This time next week I’ll have been through AASL13, spending time with friends and colleagues and, of course, vendors. As my first year unfolds and research projects starts, I’m gathering ideas about what resources we need and in what format – the trick now is to match those needs with vendors and our budget. Other concerns are technology issues, not just in terms of whether our infrastructure can support the resource (is there room on the shelves? are there too many clicks between “need” and “resource” for students to stick with it? etc.) but also training.
Over the summer the state-run consortium changed from one vendor’s products to another vendor’s products. Not having been asked my opinion about the products, I won’t comment on the change in terms of better or worse, but when you work in a school with teachers who have many demands on their time (in a boarding school you have weekend and evening duties, it’s more than a mere 7:30-3:30 on site job), finding the time to train and properly explain the benefits of their new resources can be a challenge. Heck, at former schools a simple interface change for resources that teachers had used for a while could be problematic! So that’s one more hurdle: training teachers as well as students. For that reason alone, a transition period would have been nice.
One of the biggest problems is that when you go to conferences or vendor events, you get the sales person. In all my years of conference going, only one vendor provided librarians for us to speak with – actual users of the product, not just the training people or the sales people. What a difference! When I asked questions based on how I do things, or how my teachers/students do things, or how my IT/administration want things, they were answered intelligently rather than in sales-speak. Sales people are very good at either feigning no knowledge of the competition or at knowing everything and this is why their product is better while talking around what’s just been asked; having a user there who does know the competition and why this product is better or how it honestly compares to others is such a blessing. My guess as to why vendors don’t embrace this? They’re afraid of what a non-scripted librarian will say.
A while ago I was asked, by a vendor, to help the national sales staff better reach the school librarians in their regions. One piece of advice I gave was to personalize their spiel. Granted, at a large conference/event that’s difficult to do but when you’re speaking to me at my school, or in a small group of similar schools, personalization counts. I’m at a small boarding suburban school – don’t give me the same information you’re going to give someone in a large urban day school. Take a look at my website and see what resources I have, or perhaps what projects are going on. Tell me how your product compares to what I have and give me concrete examples (“when you search [product] for [topic], here’s what you get – but using our product, here’s what you’ll get”). Don’t just dismiss the products I already have because it’s not your product, because I (or someone) has evaluated it and thinks this is what we need. Show me why or how your product is the better one.
Vendors also need to remember that we librarians are a clubby bunch and talk to each other. A few years ago a vendor was congratulating themselves on the work they’d done at another school, going so far as to suggest I contact them to hear additional praise. Would you be surprised to hear that they’d gotten the wrong end of the stick? I was surprised to hear not just that the other school had some quibbles, but that they actively warned me against using this vendor, that the work done had been seriously flawed. Another vendor, much more recently, touted a new product and said that a school I knew well had embraced it; the librarian there (a friend of mine) said that there were problems and they might not continue to use it. I’m sure this vendor’s tech support people have heard about the issues, but clearly the sales people haven’t been informed!
As I wander the vendor exhibits, looking for products on a select list, one of the things I’m also looking for is honest information about the produce and how it compares to the competition. I’m also looking for real answers from real users, or the ability to contact someone about the product to get those answers. Vendors that provide those things get my respect (and possibly my custom)… Any takers?