BCLA 2017: Maximizing Library Vendor Relationships: The Inside Scoop

Notes from the first afternoon session on developing library vendor relationships.

Scott Hargrove, Jeff Narver, FVRL

How to develop a relationship of trust, mutual respect, and partnership.

You’re the customer, you can do whatever you want. Vendors are an integral part of a library’s business.

Goal of the Presentation

  • define and enhance optimal vendor/library relationships.
  • confidence in working with vendors.
  • asking the right questions
  • managing expectations
  • true partnerships: Vendors should be seen as partners of providing services. Should each want success of the other.

Relationship Stages Vendor

Similar to personal relationship stages.

  1. Dating
  2. Romance and Promise
  3. Settling Down
  4. Rebellion and Power Struggles
  5. Reconciliation and Renewal

Stage One: Dating

  • understanding what you want
  • understanding who you are
  • what are you looking for? produce/process improvement/technology, vendor, rep
  • anxiety and jitters are natural
  • sometimes need to understand, people need to vent past baggage

Stage Two: Romance and Promise

  • who does what? roles and responsibilities
  • understand that sometimes speak in different “languages”
  • expectations: are you making my life easier/better?
  • fear: can be hard to articulate expectations, concerns; afraid not getting the right thing, work into future, etc.
  • conquered by understanding what you want, asking peers, relationship of trust
  • suggest bringing in vendors at the right time
  • you’re the expert on your own business: tell them what you want done, and let them come up with the solution
  • should expect vendor to know the library as well or better than you do

Stage Three: Settling Down

  • don’t assume: reaffirm needs and wants
  • clear communication, and have communication structures in place
  • review expectations and ensure meeting requirements
  • meet the “family”: bring staff in early by giving overview and then to vendor meeting; vendor should bring appropriate staff at the right times: technical, sales, IT, marketing, management
  • sometimes it’s the little things: remember special events, interests change over time

Stage Four: Rebellion and Power Struggles

  • challenges are opportunity to review relationship
  • revising expectations
  • conflicts can build stronger relationship
  • good partners will stick around and make it work
  • staff change will create tension
  • need to make sure things are stating things clearly
  • if vendors don’t hear, often assume nothing wrong.
  • want vendors who regularly check in
  • ask about what is coming down the line in short term: if good vendor, will tell you
  • generally have to go to market every 5-7 years
  • how to keep loyal: example: vendor suggested using RFP from another library
  • vendor might be able to provide services not known for: art, legal, purchasing (RFP)
  • modern alternatives e.g. EOI
  • should there be such a thing as loyalty? should earn the right to work with the library

Stage Five: Reconciliation and Renewal

  • use your consumer experiences as a guide
  • project post-mortem/regular reviews
  • need to involve vendor in reviews and post-mortems. Vendors are experts in this area.
  • only limited by the creativity of your organization: ask for what you want, ask for the moon/sun
  • attend vendor events, vendor should reciprocate and attend special events


  • it is all about trust
  • communication
  • mutual support
  • manage expectations
  • first mover advantage
  • don’t assume

Break Time

Just don’t eat a tortoise!
baby tortoise

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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