Acquisitions & Vendors
After completing this session, you'll be able to:
- describe the process of acquisitions.
- define and provide examples of vendors.
- describe the process of identifying, evaluating, selecting, and choosing a vendor.
- discuss real-world issues related to acquisitions and vendors.
Begin by viewing the class presentation Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page for more detail.
Explore each of the following topics on this page:
Acquisitions involves the process of budgeting, ordering, receiving, and processing materials for the library collection.
ODLIS defines acquisitions as
"the process of selecting, ordering, and receiving materials for library or archival collections by purchase, exchange, or gift, which may include budgeting and negotiating with outside agencies, such as publishers, dealers, and vendors, to obtain resources to meet the needs of the institution's clientele in the most economical and expeditious manner.
Also refers to the department within a library responsible for selecting, ordering, and receiving new materials and for maintaining accurate records of such transactions, usually managed by an acquisitions librarian. In small libraries, the acquisitions librarian may also be responsible for collection development, but in most public and academic libraries, this responsibility is shared by all the librarians who have an active interest in collection building, usually on the basis of expertise and subject specialization."
The American Library Association offers a Statement on Principles and Standards of Acquisitions Practice for librarians to consider as they make purchasing decisions.
Gregory (2011, 82) identified three types of information items that must be considered in acquisitions.
- Those that are owned by the library
- Those that are leased by the library
- Those that are accessed electronically by the library (or its users)
A key role of those involved with acquisitions is the selection and use of vendors.
Coordination is needed between selection and acquisition. Equipment and materials are acquired through the following means:
- solicitation of free items
Acquisition involves a number of tasks. First, develop a knowledge of the suppliers and select a jobber. A positive relationship with your vendors can be very important. Next, process requests and monitor the expenditures. Finally, maintain clear records of your purchases. You'll want to acquire materials quickly and keep the process simple.
A vendor is a company who purchases and stocks virtual or physical materials for the library.
ODLIS defines a vendor as
"a company in the business of providing access to a selection of bibliographic databases, online or on CD-ROM, by subscription (examples: EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale, etc.) or on a per search basis (OCLC FirstSearch and DIALOG), usually under licensing agreement. Providers of nonprint media are also commonly referred to as vendors."
Currently, there are approximately 60,000 publishers around the world, 2,000 publishers of academic journals. The vendor is defined as a wholesaler or middle man through which library materials are purchased. So the vendors sell products or services to a library. These are items the vendor buys from publishers. Vendors can also be considered as an intermediary who connects the library’s need with the materials or products to meet that need. The vendor can also be called a variety of other names, including agent, bookseller, dealer, distributor, jobber, provider, supplier, or wholesaler.
There are several ways to locate vendors, and the best plan is to use a combination of resources. A number of directories have been developed to help you get started. Some of these include Literary Market Place, International Literary Market Place, and Guide to International Subscription Agencies and Book Distributors. Talking with vendors at conferences about their products is another good way to see which ones offer what services. Keeping up with the literature in library journals and reading their ads can be beneficial. Your colleagues can provide a wealth of information about the good and bad vendors, what services are provided, and who the local contact person might be. As with most things, experience will be a good teacher in this area, but also know that vendors are likely to seek you out.
You should be aware of the following vendors:
The introduction of electronic databases has causes a huge shake-up in the serial field. According to Gregory (2011), access to current issues as well as perpetual archives are major issues. Projects like JSTOR are addressing the need to provide archives of important scholarly works. In addition, groups like SPARC (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) are working to find ways to provide access to scholarly publications.
Besides commercial vendors, it's also important to be aware of other sources of materials. For instance, government websites, the Federal Depository Library Program and the Government Publishing Office are sources for government documents.
Identifying the Players
There is a distinction between the vendor and the publisher.
The publisher takes direct orders and handles the distribution of the work or product to the wholesaler, bookstore, library, or individual.
The vendor places the order to the publisher on behalf of the library. Vendors can be wholesalers who provide an extensive inventory of full-line or specialized products. These can include remainders, trade books, paperbacks, etc.
A library may also need to work with a fulfillment house. These are commercial organizations contracted by the publishers to distribute their publications to subscribers. An example would be if the American Library Association contracted with a company to handle all standing orders of their publications.
Finally, there are vendors who offer utilities. One of the major utility vendors is OCLC with the range of services they offer to libraries.
Vendors offer libraries a number of advantages. Because they work with quantities, they can offer cost advantages and discounts that libraries working independently couldn’t achieve. Multi-year subscriptions can also be negotiated at discounted rates. Libraries can also use them to place one order for books or journals from a number of different publishers while processing only one invoice. Automatic renewals, notification of title changes or publishing frequency, and claims can all be routed through one entity, although these services are not free. A service fee may be added based, in part, on the type or number of titles ordered, how difficult those titles are to manage, and the number of reports issued to the library.
Vendors can also recommend titles to fit a specific information need. When it is time to work out the licensing agreement with a publisher, a vendor can assist with the negotiation. If the item is an electronic resource, the vendor can maintain the URL and provide technical advice. Often vendors have better turn-around times than would be available from a publisher. Since their business is service to the library rather than publishing, they often have very good customer service when needed.
When considering a vendor, the needs of the library should be a primary concern. Ask yourself:
- Does the vendor meet the present and future needs of the library?
- Does the service or product fit within the context of the library’s acquisition program and collection development plan?
Libraries often send out requests for information (RFI) or requests for proposals (RFP) for vendors to come forward with data to begin to narrow the field. This would typically include a description of the mix of titles, the service expectations, a timetable for orders and payment, and any value added services offered. Keep in mind that 99% of all publishers charge the same price to all vendors so price variations should be equated with service levels. The material shared can be considered much like resumes received from job applicants: Can they meet your needs or not?
After you have narrowed the list of vendors, it is important to set up vendor demonstrations and presentations in your library. Be aware that these are professional sales personnel, and you are buying the product, not the presentation. Because you are seeking a long-term commitment to meet your current and future needs, look at the strengths of the company and their product. Questions about the company should include its location, age, financial condition, and whether there will be a specific person with the company to handle your account. Request the names of other customers who can serve as references. Inquire about their participation in conferences and development of standards. Ask questions about the product.
- Do you have documentation of services offered?
- What are your policies on pricing, reporting, returns, invoicing, and cancellations?
- What are your costs and fees for service?
- Will the product meet your needs or will you be charged for something you don’t need or left wanting for more?
Choosing a Vendor
There are a number of criteria to be considered when choosing a vendor:
- How long does it take for the books to arrive, the subscriptions to start, or the load time to take for electronic resources?
- Can they handle rush orders?
- Can you get regular reports?
On the financial front, ask:
- What kind of discount do they offer?
- Are there hidden costs like service fees or shipping and handling?
- What information is included on the invoice?
- How often are invoices sent and can they be paid from separate funds when needed?
When considering the materials offered, ask:
- What is the scope of their stock?
- Do they maintain a retrospective selection?
- Is there a cross-section of publishers represented?
- Can government publications be supplied?
- Are rare books included?
- How many books in a test order sample can they supply?
Of their special services, ask:
- Do they provide out-of-print, approval plan, or standing order services?
These are services that you may or may not use, but it is good to know if they are available if you need them. It is also good to know whether you will be charged for them even if you won’t be using them.
Do they use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to provide direct transmission of business data, such as orders, invoices, and claims, from one computer to another for automatic and efficient library operations? Are minimal cataloging records available to speed the technical services operation? What are their fill and error rates?
For ordering procedures, ask:
- Are order and return policies clear and fair?
- How much information about an item is provided before the order needs to be placed?
- Do they follow through with difficult orders?
- Do they have good customer service?
- Does the library have a good relationship with its customer service representative?
- How well do they handle problems?
There are additional areas for consideration with foreign vendors.
- Do they bill in U.S. dollars?
- Do they correspond in English?
- Do they have an office or service personnel in the U.S.?
If this is an area that you might pursue, keep in mind that many foreign vendors do exhibit at ALA conferences.
Committing to a Vendor
Finally, you will engage in some negotiation on costs and services. Keep in mind that you want it all for as little as possible, but the vendor needs to make money on the sale. If appropriate to the product, negotiate a trial period prior to purchase to be sure there is input from a range of individuals who would be impacted by the purchase (e.g., library personnel, patrons). This would be the first step on the ongoing assessment of the product and the company.
Assessment of the product should not stop after the purchase is made. Although you hope for a perfect, long-term relationship after the financial and time investment put into the decision, that doesn’t mean you can’t look elsewhere or negotiate for upgrades if the product ceases to meet your needs. Ongoing evaluation is critical to good library/vendor relations to best meet the needs of your patrons.
Flowers J. L. (2003). Negotiations with library materials vendors: preparation and tips. The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, 16(3), 100-106.
Donations are a wonderful surprise for a library. However, gifts can cause problems if they aren't handled carefully. Gifts for birthdays, as memorials, and from organizations are common. It's important to have a policy regarding gifts.
Ethical choices are sometimes involved when accepting gifts. Naturally the careful handling and expenditure of public funds is present; however, other issues often surface or reappear. An example from 1980s is still in place in many schools. Many secondary schools were offered the installation of a “free” video network and television sets by Channel One. School library personnel were often involved in the decision-making process. A large number of school systems opted to accept the equipment, but some communities turned the “gift” down. They did not want their students exposed to the advertising that was embedded in the programming or questioned the use of school time for program viewing.
Develop clear guidelines. For example, you have the right to weed materials. The biggest problem comes when you want to weed something that was donated in memory of a "loved one." Use the following guidelines for handling gifts:
- keep a list of needs (duplicates are a good choice such as classics)
- keep a range of expenses and types of materials
- use the Scholastic list available at book fairs
- always write a thank you note, use a standard form
- develop a policy for disposal of gifts, labeling, and handling money
In some cases, donations of items are not helpful. Consider the time needed to handle the item. Some people advocate accepting and thanking persons for their contribution, but also making it clear that your center may not keep the donation. Many have developed a form for donated items.
To increase the likelihood of quality donations, set up an Amazon Gift List that patrons can use for gift giving.
Before you buy, make certain that you don't already own the item. You also need to see if anyone else has the item. For example, it might be part of a classroom collection that you could borrow. Or, it might be available at another school or the public library. Do you need to invest in your own copy?
Where will you buy this item? It's easiest to select a jobber and buy all your materials from one source. However, there are times when it may be easier and less expensive to buy items locally. For example you may use Baker and Taylor for most orders, but popular items or duplicates may be purchased at the local Costco. However if you buy locally, keep in mind that you may not be getting quality, library bindings on your books. Also remember that it saves time when you order materials pre-processed.
Maintain a file to keep track of what materials are being consider and where the materials are in the acquisition process. It's easy to simply add a line to your consideration file indicating that the item has been ordered. In the Spring if you work in a school setting, it's a good idea to write "DO NOT BACK ORDER" items, so you don't have to deal with items that are still on order during the summer.
In the real world, you don't need to make a decision about a vendor right away. It's likely that you'll stick with the vendors currently serving your library until you get a chance to interview others and consider reasons for a change. In many cases, you won't have a choice. The library may already have a commitment with a particular vendor.
Also keep in mind the wide range of library styles. If you're a very small or specialized library, you might not find a vendor that meets your needs. From well-known "brick and mortar" stores to popular online options, you'll find many places to purchase books that don't involve vendors.
Flowers J. L. (2003). Negotiations with library materials vendors: preparation and tips. The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, 16(3), 100-106.
Gregory, Vicki L. (2011). Collection Development and Management for 21st Century Collections. Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Holden, Jesse (2010). Acquisitions in the New Information Universe: core competencies and ethical practices. Neal Schuman.
Kenney, K. (2006). Negotiating with vendors. Public Libraries, 45(5), 11-14.
Laskowski, Mary S. (2011). Guide to Video Acquisitions in Libraries: Issues and Best Practices. ALCTS Acquisitions Guides no. 15. ALCTS, ALA.
Rumph, V.A. (2001). Vendor selection using the RFP process – is it for you? One library's experience. Indiana Libraries, 20(1), 26-28.
Vargas, S. C. (2006). Library vendor assessment literature review.
Wiegand, S., & Finchbaugh, M. eds. (2002). Biz of Acq – A database by any other name. Against the Grain, 14(2), 62–68.
Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).