Monday, March 17, 2014

Resource Sharing: SCELC Vendor Day

I recently attended the annual “Vendor Day” for the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC.) The concept of Vendor Day is to bring librarians and vendors who market electronic resources to libraries together. The relationship between these groups can be uncomfortable. Not many librarians get into the profession because they want to negotiate contracts or deal with high-pressure sales. In fact, we generally think all information should be freely available to anyone who needs it. So we are likely to feel like we’re in hostile territory in a room filled with information sellers who need to stay in business.

Nevertheless, every year Vendor Day draws more than 200 librarians from across the state of California. We come to not only meet the more than 50 vendors who attend the event but to sit in on a number of hour-long presentations given by these sales representatives over the course of the day.

Why do librarians go to Vendor Day?

1) It’s free. There is no registration fee and we don’t even have to pay for parking. The vendors pay for a continental breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks. We just have to pay our own travel expenses to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

2) We get presents. Vendors bring incentive gifts – pens, sticky notes, tote bags, USB flash drives, candy, and other items with company logos and contact information imprinted on them to get us to talk to them. (This year my favorite take-home was a T-shirt that says, “Keep Calm and Ask A Librarian” from Springer Publishing) There was even a raffle for two Kindle Paper White readers.

Mary from Westmont College and I
made a modest librarian bowling team.
3) Friendly competition. To prove that they are human too, vendors treat librarians to an evening of bowling, pizza, and drinks the night before the event. (SCELC Colloquium Day is the day before Vendor Day, so many librarians stay afterwards to participate.) Although the vendors always win, we get to make connections on a more personal level. It gives us something else to talk about besides money the next day.

4) Home court advantage. Vendors are invited to come and play by our rules. SCELC negotiates reasonable pricing models for its member libraries ahead of time.

5) Learning opportunity. Some of these companies, products, and services are based on new, largely untested, cutting edge technology. As responsible stewards of our institution’s limited resources, librarians must be wary of going out on such limbs. In this environment, we have an opportunity to learn about them discuss the ramifications with birds of a feather.

6) Safety in numbers. Sales representatives make buyers feel vulnerable on a one-on-one basis. On Vendor Day librarians are not alone. There are over 200 colleagues with whom we can discuss issues, share concerns, and formulate questions that can to help us make confident decisions.

Why do vendors from all over the country invest so much into sponsoring this event? 

Besides the bragging rights of winning the bowling competition, they learn valuable information from their target audience, make quality contacts, and of course, make sales.

All this results in resource sharing.

Before SCELC was formed, every library was on its own to negotiate the price and license terms of information resources. Bigger libraries with bigger budgets hired people who were skilled in the art of negotiations. Smaller libraries like Hope were at a distinct disadvantage. Vendors did not see us as significant players in the information market. Because there are over 100 private academic libraries in this resource-sharing consortium who speak as one, smaller schools have a seat at the table along with the big SCELC member schools such as USC and the Claremont Colleges. We can all offer the same quality online research databases and tools to our students because pricing is scalable - usually based on the size of the student body.

After Vendor Day, follow-up conversations with sales reps are more relaxed and decisions are easier to make.

What products do we get through SCELC? Nearly all of the subscription Research Databases on our website, LibAnswers, LibGuides, and more! We save thousands of dollars every year even after paying our membership dues and surcharges.

I have long thought that resource sharing is vital for libraries. SCELC was established in 1986 “to develop resource-sharing among the libraries of private academic institutions throughout California.” ( As a member of the SCELC Board of Directors, I have a growing appreciation for the work that goes into making such partnerships work. As new resource sharing initiatives are developed you can be sure that Hope will be participating!


Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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