Career Strategies for Librarians
Mind Your Manners: Don’t Be That Librarian or Vendor Representative
by Clint Chamberlain and Jill Emery
Our profession is rife with hundreds of stories of the inappropriate behaviors exhibited by both librarians
and vendors. After listening to a recent exchange of such stories, we decided that perhaps the time had
come to recommend some guidelines for our colleagues on both sides of the librarian/vendor divide.
We hope that our gentle words of advice might help someone avoid some of these unfortunate
GUIDELINES FOR LIBRARIANS
Hey! Hey! Big Spender! Gentle librarians, while it is true that our vendor colleagues are often endowed
with the magic of expense accounts, these are by no means bottomless and/or unaccountable spending
sprees that should be showered upon you. When accepting invitations to lunches, dinners, and/or
parties, be as reasonable with your expenditures as you would if you were paying for the meal or event
with your own funds. First, find out what is considered the appropriate business meal expenditure by
your home institution and what you are allowed to accept under your home organization’s guidelines.
Secondly, refrain from ordering the most expensive items on a menu. Bear in mind that an expense
account is just that -- an accounting of expenditures -- and with the current economic state, vendors are
being asked to scale back on expenditures just like librarians are. When in doubt, follow the lead of your
vendor representative; let them order first and mimic their lead when ordering drinks and appetizers.
Never feel afraid to ask if something is appropriate to order, as most vendors will appreciate your candor.
One’s a Guest and Three’s a Crowd. When you are invited to join a vendor for an event or meal, please
don’t extend the invitation to your work colleagues unless you’re asked to do so. If you’re at a conference
and receive an invitation when you already have a dinner scheduled with your colleague or friend, check
with the vendor to see if you can add one to the party. Many times, the vendor is attempting to arrange to
introduce counterparts at various organizations within their service area and have already invited others
besides you.. They may also have a limit on the number of people they can entertain at an event, and are
often targeting the decision makers within your organization.
Silence Is Not Always Golden. When a vendor sends a standard update on products or product
availability, it is fine not to reply. However, when a vendor attempts to contact you directly about a specific
issue such as a late payment, service problem or disruption, return the call and work with the vendor to
try to resolve the situation. Getting a reputation as someone who will not communicate hurts your
professional image. Vendors understand that you may not always be available to return calls
immediately or that you may need to investigate the details of the issue prior to responding. The vendor
is doing their job by initiating contact; it is part of your job to respond.
In addition, if a vendor contacts you about arranging a visit, please let him or her know promptly if the
suggested schedule for visiting will work for you. In general, vendors will visit several libraries in your
area when they are in town, so your timely response helps them schedule other visits and handle the
logistics of getting from place to place.
If You Can’t Say Anything Nice … While we are on the subject of communication, let us also address
the all-too-common problem of the Flaming Email. When protected by the distancing effect of email,
some otherwise calm Dr. Jekylls will turn into ill-mannered Mr. Hydes, sending antagonistic emails to
their vendors or customer service representatives, although they would never dream of being so
discourteous in person or on the phone. Our communications represent our respective institutions, not
to mention ourselves. I It behooves us to have a pleasant and congenial manner, even when firmly
expressing your displeasure. So, before you send off that email full of hellfire and brimstone, set it aside
for later, and reword it in a more constructive manner after you have calmed down.
Great Expectations. Many of us work directly with account representatives for vendors and service
providers. These account representatives have a good working knowledge of their systems and
products but there will be times when they will need to consult with others or pass our questions on to
another person within their organization. We need to be realistic about what our customer service
account representatives can provide and also recognize we’re not their sole customers. They’re usually
working with a number of accounts which means they’re trying to respond to multiple questions and
concerns all at the same time. It is a good rule of thumb to allow three business days for a reply to a
standard inquiry. Within that time, you should receive a message stating the concern/question is
recognized and an answer will be forthcoming.
Don’t Be Miss Havisham. When a vendor doesn’t meet your expectations in regards of one form of
service or product management, do not then make blanket assumptions regarding their entire range of
services and products without being able to back up your statements. Often a vendor has a good track
record in one specific service or product but may not be so stellar in other services or products. We all
have our strengths and weaknesses and this is true in the library marketplace as well. You do not do
yourself any favors maligning a vendor broadly due to the mismanagement or poor service delivered in
just one area of business. Register your complaints first with the vendor in question regarding the
specific problems before telling everyone else about the problem.
In the Interest of Full Disclosure, Part I. Remember that, vendors are business partners. When in
social situations, it is polite to make small talk that includes personal details about yourself, but you do
not need to go into great details regarding your personal life. Mentioning you are a pet owner is a great
conversation starter; describing a pet’s recent intestinal distress in detail is disclosing too much.
GUIDELINES FOR VENDORS
In the Interest of Full Disclosure, Part II. Vendors, the same words apply to you. In a word: Don’t, at
least not until we’re really good friends. And even then, think twice.
Our Dance Cards are Full. Yes, Really! Gentle vendors, if you want to plan a dinner or some other
meeting with us at a conference, please give us ample advance notice. Don’t call us up a day or two
before the event assuming that our schedules are wide open. Don’t you know us by now? Although
there are exceptions to every rule, we are often a chatty bunch with busy social calendars, and
conference time equals social time. In addition to business-related meetings with other vendors and
colleagues, we also schedule dinners with friends when time allows. If you wait until the last minute to
invite us out, our schedules will most likely be full.
Stalking: It’s Not Just for Celebrities. Most of us have been asked on dates by that annoying person
who never took the hint that we weren't interested, whether those hints were subtle ones about having to
wash our hair AGAIN or were as direct as, "No. Really. I am not going out with you. Do not call me
again. EVER." Vendors, please take the hint. If we tell you no, that we're not interested in a product,
please make note of that fact -- and don't ask to demonstrate it to us again. If we change our minds or
do become interested in that product or service, we'll call. Really. That doesn’t mean that you should
never contact us about your other products or services, or drop us a note every now and then to see if we’
re interested in doing business in general terms. Just please don’t ask us repeatedly about products
that we’ve already told you we’re not interested in buying.
And speaking of product demos…
Canned vs. Fresh. We can tell when you're going through the motions, as well as when we already
know more about your product than you do. To continue with the dating analogy, we do like to be wooed.
Put a little effort into your presentations. Although the days of libraries being flush with cash may well be
over, we might occasionally have a little bit extra to spend on products or services that we'd like to have
but which may not necessarily be essential. You might be amazed at the difference a really great
product demo can make when we’re asked to decide between competing products or services --
especially when that decision involves whether to invite you back to give another demo.
Vendor Don’t Preach. More tips on how to woo us: First, don’t gas on and on about the basic things
your product can do that we probably have learned in library school and that are so fundamental as to be
a given. We all know about using Boolean logic and garden-variety search delimiters. Having it
demonstrated to us is, well, boring. Wow us with your content and special features. Second on the list,
yet more egregious, don’t preach to us about what competing products or services to cancel in order to
be able to afford the products or services you’re trying to sell us. Gentle vendors, we beg of you to
remember what our jobs are. Just provide us with information about whatever it is that you’re selling.
We’ll make the decisions about what to do with our budgets.
Don’t One-Up Your Customers. Sometimes, dear vendor, you may feel compelled to correct your
librarian colleagues when they make an error. If it’s something you feel must be challenged at that very
moment, please do so gently and tactfully – and preferably not in front of others. An even better tactic is
to offer to research the matter and get back to the individual later. But please, don’t call us up out of the
blue to correct us about an offhand comment we may have made to you while walking through the library
lobby. It reeks of schoolmarm and leaves us feeling scolded. Even if we do have our facts wrong, think
twice before rubbing our faces in it. There generally is a kinder, gentler way to convey that information
that will leave us feeling grateful for both the correction and for your good manners.
Don’t Pop Up. All of this advice may make you feel that librarians are the Mean Kids who won’t let you
approach them at school. Don't try to avoid this rejection via phone or email by popping in just because
you're in the neighborhood. Imagine how you'd feel if we invaded your office unannounced when you
were working on a tight deadline. Librarians these days are stretched to the limit more than ever. Our
time is at a premium. Call ahead. If we have the time, or even if we don't but we really want to visit with
you, we'll work you into our schedules if you give us advance notice.
Mind Your Manners
We may not aspire to become clones of Emily Post, but good manners are certainly not out of reach. It’s
clichéd but true to say that good manners are the grease that keeps the wheels of social and business
interactions running smoothly. Please consider the points above as suggestions to guide you on your
way to healthier, more congenial, and more productive interactions between you and your colleagues on
both sides of the librarian/vendor relationship.
About the Author
Clint Chamberlain is Coordinator for Information Resources at the University of Texas at Arlington in
Arlington, Texas, where he oversees collection management and content acquisition for all of the UT-
Arlington libraries. He is active in the ALCTS Continuing Resources Section and the North American
Serials Interest Group.
Jill Emery is Head of Acquisitions at The University of Texas Libraries in Austin, Texas. In this position
she oversees the acquiring and receipt of content in a myriad of formats for a premier academic
research library in North America. She is also Past President of the North American Serials Interest
Group and a columnist for the Journal of Electronic Resource Librarianship & The Charleston Advisor.
Article published May 2010
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