides reaching the goals set at the onset, or whether the partnership was ultimately unsuccessful, there are a few things that should be considered at this stage. First, assess why the partnership ended. If it was a positive experience, you may want to work together again. If it wasn’t, reflect upon what was unsuccessful and what you can do next time you enter into a partnership. It is also important at this stage to remember not to burn bridges, as you never know if and when you may work with the same contacts later on in your career. It’s also important to document the conclusion of the partnership, to bring everything full circle and help both sides gain closure on what was accomplished.
View the presentation, “Transforming the Library/Vendor Relationship,” to learn more about how to create a successful library/vendor relationship. Look for an upcoming special issue of Against the Grain featuring the topic.