Suzanna Conrad

Information Professional

Who's the Customer Again?

As a relatively recently minted librarian I'm still shocked and amazed at the skewed relationships between libraries and many vendors - especially systems and services vendors. Too often vendors are dictating software developments or terms and conditions to libraries with librarians frequently accepting the hits. In already tenuous budget situations, it's hard to believe that fighting back isn't a more common response.

Previously I worked in corporations and when a vendor caused enough problems, you went with another vendor. If a vendor couldn't provide the developments you wanted, you migrated to another vendor. Having to wait for a year for a patch for something would be a sure fire way to lose a corporate client. It's true that the phrase "perfect system" is an oxymoron. But the patchwork way that we operate many of our library systems isn't just slightly imperfect, it's very flawed.

Another surprise - you have major downtimes due to a vendor's migration, error, server issue, etc. and the vendor doesn't give you a discount when you complain? Or at least offer you a perk to make up for it? And swag doesn't count. If you inconvenience me enough, I'm not eager to wear your t-shirt or be reminded of the inconveniences with a fancy pen.

But what can we do about it? First we all have to start becoming squeaky wheels if we're not already. Some vendors clearly do a better job with customer service than others - with some vendors you never even get to the complaint mode because they're responsive enough to handle your issues immediately. But other companies with slow response times, strange pricing strategies, or frequent downtimes a little more elbow couldn't hurt any of us. More of us should band together with elbows raised to stop getting pushed around. It should be about our users and their experiences!!

(Image used with a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license from f1uffster at