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At the Special Libraries Association’s recent annual conference in Los Angeles, I noticed that issues concerning vendor relations seemed to be on the minds of many law librarians, including legal reference librarians and law library administrators. There continues to be an explosion of online content specifically geared toward the legal field. The most well-known content providers — West Group, Lexis-Nexis and the Bureau of National Affairs, to name a few — continue to play a dominant role. But we are also witnessing a push to market resources that were once not considered proprietary products for the law firm library. A sharp increase in the amount of nonlegal research work performed by both reference law librarians and attorneys is fueling the demand for specialized content in many fields of practice. This dramatic shift from legal to nonlegal research was highlighted in AmLaw Tech’s first annual survey of law librarians. In the past, traditional and larger-based vendors were the gatekeepers of online content for both legal and nonlegal sources. Now there is a growing trend for specialized publishers to branch out on their own, offering direct access to their Web site services at a competitive price. This continual shift of specialized publishers seeking to create their own niche in the online content sector has created some significant challenges, according to Thomas Peck, a writer for Online magazine. Modern distribution systems can send highly filtered information in a customized format directly to a desktop, according to Peck. But the continual flux in business models, technologies, searching behaviors, pricing strategies and consumer loyalties has left some segments of the information industry in the role where it began: posting information in a widely accessible place and hoping somebody comes by to read it. The law librarian community views these new purveyors of information with a mixture of optimism and trepidation because many offer a valuable resource that is difficult to use. We are seeking a customized product with tailored features to help pinpoint the most relevant content with ease. Any online service that offers significant editorial content to their product will also be attractive. Services should look to both Westlaw and Lexis in terms of implementing efficient billing and accounting features, so we can download current invoicing statements with little hassle. And, of course, these specialized products must be able to offer user support through on-site firm training and toll-free assistance, with quick response time and reliability. With the plethora of resources increasing every day, how can law librarians keep track of the best resources for their law firm constituents in terms of fair pricing and licensing agreements, active customer support and content reliability? Relying on our professional peers is a good place to start. Large-firm library departments have an advantage here because of the number of staff concentrating in specialized areas of law. Greenberg Traurig’s research department includes seven full-time law librarians across the country, handling requests from 17 offices nationwide. Each of the law librarians is assigned two or three designated specialty areas and is responsible for maintaining an active knowledge base for those areas. To ensure that the lawyers they serve have access to the best resources available, our librarians keep abreast of developments by holding monthly virtual meetings where we critique new products, participating in special listservs, setting up electronic clipping services that track new content development, attending classes for specialty subjects offered at major library conferences throughout the year, and keeping an eye out for ABA-sponsored events that discuss new product or content development in special areas of law. Most importantly, we also maintain an open dialogue with attorney practice groups through e-mail and meetings, where they may suggest reviewing a new publication or online product. Other excellent ways for librarians to find out about the best resources include: e-mail user groups, newsletters addressing new products and the Web sites of association committees and sections that deal with vendor issues. It is also important to seek out publications that do not have a bias toward a particular publishing company or vendor. The American Association of Law Libraries’ Committee on Relations with Information Vendors was one of the first professional groups of its kind to address problems associated with both the print and electronic publishing industry. The committee serves as a facilitator of information on vendor-related issues for the law librarian community. In its mission to foster a cooperative working relationship between librarians and information vendors, among other things, the committee has engaged the online publishing companies on quality and service issues, invoicing problems and technology specifications. The committee, however, has been slow to address the complexity of problems arising from the abundance of smaller and specialized online content providers hitting the legal scene. Vendor issues were discussed at the SLA’s annual conference during a roundtable of the newly formed Corporate Librarians in Legal Settings. One suggestion was to start a series of informal meetings across the country between smaller content providers and law librarians. Key concerns that a number of librarians mentioned at that roundtable session were: The need for more-reliable customer service with smaller-based vendors. Reasonable flexibility when dealing with subscription pricing for both global law firms and smaller practices. Librarians would like to see a willingness on the part of the content providers to offer a number of alternatives in their licensing agreements, such as simultaneous use for all, for the most popular databases. The importance of establishing informational partnerships between vendors and librarians, where ideas on product enhancement can be offered and eventually implemented when feasible. This last concern is particularly significant since we have witnessed an increase in information providers skirting the law librarian community altogether, promoting their products directly to attorneys through massive e-mail campaigns and wasteful fliers. Law librarians can be a vendor’s greatest ally in marketing a product since it is our community who can (1) define the product’s most sought-after user base and (2) successfully promote it through several outlets, including online training, intranet portal development and in-house electronic newsletters (via e-mail announcement or Web posting). It is hoped that the initiative started at the SLA’s annual meeting will attract enough interest to become a platform, where vendors and the law librarian community can share ideas on working out these issues. With active participation and open dialogue, we can address the questions and problems associated with vendor contracts. Robyn E. Rebollo is head law librarian for the Washington, D.C., and Tysons Corner, Va., offices of Greenberg Traurig. She can be reached at [email protected].

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