Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Looking back at vendors and the AALL Annual Meeting

Recently, registration opened for the 2022 AALL Annual Meeting (shameless promotion! Register here) and I began to think about past conferences.

Luckily, and perhaps amazingly, AALL keeps a record online of all past conference locations going back to the first meeting in 1906 (help in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island). Scrolling through the list I realized that many older locations were in smaller cities, likely due to the to the smaller size of the organization.

Scrolling though the list is a great distraction:

“Hey, it was held in Saratoga Springs! I used to live near there!”

“French Lick, Indiana? Where’s that? To Google maps!”

Needless to say, this list can be a great game!

However, I also realized (and I promise, this is connected to CRIV) that several meetings were held in Rochester, New York (1945 and 1978). A wonderful city, but also (former) home of Lawyer’s Co-Op. I don’t know the details of these meetings, but I have a feeling that the location of a major legal vendor played a role. Of course, this could also be nothing more than a coincidence.

What role should vendors have in supporting the annual meeting? Is it fine to have vendors sponsor events at a meeting?

I realize and recognize the amazing work that the AALL annual meeting planning committee does, and don’t want to second-guess decisions. What if a vendor, say Bloomberg Law offered to sponsor a meeting but wanted it in New York City? Or maybe in the digital age location matters much less than it did in 1945 or 1978.

What makes a “good” vendor?

Deciding the criteria for a “good” vendor is a personalized and complicated question to answer. The needs and priorities of libraries vary tremendously even in the (relatively!) small world of law libraries. While the exact importance of factors may vary, I suggest that these are items we should be reviewing when we review vendors:

  • Product. Does the product fill a need? Does this item (print subscription, database, service) fill the need that still exists? Are there other alternatives? Changes in library staff, leadership, law school program changes, technology, and the marketplace make it useful to re-examine a product’s need in your library.
  • Cost. Sometimes cost will be an absolute number while other times it is best expressed as cost per use.
  • Usage. Is this item used by most of the first year class? By an entire upper-level writing course? By a single faculty member for scholarship? Although these questions may appear to be framed as “good” to “bad”, maybe that resource is key to that single faculty member’s scholarship. How much weight to place on this factor will vary depending on budgetary needs, however even low-use items may be of great importance to key members of the law school community.
  • Vendor commitment to equity and social justice. How committed is the vendor to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Is this surface-level commitment via social media or are there concrete steps taken by the company? See earlier posts on this blogs for some great examples of vendor action in this area.
  • Customer service. What happens when things go wrong? Flexibility can also fall into this category

Finding a balance between these factors can be tricky. What about a great product with poor customer service? An expensive product with low usage? There are many tricky questions we could ponder. However, this small blog post is simply a reminder against not examining any factors and thinking the scariest phrase in all of collection development: “we’ve always done it this way”.

Inflation & CRIV

Recently inflation is in the news (see the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and AP). Rising inflation is a hot economic topic as the prices for many common items soar. Even bacon is 20% more expensive from 2020 to 2021. Bacon!

So, what does this have to do with CRIV?

Well, potentially nothing, but it also might be a useful metric in gauging the reasonability of vendor pricing increases during negotiation of renewals.

The Department of Labor created a Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calculator available here. This calculator allows you to enter in prices for a particular year and month and see the equivalent in other years & months. The calculator lets users compare prices from 1913 to present. Although the calculator is handily displayed on one screen, there are extensive resources to look behind the curtain available.

For example, $10,000 in November 2016 has the same buying power as $11,459.94 in October 2021. Furthermore, that same $10,000 in November 2006 now has a buying power of $13,726.50 today. Needless to say, this calculator can be a great distraction but it does help provide some context for vendor pricing.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this resource. Notable, it is the Consumer Price Index. It is looking at the buying power of “. . . All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) U.S. city average series for all items, not seasonally adjusted”. Needless to say, there are many categories such as food and gasoline, but legal databases and books are not included.

But don’t worry bacon costs are well documented in the CPI.

Is this background useful when negotiating with vendors? Are law library resources too specialized that a general consumer price index is too disconnected to be useful? Should there be a law library inflation index? Let me know in the comments below.