I wanted to wait a few days for part 2 of my post to think about my position and what had been written and said. Since then a few more posts have shown up, most notably from Tom Boone, and at the Law Librarian blog. And, as is always the danger when waiting to post something, much has already been explored by other bloggers. But I do have something to say about this, and I’m going to say it. The best way i can describe this post, is me trying to think my way through why this is such a controversial issue.
The title of this post is a joke of course about the oft contentious relationship between librarians and vendors. But the reality is that the vendor-librarian relationship should never be an adversarial one. It may often feel this way. Vendor’s reps are often selling something while librarians seem to be always trying to do more with less. But it is a relationship rather than a transaction. And the relationship between vendor and librarian is key. As a people person myself I have always valued relationships with vendors and some vendors have been better than others in that regard.
As difficult as it is for some librarians to believe, for me, Thomson Reuters Legal (TRL) has been one of the better vendors in terms of relationship building. In recent years, their marketers have been very good at engaging librarians in social media and building relationships without resorting to traditional sales pitches and “vendor-speak”, often genuinely engaging people on twitter and blogs.
And I think this is why the SWAG issue is so contentious. We are uncomfortable with an extravagant gift, as most of us would be when anyone we had a relationship with simply handed us something like an iPod. And for myself this is why I don’t accept vendor SWAG. This feeling of unease, extends to something even small.
But what then, are we to make of vendor dinners, or sponsorship of events? Even Sarah Glassmeyer admits to being conflicted about what is and is not appropriate to accept from a vendor. But these particular benefits don’t seem to bother us as much. And why should they? I have bought drinks and dinner for colleagues. As Scott Berkun says in the keynote I embedded in this post, there are three timeless technologies: speaking, writing, and drinking. Vendor parties involve two of these. Dinners and parties are relationship building events.
Similarly we are not bothered by accepting LexisNexis, Wolters Kluwer and other vendors sponsoring AALL grants. And we shouldn’t be. They are not buying allegiance to their brand, and we are never quite as suspicious of these activities. Similarly we should not make that assumption about SWAG.
Of course sometimes AALL must take a stand on certain issues. Many of us applauded, rightfully so, when AALL refused money from TRL last summer for refusing to participate in the Price Index. TRL refusal to participate is contrary to the relationship we thought we had. But the relationship between this vendor and our flagship organization continues. It must.
But this is just proof that despite our missteps, and there have been plenty of actions by librarians and vendors which are contrary to a healthy working relationship, we are still partners. TRL invited many bloggers who were critical of their product to take the trip to Eagan, MN. And they and other vendors would do well to continue the practice of engaging critical bloggers, Sarah Glassmeyer included.
However, I would advise librarians to do the same. When vendors are deserving of criticisms, we should criticize, worthy of praise we should praise, and even if we have to sanction we should do that too. But these vendors, whether we subscribe to their service, or we remain only potential customers, are our partners and we should always remember that.