Weighing the Benefits of Library Vendors Versus Online Retailers

Workflow | March 21, 2018

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There’s no doubt that a large online retailer like Amazon can handle orders for everything from personal care items to home electronics. But, when it comes to library collection development and acquisitions, online retailers can fall short, compared to library vendors.

In a recent Library Journal Collection Development survey, libraries of all sizes reported working with online retailers as part of their collection development practices. While 82% generally use traditional library vendors when acquiring their print books, 68% use online retailers in addition to vendors. Although there’s no denying the speed of fulfillment, especially when using Amazon Prime premium shipping services or the potential lower cost for books, online retailers tend to fall short in providing basic services to libraries.

No duplication services

Although big box online retailers offer millions of different products, there is no way for them to be able to help a library identify if they already own a book (in print or e-book form) prior to purchasing. The task of checking purchases against existing holdings becomes a manual process for the library to avoid the headaches of ordering, returning, and processing a credit for a duplicate title. Library service vendors, on the other hand, can check potential purchases against a library’s holdings, alleviating the need for a library to check for the title on their own.

No multi-user e-books

While a large portion of libraries order print titles via retailers like Amazon, there are clear limitations to their e-book offerings. Only 5% of librarians who responded to the Library Journal survey indicating that they used online retailers for print purchases said that they buy e-books from these sources. While Amazon offers Kindle eBooks, the underlying model is a single, individual user, which is different from the single user model available through library vendors such as ebrary, EBSCO, etc. Library vendor models offer single and multiple user access models that can be shared across the library community while Amazon is built on individual, single owner consumption. “Amazon.com only offers kindle formats, not library-friendly formats for e-books,” shared Russell Michalak, MLIS, Director of Library & Learning Center at Goldey-Beacom College and partner at Rysavy & Michalak Consultants.

“Amazon.com only offers kindle formats, not library-friendly formats for e-books,” shared Russell Michalak, Director of Library & Learning Center at Goldey Beacom College.

No easy way to reconcile payments

For consumers, online retailers offer quick and convenient ordering and credit payment. It’s a different story for libraries. Often, libraries require special approval and use of a purchasing card to place orders. In a recent presentation at the 2017 Charleston Conference entitled, Amazon.com vs. EBSCO’s GOBI Library Solutions: Collecting LGBTQ and Title IX Titles to Evaluate Book Vendors, presenters Russell Michalak, Monica Rysavy, Ph.D. (Director of the Office of Institutional Research & Training at Goldey-Beacom College and partner at Rysavy & Michalak Consultants), and Trevor A. Dawes, MLS (University of Delaware) compared the five cumbersome steps involved in reconciling Amazon.com credit card purchases to the more streamlined, three-step invoice and payment process through GOBI® Library Solutions from EBSCO. In his presentation, Michalak detailed the workflow and time-saving advantages gained from purchasing print books from GOBI Library Solutions compared to their experience reconciling Amazon.com orders.

No library services

While the time it takes to order a book and have it delivered is a big Amazon.com advantage, the additional work involved with getting the book shelf-ready, into the library catalog and discoverable to library users is completely up to the library. In addition, the library-focused collection development expertise vendors can offer, from profiling to approval plans to different purchasing options (standing orders, DDA, etc.), are non-existent when purchasing through a large online retailer.

No one to call

And, when something goes wrong or a library has a question about an order, who can they call? Library vendors visit libraries on a consistent basis, establishing relationships and getting to know a library’s needs and goals. When working with GOBI Library Solutions from EBSCO, a library not only has a Regional Sales Manager who manages their account, but they also work with a Collection Development Manager who can help develop a notification or approval plan based on a library’s specific collection development goals and interests. In addition, every library is supported by a Customer Service Representative who serves as an additional resource for library staff. With GOBI Library Solutions, the question is never about who can I call, it’s a question of who do you want to call first.

Learn More About GOBI Library Solutions.

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