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Communicating With Vendors in Support of DEI Collection Evaluations
Volume 46, Number 1 - January/February 2022

Vendor Response

Because the letter was initially sent only to vendors with which the library had an established relationship, there was some concern that intentions would be misconstrued or that it would be seen as a precursor for cancellation of subscriptions. However, this was not the case. Vendor response to the letter was outstanding.

Eleven vendor representatives replied directly to the emailed letter with information about their diversity initiatives and policies. One vendor asked to share the letter with other universities which were also involved with diversity initiatives on their camp uses. This sharing of information led to meetings with other libraries about our project and suggestions to fit their needs. As a result of these positive responses, the library immediately implemented the letter as a standard point of communication with all new potential vendors. When we decided not to enter into business with one particular vendor, we received valuable feedback from the vendor, which now felt better prepared to respond to DEI information requests in future communications with other universities.

These initial responses paved the way to new avenues of communication with all of our vendors. Thanks to our newly established best practices, the library saw a strong change in how our vendors communicated with us, not only in response to the DEI letter but also in all interactions. Emails between vendor representatives and the library liaison became more relevant. Gone were the useless emails about products that would never be purchased. Instead, we received more tailored and relevant emails that fit into our collection and diversity requirements. System-generated emails still made their way through, but vendor-created communications were far more effective and useful.

Regularly scheduling vendor and library meetings on a rotating basis enabled vendors to highlight new products and titles that might support our collection goals. The library liaison created the rotating schedule and began to hold introductory meetings with all new vendor representatives assigned to our accounts after it had become apparent that account needs may not always be clearly communicated during transitions to new representatives. This open dialogue encouraged an honest exchange on both the part of the vendor and the library as to each other’s needs and abilities. In return, contract negotiations became easier, and library vendors could leverage DEI as a selling point.

Vendors began to take additional steps in our communication and negotiation meetings. Many were willing to update existing packages to include additional DEI materials at no additional cost to the library. This allowed us to add thousands of dollars’ worth of relevant items to the collection without altering our budget, asking for additional funds, or canceling other subscriptions. Vendors provided us with ebooks of our choosing in exchange of annual access fees, allowing us to effectively illustrate proof of value to subscriptions and the campus DEI initiative as applied by the library.

Subsequent Communications

After the success of the first year of the program, the library implemented the inclusion of the DEI letter to all vendors that enter into agreements with the library. Further, a response to the letter is now required from all vendor representatives for inclusion in their contract and communication folder that is maintained by the electronic resources and acquisitions librarian. This has led to additional conversations from vendors which do not provide resources that we were necessarily initially concerned about.

For example, one of our vendors provides us with a business database that evaluates startup companies and projects growth within certain business areas. The library considered waiving the DEI requirement because of the type of data provided. But, following a casual conversation with the vendor representative, the company actually requested the letter be sent and that it be allowed to discuss what it was doing as a company in the area of diversity. In response to our letter, we received amazing information about outreach and company policies and how the vendor viewed and embraced DEI as businesses. This information actually provided the library with additional data that can be leveraged in the future for funding requirements.

Moving Forward

Where do we go from here? The library will continue to communicate with vendors via our new best practice-established guidelines, taking into account vendor feedback and changes to library needs in the future. We will practice relationship- and team-building that include our outside vendors as part of the library team, including them in decisions which could potentially affect their abilities to serve our collection and campus needs. And the library will strive to provide open and honest feedback to our contracted vendor representatives throughout all communications and negotiations.

Our university is a values-based institution. Three of our values are integrity, respect, and collaboration. We believe that communicating with our vendors in this new format allows us not only to work and live by these values, but provides our vendors with the opportunity to do the same. In changing how we communicate with our outside vendor partners, we have opened the door to new opportunities for collection growth and healthier working relationships. Vendors cannot possibly know what a university collection needs if they are not told. Communication is key to collection growth.

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Elizabeth Speer is electronic resources and acquisitions librarian, Gilson D. Lewis Health Science Library, University of North Texas.


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