Law Librarians and Legal Information Vendors – an Uneasy Symbiosis

Al Podboy, Director of Library Services at Baker Hostetler, has some useful and provocative thoughts on about law librarians and their relationship to vendors:

Can law librarians encourage a similar relationship between their law firm libraries and legal information vendors? The librarian-vendor relationship has historically been antagonistic. It often appears to the law librarian that legal information vendors simply dictate terms and change policies without any collaboration. Law librarians then react, often bitterly. They lament the perceived control the vendors exercise over the information world. It appears to be a situation of “big” vendors and “little” law libraries, with little constructive communication between the parties. Rather then lament the situation, would it not be better to take a proactive business approach — where both sides simply seek better product? Where both parties recognize that they share the same goals — such as reasonable profit, excellent service and timely information at a fair price?

Law librarians, by kedging or improving legal information vendors’ product, also kedge themselves. Similar to the kedging sailors on a quiet sea, the legal information world can move forward if it recognizes its common and shared goals. A constructive partnership is a key to success for both law libraries and their vendors.

Law librarians can kedge their vendors, and don’t be surprised if the vendors do the same.

Both law librarians and their legal information vendors share the same goals of reasonable profits, best products and best service.

If law librarians share their ideas and build their relationships with vendors, both parties can partner to create better products and protocols. By partnering, legal information vendors and law librarians can pull themselves together into the future.


  1. [rant on]

    I firmly believe law librarians and legal vendors should be working in partnership, to understand one another and work to each other’s mutual benefit.

    The Canadian Association of Law Libraries’ Vendor Liaison Committee and similar liaison committees in our local associations work closely with the vendors to build good relations. It is through these good relationships that we can address issues and work to the benefit of both.

    Case in point is the CALL VLC subcommittee on loose leafs that explored–sometimes in pain-staking detail–issues surrounding loose leaf services. The result is the CALL- VLC code of good practices for loose-leaf publications. Both librarians and vendor representatives participated, were open and forth-coming during the process, and as a result we managed to reach a consensus.

    I really hope that we build on the good work done by the association committees and abolish the unfortunate attitude some still hold that vendors are somehow the “evil empire”. Without vendors and publishers helping in the creation and supply of our books and other information, we simply would not have libraries.

    Librarians can work, on an individual or organizational level, with their vendor representatives to guide them towards products and services they would find most helpful. If they find something objectionable, they need to find diplomatic ways to explain their positions and help the vendor or publisher understand the concern. Having good day-to-day relationships with the vendor reps goes a long way in helping with this.

    [rant off]