Home 9 Against the Grain 9 v25 #6 The Charleston Conference Continues – Getting to No: Calling for an End to Contention

v25 #6 The Charleston Conference Continues – Getting to No: Calling for an End to Contention

by | Feb 15, 2014 | 18 comments

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  1. Stephen Weiter

    The contention will end when publishers accept smaller profit margins, and fixed price increases aren’t piled on libraries as our budgets are cut. I had a major STEM publisher tell me in 2012 that my price needed to go up 46% because of our usage.I refused, and only after pressure from my faculty did they relent. In 2013 our usage dropped off precipitously. That same STEM publisher then told me “usage isn’t important” in demanding a 6% increase and a three year deal. The myth of the “partnership” is just that – a myth. I’m afraid I find Jenica’s vision a bit more reality based than the authors’.

  2. kathryn.kelly

    I was in the audience at Ms. Rogers’ presentation, and I applaud her then and now for speaking out on the issues she addressed in her talk. I have been a librarian for 27+ years in Acquisitions & Collection Development. Was her talk provocative? Yes. Was it somewhat shocking or out of the norm for these types of sessions? Yes. But, IMHO, it is so necessary! If most vendors had fair, transparent, and clearly-articulated pricing models, didn’t require non-disclosure agreements, etc. maybe I would have a different opinion. But, unfortunately, *most* of the time when I negotiate for the acquisition of resources (especially larger priced ones) I still get the sense I’m dealing with a car salesman. I’m glad that the authors of this blog have had different experiences in their negotiations, but, I would argue that the very fact that is true speaks to the need for fairness and transparency in pricing.
    Teri Koch
    Head, Collection Development
    Drake University
    Des Moines, IA

  3. Jane

    I found this response galling. To suggest that blog posts and Twitter posts are a monologue and not a dialogue is to *completely* miss the point of blogs and Twitter. Have the authors been to Jenica’s blog lately? She’s pretty responsive in her comments, especially those that disagree with her. The very picture of a dialogue, I would say.

    To suggest that asking for transparent pricing may not take “internal business systems” into account is a load of hooey. What does that even mean? If a vendor can’t provide further customization due to “internal business systems”, perhaps they need to invest in better business systems that allow them to recognize their individual client needs. As clients who accept that as an explanation, we are perpetuating the problem and contributing to an information economy that is getting increasingly unaffordable. Publishers need libraries just as much as libraries need publishers. And as my next point will demonstrate, there are a lot of libraries out there bringing new services to the table that could make the argument that maybe publishers aren’t as necessary in the long run as we may think.

    The authors purport that: “Often, librarians do not fully understand the costs associated with scholarly publishing and the mechanisms used by the entire publishing spectrum to produce content.” With respect, I respond with “BULLSHIT”. Are the authors aware of the fact that librarians can be, and increasingly are the creators of published content, or are partners in creating it (see university press and library partnerships)? Show me a school with an institutional repository that can’t host a journal. Give me a break. I find it highly disingenuous that SIX collections librarians from esteemed institutions made this statement in good conscience as a defense for accepting increased costs.

    I stand with Jenica. Change needs to come, and by keeping our heads in the sand and being scandalized when somebody uses controversial language to describe a fundamentally flawed process (i.e. the state of a lot of negotiations, particularly those that she has clearly described on her blog) is not going to bring it. We can do better than eating our own when they dare to speak out.

    Jane Schmidt
    Ryerson University Library and Archives
    Toronto, ON

  4. Cathy Doyle

    I have sympathy for publishers trying to figure out how to make a living in this new environment. However, I’m tired of telling vendors that my budget isn’t increasing and here about the 5% increase for new services that we don’t need. In talking with others at the director’s level there’s a growing sense that pricing is now based on what the market will bear and that publishers are making up excuses for prices as they go.

    I’m glad that the authors of this article have had positive experiences with the publishing world. I’ve had one or two myself. But to me, these instances are exceptions to the general trend of publishing, not a direction in and of itself.

    I agree with Teri, transparency in pricing is essential.

  5. John

    Here is what the authors of hit his article should have done: take historical pricing information, market data, and a brief explanation of the e-publishing landscape and give it to an economist, an psychologist, and a philosopher. Ask them to analyze the landscape. I think they would find that from an outsider’s perceptive, our relationships with vendors does constitute an lack of balance, perhaps even “abuse.” Instead, the authors of this article present ambiguous, anecdotal evidence that does nothing to refute Ms. Rogers’s claims.

  6. Andrew Shuping

    I’m sorry, I’m not a director or an electronic resources/serials librarian, but our traditional cooperation with publishers is what has gotten us to this point. Rising fees that our out of proportion with value, usage, access rights, and permissions. I am an Interlibrary Loan and Public Services librarian and I can count the number of times that these same publishers are milking us for all we’re worth just to gain access to an article or articles. I mean seriously, have you looked at the prices they charge for copyright fees? STEM publications are $40+. Copyright is its own problem, but publishers set what they want to charge and they know they have us over a barrel.

    As librarians we never want to disappoint our faculty or our students so we pay the price for materials, even as they go higher and higher. Add a program that has 3 PhD students, not related to the journal? “Sorry now you’re in a different classification and we’re going to charge you more.” I hate disappointing my faculty and students, but enough is enough. This ceased being a helpful partnership when our faculty and students have to find money to do research, send the article to a publisher so they can get tenure, and then the library has to pay exorbitant fees to get access to the work? How is that not abuse of the system? How is that a partnership to demand that we pay for work that we’re already paying for?

    Publishers are so far over the line of a productive relationship, that if this was a race the whistle would have just sounded and they would already be at the finish line. It’s time for a change.

  7. Mary Page

    This response to Jenica Rogers’ Charleston presentation generated some discussion on various blogs and on Twitter, and we’d like to respond to some of those criticisms. Our preference is to comment here alongside the original article.

    Jenica Rogers seems to think we want to silence her, which is not true. Actually, we urge her to engage in open and honest conversation with vendors and publishers instead of insisting on “everything in writing.” Our response was intended to demonstrate that there are other effective negotiation tactics. Conveying collective professional experiences that run counter to one’s own does not negate an opinion. It is simply a disagreement on the current realities in our community.

    In her talk, Ms. Rogers described the publisher/librarian relationship as abusive. Our criticism was that it was a poor analogy (way out of proportion, for starters) that was hurtful to those in the audience who had experienced abusive relationships, some of whom had to leave the presentation. Ms. Rogers misunderstood this criticism as a personal attack and a judgment on her own experiences, when in fact we took issue with her unfortunate analogy. Jenica Rogers has since apologized on her blog, and we appreciate her apology. We look forward to a constructive dialogue in the future.

    Posted by Mary Page on behalf of the authors.

    • Jenica Rogers

      How is requesting that communication be confirmed in writing, where it can be reproduced, shared, and discussed with more confidence because all the facts are clear to all participants, somehow not open or honest? You don’t explain that, but you keep saying it.

      • Preferably Anonymous

        As a publishing rep, can I offer some insight?

        For starters, oftentimes I’m much better equipped to gain a sense of what my customers are realistically able to do in conversation than in writing. I can spitball and BS and see what’s possible in a way that I can’t with HR looking over my shoulder. I can then take the fruits of that conversation back to my managers and argue on my customers’ behalf.

        Second, as the brouhaha this article has caused has amply demonstrated, tone can be misinterpreted in writing far more easily than in face-to-face dialogue. To wit, I don’t think the authors of this piece meant to dismiss your personal experience in the way you interpreted the article. Instead, I think they were responding to the fact that you painted publishers and vendors with a far-too-broad brush. That you’ve apologized for the pain you might have caused some of the people in the audience is a de facto acknowledgement that you concede their point, at least partially.

        Third, and personally, I’m a socialist! I wound up in sales because that’s the way the cookie crumbles and not everyone can do what they love. That you liken me to people who hold their partners captive in emotionally or physically abusive relationships is laughable, all the more so since I care considerably more about the well-being of my customers than I do about the well-being of my company.

        Being provocative and startling for its own sake isn’t a virtue. To be frank, the majority of the conversation I’ve seen so far on Twitter and your blog has simply been a loud echo-chamber of your cheerleaders egging you on. That you allow yourself to be blinded by this to open and honest criticism from your peers in the library world is disappointing.

        Librarians have legitimate concerns to voice with respect to their relationships with publishers and vendors. I agree with you there (though I do think that part of the problem with your consistently flat budgets lies with the people running the libraries, sorry — and I eagerly await the victim-blaming accusations I’ll get for deigning to mention that, since this has somehow become a conversation about domestic abuse instead of, you know, business transactions).

        I don’t expect you to take any of this to heart, especially since I’ve identified myself as a sales rep, but I hope you think about it. In the end, I don’t think you’re moving the conversation forward at all; in fact, you’re doing the opposite. You’re giving your peers an excuse to feel victimized by what the rest of the world regards as simply a couple of shitty days at work. You know what the rest of us do? We deal with it. And then we move on.

        • Jenica Rogers

          “That you’ve apologized for the pain you might have caused some of the people in the audience is a de facto acknowledgement that you concede their point, at least partially.”

          No. No it does not. I stand by my experiences and my understanding of them. I have not disavowed or retracted my statement: I have apologized for the consequences of making it. Those are different things.

          Broad brush, yes, that I will agree to, to an extent. Any speech ends up broad-brushing at some point. But I also think that I was very clear that I was speaking about my own experiences, and how they have shaped my perspectives. And my experiences have, not uniformly but often, not been good. I wish, deeply, that weren’t true, and openly value and praise the partners with which it is true.

      • Mary Page

        Asking for communications to be confirmed in writing makes sense. You gave the impression though that every exchange must be in writing, and that you wouldn’t meet for coffee with a publisher to discuss issues of concern. My experience has been different from yours (not better or worse, just different) in that open and honest face-to-face conversation with publishers and vendors has produced good results for the students and researchers I serve.

  8. Emily

    I wanted to respond as one of the individual authors to our editorial because I am tired of people questioning my integrity or inaccuracies left uncorrected. First, we stated quite clearly in our editorial that we have also publicly addressed concerns in presentations, articles, or at our home institutions. Is every publisher or vendor perfect? Of course not. No one should accept terms that harm your institution. We wouldn’t be responsible stewards of our institution’s resources if we did not effectively negotiate with information providers. I have also experienced backlash after unsuccessful negotiations. A few years ago, I had to complain to a VP for Sales that one of his representatives was publicly spreading misinformation about a decision I participated in. My name was attached to a offensive word to women. It was offensive and unprofessional. I have also had representatives go above my head and complain to a boss when I’ve walked away from a negotiation. Is it pleasant? Of course not. Despite a reputation as a tough negotiator, I can count on more successful negotiations and partnerships, which is why I was uncomfortable with Jenica’s presentation, Plenty of colleagues throughout my career can support my claim that I don’t have patience for ineffective or offensive people, either from the representative or librarian ranks. We shouldn’t be passive and I don’t think the majority of librarians are just accepting poor terms. I also don’t think all publishers or vendors are bad.

    But, as someone who has loved ones who have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, I never felt that any of those business situations reached that level of fear. It was just stupidity or unprofessionalism. I was stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship for years. My negative experiences outlined above never equated that feeling of powerlessness that I felt in my personal life. I have also experienced threats of violence in the workplace. Along with several other colleagues, our lives were threatened by a co-worker. So, I have seen and experienced it both in my personal and professional life. It is what prompted me to speak up. I saw people visibly upset by the domestic abuse analogy. I know of people who either cried or who had to walk out of the presentation because they were upset. It is wrong. Right now I am mostly upset at the personal attacks against Jill, Mary, Jim, Anne, Michael, and me for expressing a difference of opinion. In the last few weeks, I have been sworn at, called a mansplainer (four of the authors are women) an evildoer, and told I am suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I hardly see those responses as constructive. It definitely seemed like a monologue on Jenica’s blog and Twitter. It has certainly gone beyond the level of anything I have ever experienced from a publisher or vendor. I see that as trying to silence difference of opinions.

    • silentlibrarian

      Emily, thank you for your courageous response. I was in the audience at the Charleston conference at Jenica Rogers’ presentation. My response was similar to yours. I’ve observed the cruel remarks on twitter that have been directed toward you and your coauthors. They are bullies. You have a different experience, and they say you are saying their experience doesn’t count. This position shuts down honest exchange and communication. We can have different experiences. We can disagree. But disparaging dissenting opinion works against the open and transparent communication that those bullies champion. I am fearful of posting this under my name, because real dialog doesn’t seem to be valued among these critics. They will say I have Stockholm syndrome, or worse.

      Thank you for this post.

  9. Academic Librarian (name respectfully withheld)

    This is an interesting response to Ms. Rogers keynote. As I was listening to it at Charleston, many of the points she made resonated with me. However, like the authors above, I did not think they represented all of us. I have taken a somewhat realistic point of view when it comes to what we can provide and what we are being asked for. I would love to say that every resource that I have wanted for my campus, I have been able to obtain at a price I felt was appropriate and fair. But ultimately, I have a price from the vendor and I have to figure out if the price makes sense for me and my needs. There is no way that that formula can spit out a single price that works for all audiences.

    In regards to my vendors asking me to do things that I am uncomfortable with. I am not sure that anyone has asked me necessarily for something that was illegal, in fact I am sure of that. I am sure that people asked me to do things that I could not or would not do based on my preferences or governance here at my university. In those cases, I had a simple solution – I told them ‘no’. But this is not just a one-way street. I have asked vendors to do things that they were uncomfortable with or were against their policies – and they told me ‘no.’ That is where those conversations have ended. That is part of the negotiation process – it is fine. But since the libraries are the ones that write the checks, they control the ultimate outcome. We purchase a product or we do not. If faculty want something and we (as the library) cannot afford it, then we explain that and move on. If our vendors are asking for larger increases than we can afford, we push back. It is a matter of trying to find where both parties can be comfortable with the outcome. That is true at academic libraries at every level.

    To that end, if we had the Stockholm Syndrome, it is certainly NOT with our vendors. Instead, it is with our administrators, especially those outside the walls of the library. Our vendors and publishers set prices – we then decide if we want to keep these resources on our campuses and for our communities. Our administrators provide the space (physical and financial) where we operate. This is where some of the more significant problems facing libraries have come from. Our vendors do not take over our space, they do not scale back our staff, and they do not cut our budgets. These days, and this is why I have respectfully withheld my name, I have had better relationships with my vendors than with my own administration. Our roles in academic libraries are complicated without doubt. But our threats are not singularly found within the people who charge us for content.

  10. "Oldbrarian"

    When we look at the breadth of her work, as characterized on her own blog and on her Twitter, Mrs. Rogers routinely recreates otherwise nominal managerial issues into conflicts; ACS, the way she resolved a student request for tape at her desk, how she rebuffed the written criticism above on her Twitter with profanity and rudeness (which is only a poor imitation of strength). She best prefers to make decisions amidst conflict, it seems. In other words she starts fights so she can win them.
    With that habit in mind, with how many times she references her prominence as a librarian hero against ACS through the course of this speech, a possibility arises as to why her experience with vendors is her experience with vendors: this is how she requires it to be.
    If her presentations encourage librarians to be like her, it is up to those members of our profession to decide if it is wise and humane to give themselves permission to indulge in anger by accepting a personal victim mentality. Our profession is not about us, our individual esteem within the profession, how many supporters we can muster across the Internet, or what kind of brand our name becomes. It is about those we serve. The only metric that matters is what helps them both in the immediate as well as in the years ahead. We don’t think that creating hostile working relationships (with vendors, users, or colleagues) will benefit our users in the long run.

    • Meredith

      To “Oldbrarian,” as someone who has known and respected, but has not always agreed with, Jenica, I can say that you are cherrypicking here with a serious case of confirmation bias. Just looking for things that confirm your negative view of Jenica so that you can attack her ideas is a cheap tactic. Jenica is a very good person, a strong person, and a person who has been willing to weather personal attacks in order to share things that many others were too afraid to share publicly, which in my view is courageous. She’s started important conversation and has actually fostered change. I don’t agree with everything Jenica writes on her blog nor with everything she said at Charleston (though, on the whole, I did like her speech a good deal and support more transparency in vendor/librarian relations), but I do think that attacking her (or the authors of this article, some of whom I also know, like, and respect) on a personal level rather than at the level of the idea they are sharing is cheap and nasty and wrong. Grow up “oldbrarian” and any other person who has dismissed the ideas on either side of this issue based on anything beyond the ideas they’ve shared.

  11. Anonymous Academic Libn

    I don’t think vendors or publishers are abusive or the ‘enemy.’ In my work with serials and eresources I have had good working relationships, and our consortium got some valuable deals. I agree with the other poster who stated that sometimes our own administrations seem more hostile and less understanding of our needs. But I do think it can become an unhealthy situation when an association or society publisher is also involved in university accreditation. They can then state that their products are necessary for a department’s accreditation. In my experience, I was never ‘gouged’ for prices because of that, but I wondered what other, more experienced folks have to say about that particular circumstance.


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