Put it on the record: My responses to Sage’s responses

First, a point of correction and clarity: It appears that the conflict between our middlemen and SAGE can be attributed to simple muddy communication; SAGE doesn’t care where I buy my stuff or how I buy it. I can switch from WALDO to Lyrasis at any time. (Worth noting, though, is that SAGE offers the two the same terms, so it won’t actually get me anything to move between them. Thus it is technically true that they won’t let me move to get better pricing, because they don’t offer better pricing. But they are not trying to control my behavior re: purchasing through middlemen or consortia.)

Second: Let’s talk about the public offer I got during the on-stage Q & A portion of my Charleston speech, to share coffee with SAGE’s VP for Sales.

I deflected while I was on stage, saying something about how it’d been a particularly busy week for me and thus my lack of reply to the offers that came in email to meet in Charleston. That was true, as far as I went. There’s more, though.

Here’s what I replied via email when I had time to think about being articulate:

I wasn’t going engage in this debate from the stage at Charleston, as I was paid to be there and to do a particular job, which wasn’t to resolve my own vendor conflicts during the opening plenary. However, I do appreciate your willingness to come forward publicly. I also know that you did yourself a favor in doing so, since you now look better in the eyes of the crowd than you otherwise would. And I thank you for proving my point: when one speaks publicly, one can in fact enable change in our vendor/library partnerships.

All of that said, I am flying home today and did not make a coffee date with you, nor return your phone call. That’s very intentional. I want all of this in writing. I understand (truly!) that tone and intent can be lost in writing, but I believe that the written record is the only reliable record. I’d rather conduct these conversations by email. And, in equal seriousness: If you can’t explain your pricing structure clearly in writing, then you have a bigger problem than whether or not I blog about you in a negative light. There is no reason why a phone call should be required to explain how you price and sell your product.

[reiteration of the details of our local concern and repeated request for clarity on pricing models.]

That was on November 8, at 8:30 am. I’ve not heard back yet, though it’s only been 2 business days and there was a sizeable SAGE contingent obviously quite busy at Charleston. I’m not judging terribly harshly (yet); I know what my re-entry from travel looks like, and have sympathy.

I share this to model one way that we, as librarians, can choose to communicate with vendor partners. You don’t have to take my tone, or my stand. You don’t have to agree with me or with my issues and approach. But I beg of you: get it in writing. I don’t want to spend my institution’s money with any partner who won’t commit to their terms in writing, and I’m not sure why you would want to, either.

After Charleston, I had a Twitter conversation in which a librarian indicated disappointment that I didn’t meet the SAGE reps for coffee, since I was thus shutting down communication. I think that I’m doing the opposite; I’m encouraging and demanding communication that’s repeatable, shareable, and good for our community, not just good for Potsdam and Jenica. The same person asked how I would get it on the record, then, and proposed a conference panel to discuss issues between vendors and librarians. I think that if a conference wants to do that, more power to them, but I still don’t believe that (unless it is recorded and widely shared) that’s ‘putting it on the record’; that’s just another conversation that can be retracted, amended, and discredited later.

Want it on the record? Want to stop the silencing and the bullying and the closed-door negotiations and the abusive licensing terms and the confusion, all of which hold us back rather than drive us forward? Put it in writing. Then put it on the web where it can be accessed, reused, and learned from.


  1. Being clear about your objectives, tough in negotiating and willing to walk away from a bad deal? Excellent. Getting all terms & conditions in writing with an unambiguous paper trail? Essential. But refusing to sit down and talk with people, get a sense of what makes them tick and what their priorities are? Bad idea. Why would you want to put yourself in a position of negotiating with one eye blind?


    • Because, in my experience, phone calls from and personal meetings with VPs are always attempts to silence me.

      End of story.

      You, as Not A Woman Under 40, may get a different response in similar situations. I have not, yet.


  2. I once posted pricing from a vendor to a listserv. I then got slapped with an NDA. I expressed confusion, stating that if their pricing was fair, consistent, and formulaic there should be no reason not to share it. They alleged that their pricing was such, but that they didn’t want it shared.

    HAH! They don’t want it shared because they make different deals with every different customer instead of publishing their pricing models.


  3. It doesn’t strike me that any of us are unclear on “what makes them tick and what their priorities are” … including why they would make a public offer of a coffee conversation rather. And, sorry to say, the experience of Women Over 40 isn’t likely to be much difference.


  4. Maybe they do want to silence the critics. Whether they succeed is up to you. But to assume that you have nothing to learn that you could use to your advantage strikes me as a mistake. But I guess if you’re sure you know everything about them that you need to know…


    • I never said I had nothing to learn. I never said I know everything that I need to know. YOU just did, but I never did, nor do I mean it.

      I said I intend only to continue the dialogue in writing. Which I am doing. Is written dialogue not dialogue? Is communicating in clear writing not a way to learn about people’s perspectives?

      Why are you dismissing my approach, T. Scott?


  5. Scott, I’m having an unusually hard time finding merit in your views as expressed here. You’ve insisted that Jenica could get things from meeting in person which she cannot get other ways…which is a legitimate view.

    But then you go into this:

    “But to assume that you have nothing to learn that you could use to your advantage strikes me as a mistake. But I guess if you’re sure you know everything about them that you need to know…”

    …which comes off as pretty damned condescending…and which utterly fails to support your view in any manner.

    Scott, I *KNOW* you can do better than vague condescension towards a younger colleague, especially when her youth and sex make you look especially bad here.


  6. My apologies for sounding condescending. That was not my intention. I was responding to Lisa’s statement that “it doesn’t seem to me that any of us are unclear on ‘what makes them tick and what their priorities are’…” That seemed to me to imply a view that there was nothing to be gained by talking, and if I misread that, I’m sorry. I apologize for a hasty comment that gave the wrong impression. I greatly admire most of the approach that Jenica is taking (as I intended to imply in my earlier comment) and I would not want my criticism to imply anything less.

    I’m trying to take a pragmatic view. The best librarian negotiator I know is Liz Lorbeer, now director of the medical library at Western Michigan University. She was my Associate Director for Content Management for seven years and I don’t believe she ever bought into a bad deal. She knew when to dig in her heels and walk away (which we did from Elsevier, among others) and she knew to get things in writing and to fight back when people didn’t seem to live up to their stated promises. But she also understood that part of her job is building relationships and that’s done with informal conversations in person and by phone and over coffee and sometimes over drinks and meals. Business people understand that. Liz has an excellent reputation among the vendor community. People know she’ll treat them fairly, but they also know that she can’t be messed with. They like working with her even when they end up not being able to come to terms. And that helps her get better deals.

    When a vendor takes someone to lunch, they’re not trying to bribe them, they’re trying to get to know them better. I submit that we need to do the same thing — get to know the people that we’re dealing with. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with or like them. But it will make us better negotiators and we will do a better job of getting the best deals for our institutions.

    Written communication is different from in person communication and you learn different things about the people you’re dealing with. And I think we need to use all of the tools that we can.

    And one more time — I have great admiration and respect for what Jenica is doing. I hope it inspires more librarians to take similar stands.


    • Helping one library get better deals, as you describe, may be the job description for local acquisitions and collections librarians, but it’s not my goal in the broad professional sense. Part of my message and part of my goal is to ensure that we, as a profession, are equipped and empowered to help build better systems which get better deals for *all* institutions. So building MY reputation among the vendor community doesn’t actually serve my goals: I want negotiating librarians as a group to step up and start building an information base from which we can all lift ourselves up.

      I think there’s also some drift going on in people’s perceptions of my role: I’m not the librarian who actually does our negotiating. I’m the bloody Director; it’s not my actual job. Reaching out to me is appeasement, not action. It’s public relations, not sales.


    • Scott, those are some valid points, if the relationship has not already broken down, as may be the case in the examples Jenica is using from her experience. My goal as the person who does these negotiations for my library is to make sure that the vendor contact trusts me when I say, “this is not sustainable for us, but here’s a counter-proposal that is,” and then we work towards a solution that accounts for the pressures we’re both under. I know that just as much as I’m being told to keep our costs under X% increases, they’re being told to increase their revenue by X%. Good vendors will work with me on it, and a large part of why is because they value the long-term goals of keeping us as customers. It may mean we will end up with less content in the end, but the price will be what we can sustain, allowing us to maintain that good relationship.

      Jenica, I get that you are fighting for more than just your library and your situation, and I hope you understand that your approach won’t work for everyone in every situation, but it is still good to hear about what you did and what came of it. We should all be sharing more of our experiences in the public sphere, particularly since so many of us stumble into these roles and are learning through trial by fire. I am often hesitant to speak out publicly because I don’t want it to reflect negatively on my institution, but I will think more on how to do so without burning bridges, because it is important.


      • Of course I understand that. As I wrote above, “You don’t have to take my tone, or my stand. You don’t have to agree with me or with my issues and approach.” I know that my style works for me because of who I am, how I communicate, and where I work, among a hundred other factors. Everyone has to find their own style, own approaches, based on their strengths and context.

        I just believe we deserve better than the status quo, and I am committed to the ideal of serving the community of our profession through my choices. I hope I don’t stand alone on that, and will model one way to do it, when I can. Others will model other ways. I hope they do it on the record, where we can all learn and benefit.


  7. Even in my mid-50s I get that, Jenica. (Sorry, in case you hoped it got better!) It’s like getting a super-duper-special phone call from an executive director of a large association that was supposed to woo me over because, I mean, he CALLED me. So, I totally get your response. Because you != gullible chick.


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