Sitting at dinner with executives from Thomson Retures Legal (TRL) in St. Paul, MN, one of my colleagues asked, “what do you expect from us?” The answer was that they simply wanted to tell their story. At the time I wondered if this was a direct hint toward a recent blog post I wrote, encouraging vendors to tell their story. I put the suspicion from my mind. My suspicions were re-ignited the next day at their headquarters in Eagan, MN when one of the reference attorneys presenting to us specifically referenced that blog post.
But the most amazing part of the trip was what TRL successfully did during that meeting, and have failed to do since. They told their story.
That’s why I had been planning on writing a post about the trip to Minnesota, and meeting with the WestlawNext folks. It was a unique experience and an interesting process that itself could be important, beyond the topic of discussion (WestlawNext).
And after February 1 when they unveiled WestlawNext at LegalTech in New York, I was prepared to blog about the value provided by the bloggers I sat in those meetings with, compared to the superficial tweets and posts coming from LegalTech.
But my friend and colleague Sarah Glassmeyer may have forced my hand a little by raising the issue of vendor swag and question of ethics, including the decision I and others made to accept an all expenses paid trip to Eagan Minnesota to meet with the WestlawNext team and preview the product.
Comments about this have ranged from the on point, to the factually inaccurate (all librarians on the trip had passwords which enabled them access to the product). And a larger discussion of librarian vendor relations has followed.
Now, I currently do not accept vendor swag. I used to. I do not remember the exact point at which I stopped accepting it (early 2009), nor do I remember the exact reasons (general feeling of ickiness). But I do not accept swag anymore. However, I did accept this trip to see WestlawNext.
I did not accept the trip immediately and not without some reservation. Yes, I questioned whether or not it was appropriate to accept a trip from TRL to preview this product. Beyond the ethical questions raised by accepting such a trip, flying to Minnesota, on about two weeks notice, in January at the start of the semester, is at best an inconvenience and at worst a pain in the ass. As my colleague mentioned this was not a trip to Hawaii.
Now here’s where it gets a little tricky.
I am a blogger – whatever that means to you – to me that includes some amateurish semblance of news gathering, editorializing, and simply passing on information. I decided long ago to not to place too much emphasis on counting how many visitors I have, subscribers to my feed, etc. I have had offers to monetize this blog and turned them down for one reason or another. But there are some people who do indeed read this blog, and find it valuable.
Now, since I am not employed as a professional news gatherer my organization cannot afford to send me to every event that may be valuable. I either use part of my professional development/travel budget, or pay my own way. Which is fine. In this particular instance, TRL decided to pay to fly me and other bloggers into Minnesota on their own dime. They gave me a place to stay for the night, and fed me. It was not a vacation. I spent most of one day traveling, and the second day in meetings.
I decided, right or wrong, that it was within my professional responsibility, and the scope of this blog to accept this trip. I mean that it may be advantageous to the organization that employs me (Yale Law Library) to have a staff member get an early insider’s view of an important new product, it may be advantageous to my career (I am up for promotion in a few years) to note that I was recognized as a blogger recognizable enough to be worth the cost to fly out to Minnesota, and valuable to the readers of my blog that I was at the meeting.
I stand by the decision.
Now some people,like this commenter, might think this makes me a less reliable authority on such matters. That doesn’t worry me. Long time readers of myself and Tom Boone know who we are and whether or not we are valuable, reliable sources of information. Frankly, I think devaluing our two voices (along with the other dozen or so bloggers there) is a disservice to any law librarian and their own professional reading.
There is of course a larger issue of vendor-librarian relations that I think should be addressed. And this is a wholely different issue than accepting an ipod (a gift I wasn’t offered and would not have accepted). FYI, I was offered but did not accept any swag while on this trip.
But I will save this larger post for later. Let’s consider this part 1.