Magazine article American Libraries

Prioritizing the Patron: Vendors and Librarians Reaffirm Their Shared Goals at ALA Exhibits

Magazine article American Libraries

Prioritizing the Patron: Vendors and Librarians Reaffirm Their Shared Goals at ALA Exhibits

Article excerpt

As a library technologist, I've always tried to achieve harmony between the practicalities of our profession and the application of technology. So when I look at specific solutions, it's always through a critical lens: "Is this something that will add value to my institution? How will this technology work with the rest of my library?" I ask myself.

Two different pieces of very good technology can be incompatible when deployed without regard to how they fit into the ecology of the library as a whole. Too often, vendors fail to understand customers' needs and simply unload their products like ballast water into an inland lake. That's a business model that may work when budgets are not cut down to the bone, but nowadays libraries are having none of that. They are still purchasing and doing business--they're just doing it smarter.

Recently, I surprised myself with the realization that one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is maintaining our vendor relationships; it takes some measure of creativity to find the niche where a partnership becomes mutually beneficial. And even though there is a fundamental difference between the purpose of the library and the purpose of the vendor, there is a point at which our purposes intersect and we can both walk away satisfied and with the end user better served. That's good old-fashioned business, and perhaps our economic downturn will have the positive effect of helping all of us remember how it's done.

That's just what I was seeing on the exhibit floor at this year's ALA Annual Conference. A common question I asked was, "What is your strategy this summer? " A number of vendor representatives indicated that they were not expecting to make many sales this year, but they were on the exhibit floor to have a presence and keep up their existing business relationships--to simply be available to talk with and reassure their customers.

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Going steady

That trend was reflected by the sharp decline in the number of "big ticket" announcements that are so characteristic of Annual Conference. The small-to-midsize companies seemed to be holding the line, while a number of big-name vendors occupied noticeably smaller booths. Absent, too, were many of the big parties; instead, there were low-key receptions. In an environment where cuts, layoffs, and closings are battering libraries every where, these sorts of changes represent the type of restraint I had hoped to see. Also, there really is no money right now for shrimp cocktails and chocolate fountains.

A focus on business relationships seems to be paying off for Serials Solutions, which at the Midwinter Meeting in Denver had unveiled Summon--a next-generation discovery tool with a Google-like single search box. The firm's first Summon site, Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, went live just prior to Annual. Summon seeks to make federated search obsolete by pre-harvesting and indexing content from existing database providers. So, the success of the product hinges entirely on Serials Solutions' ability to get those providers to sign on.

The company seems to be doing just that. ProQuest and Gale, who bring content from 4,700 publishers to the table, have bought into Summon. They are joined by many others, including Springer, Taylor and Francis, SAGE, IEEE, Emerald, and Scitation. Just days before Annual, LexisNexis announced that it, too, would help grow Summon's index. The Summon product itself is emblematic of a general contracting of many smaller parts into a more manageable whole. Even its simplified single-search box betrays a shift in attitudes: The "end user" is no longer considered to be the librarian, but the people who are served by libraries.

Take, for instance, ProQuest's mysterious announcement of the "All-New Platform." ProQuest claims that its new product will "facilitate and simplify access to [a] broad range of authoritative resources, content, and services. …

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