I recently had the pleasure of attending a new library conference, The Collective, in Knoxville, Tennessee. The majority of conference attendees were from the academic library community but I am a Knoxville local (I telecommute for the Frick Art Reference Library as their Electronic Resources Librarian) and was drawn to an opportunity to attend such an innovative conference in my hometown.
One of the panels I attended, Finding a Way: Negotiation Tips and Tactics, was lead by a foursome of library professionals who have spent many years in the trenches: librarians at both large and small institutions, as well as a customer engagement specialist with a well-known vendor (what does it say about our vendor interactions that I didn’t even know “customer engagement specialists” were a thing?). The conversation wove through the many vagaries of vendor relations and negotiations, but a bit of a lightbulb went off when I heard one of the librarians at the University of Tennessee state that they’re now asking vendors to defend renewal rate increases. It occurred to me that perhaps this is a real heads-up moment for the art library community and smaller institutions like ours; if our colleagues at large research universities are paving the way, we should follow suit and see how this might benefit our resource negotiations. The University of Tennessee is essentially hitting the pause button on annual rate increases and requesting:
- 3% cap on renewals for 3 years/12 mo subs; if it’s greater than 3% OR if they have experienced any issues with the product, they will ask vendors to report back on their profit margin and defend the price increase with updates on the content that has been added
- Database performance uptime: the goal is 100% but 99.9% is the MINIMUM uptime acceptable
The database downtime issue was also of great interest to me – I cringed when I thought about my own experiences with one major database where our access simply disappeared twice over a four month span. Access was restored within about 24 hours on both occasions, but without explanation. Was this the kind of service and content that justifies a 4% rate increase, or is this the perfect scenario in which we need to hold vendors accountable?
All too often we at the Frick accept annual rate hikes in the 4-5% range due to historical vendor relationships and pricing, or because we assume that the best possible deal has been negotiated and that these increases are as good as it gets. But what if that isn’t the best we can do? Are there situations where a database hasn’t added new content, or improved functionality, therefore not truly warranting a 4+% hike at renewal time? Perhaps it’s time to truly assess our usage of that resource, and if it’s deemed necessary, to push back with vendors to learn more about their profit margin and how we can reach a compromise. Could a rate increase of 1-2% be possible? There is only one way to find out.
Sara Holladay (firstname.lastname@example.org)