Tell Us What Business Practice You Find Especially Harmful To Law Libraries

We formed the AALL Consumer Advocacy Caucus to better protect all law libraries from anti-consumer practices of information providers. We will recommend that AALL’s Executive Board petition appropriate government entities to remedy business practices that illegally restrict competition or otherwise harm law library consumers. We are just starting to consider ideas for our first recommendation, which we would like to propose for Board action at the July 2012 Business Meeting. To prepare our recommendation, we expect to survey AALL members on the nature and scope of a significant anti-consumer problem.

We need your help at this critical moment to target a problem of longstanding concern. What anti-consumer grievance most concerns you as a law librarian? For example, according to Principle 3.2(a) of AALL’s Guide to Fair Business Practices for Legal Publishers, “[p]ublishers should not bind their customers to a non-disclose clause as a non-negotiable requirement of doing business.”  But many information service providers appear to have routinely violated this principle, severely compromising our ability to make informed purchasing decisions on behalf of our employers. Does this problem deserve our attention for a survey and first recommendation, or does some other problem concern you even more?

Our success depends on our ability to represent your concerns. So please take just a few minutes to let us know what you think by posting your comment here. If you prefer to use email, feel welcome to send your comment to michaelginsborgATyahoo.com, and I will forward it to the Caucus. We will also honor all requests for confidentiality.

Michael Ginsborg
Caucus Chair
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6 Responses to Tell Us What Business Practice You Find Especially Harmful To Law Libraries

  1. Mary Kay Jung says:

    The elimination of a pay-as-you-go option by both Lexis and Westlaw.

  2. Daisy Weitz says:

    The lack of a pay-per-transaction option has also affected us. Other areas of concern include: 1. Lexis and Westlaw moving away from 1 year contracts and locking libraries into 3 year contracts. 2. Vendors pitching themselves as single providers, directly to upper management, and focusing only on cost savings 3. Vendors working mostly with upper firm management and librarians only as an afterthought 4. Vendors trying to Google-ize their platforms, to the detriment of actual usability and 5. Vendors trying to force libraries into flat rate plans for books, in order to save money – but instead it means it is hard to cancel and add titles as needs demand.

  3. The inability or unwillingness of publishers to reveal whether and when a work will be published in electronic form. Libraries are shifting away from print and towards electronic formats. However, when a library determines that it wants a new work in its collection it is nearly universal for publishers to be unable or unwilling to inform the library whether or not the work will appear later in an electronic format and, if so, when. For example, Thomson West’s print legal publishing and Westlaw organizations are so independent of one another that the former is simply unable to ascertain the electronic future of the works it publishes. It appears that Thomson West makes the decision to add a work to Westlaw some time after it has appeared in print even when the print publication is from one of its own subsidiaries. Other publishers simply decline to respond to the questions. Therefore, libraries are typically presented with a trilemma: (1) Buy in print now and forgo purchasing in electronic form later, to the detriment of the increasing number of patrons who prefer electronic formats. (2) Wait and see if the work appears in electronic form, if ever, to the detriment of patrons for whom the work is more valuable now rather than later. (3) Buy it now in print and buy it in electronic format later, doubling the cost. More bizarre is the effect of these choices on the publishers. If the library chooses lemma (1), the publisher loses the substantially larger profit from the electronic format compared with the print format of the same work. For the publisher, this is the opposite of a paperback embargo. If the library chooses lemma (2), the sale is at best delayed and possibly lost altogether, if the library decides after a while that it doesn’t need the work after all–or it just forgets. Only lemma (3) offers any relative benefit to the publisher, and I suggest that asking libraries to buy a work twice is morally bankrupt. There is no excuse for publishers’ unwillingness or inability to include electronic availability information in the initial announcement of a work’s publication.

  4. mariann storck says:

    Changing a format (like binders to pamphlets) based on supposed “CUSTOMER FEEDBACK”; assuring that prices won’t be more than minamally affected; and then, shoving through price increases of 15 – 89% justifying the increase on the format change.

  5. Maria Sosnowski says:

    Bundling of electronic services – my reps have been unwilling to negotiate “packages” so if I want a database X I must get Y and Z too (and of course pay for them). Total unwillingness to negotiate anything – generally the attitude is take it or leave it. The confidentiality restrictions that are demanded are unfair and totally unethical, as they are based on the power of a big company against a little library, and I have no negotation power with them. Yes, I can take my business elsewhere, but if both West and Lexis demand confidentiality, and they do, there is no real alternative for online research. I think that this issue is serious, is helping to strangle the libraries, and should be addressed first.

    Licensing agreements that try to put libraries in the position of watchdogs about who does what with the results of the research. For example, this from West: “User may also create printouts of Data for personal use and for distribution to a third party if such third party agrees not to further distribute the printout(s).” So I can help a patron print something out and give it to them, but I’m supposed to make them swear they will not distribute it? What if they want to show it to the other party in the case? Or share it with their attorney? Trying to put the burden on us to police other’s use isn’t realistic.

    I agree with Mariann on the “customer feedback” issue – it seems that format changes always end up with higher costs charged to the libraries.

    Adding in new books to existing titles, and then shipping them out because you have a subscription to the set, drives up costs and puts libraries in the position of always having to be on guard. Notice about this is often nonexistent or a mailing telling you that you will get it unless you opt out – I shouldn’t have the burden to opt out. And when I do call to opt out, the customer service rep never has any idea what I’m talking about. Keyrules falls into this category, as does Washington Practice, a set which used to end at volume 28 and now goes to 34.

    There are many, many issues – these are just those off the top of my head.

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