One of my main jobs is acquisitions librarian, and all the faculty orders just came in, so I haven't really been keeping up with the blogosphere recently. But going through these piles of orders and doing all the price checking has been getting me thinking.

At my library we check the price in our library book vendor, and in Amazon. If the book is not in stock at the vendor, or cheaper at Amazon or as a good used copy, I get it at Amazon or somewhere else. We buy mostly based on patron requests, which is unusual but means I don't have time for the vendor to locate  books which are out of stock. As I've been working in the past few days, I've noticed that I'm buying about $500 vendor to about $1200 Amazon.

I know purchasing through Amazon is a luxury not every library has, but I'd like to think about this for a minute. Buying cheapest copies, I'm spending more than twice as much at Amazon. This includes hardcover and paperback, and the cheaper copy includes the publisher/library discount at the vendor. So why is everything so much cheaper at Amazon? It's more than used copies. There's a problem here, and that problem is that the library vendors aren't coming close to meeting our needs.

This is without even mentioning that the vendor search is difficult to use (and that's coming from a librarian!) and I need to click 3 to 6 times to get accurate prices on all editions. That's not mentioning that the back button doesn't work in their website, so all searches have to be redone to get back to the results page! And that's not mentioning that the availability of an item is not listed correctly until you click all the way through, where it is included with the price.

These are not trivial concerns. This vendor, who sells specifically to libraries, has one of the worst interfaces I have ever had the misfortune to use. They have very little in stock, and I can't manage orders, see expected arrival dates or cancel items without calling them and waiting on hold until someone gets around to answering my call. And I need to call someone else, and have a completely different cart if I'm purchasing AV! Online shopping is so widespread as to be practically standardized. Why is this still so bad?

I've heard a lot of discussion about library catalogs and ILSs.  But so far I haven't heard anything about this, maybe because most libraries buy book packages from vendors just like the one I'm using.  But this is a symptom of the same problem, and part of the same issue.  I feel like I'm getting ripped off here.  I'm from a tiny library and the loss of us as a customer wouldn't make anyone cry. But this must be affecting other people, and who knows how much time we are wasting with this! Not to mention money. But I'm trying to send them a message with my budget dollars, and I'm hope other people will help me send the same message with money and with words, until our vendors start to take us seriously and give us products that actually help us.


April 5, 2006. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.