Explain the Silence to Me

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how very passive many librarians are and I need an explanation. Passive and I have never met :) When I have something to say – I say it. When I pay for something I don’t get I do something about it. This is why it’s so confusing to me that librarians just sit back and take what they’re given and say ‘that’s just how it is.’

I’ve seen this attitude in all different settings and situations – but today this post is brought on by several emails I’ve received from librarians who are upset about the decision that their ILS vendor has made to change the product they signed up for. Change is good right? Well, I understand why this change is no where near ‘good’ – the change I’m talking about is the decision by LibLime to offer their new company specific version of Koha.

When these libraries signed their contracts they were signing up for all that open source entailed – community, freedom, no vendor lock in, sharing, etc. Now they are being forced (not my word – from emails I’m receiving) into using an application that limits all of these things for them.

So why are these librarians taking it? Why are they being quiet? I don’t have an answer for you – and so I’m hoping someone out there can answer this for me. If you signed a contract for one product and then are told you have to use another – do you just say okay? or do you move on or demand the product you originally wanted. I think that the result of the Queens Library law suit will be very interesting – but I’m shocked that this is the first!! Librarians have been just taking these hits and coming back for more.

On the same topic, I have been accused of picking fights and making derogatory comments – but I want to make it perfectly clear – I am not trying to pick fights or be derogatory – I am trying to keep the facts straight and push librarians to stand up for themselves!!! I can’t stand seeing my colleagues – such nice people – being walked all over. Unlike my good friend Chris, I can’t step back – I can’t take a break – I won’t go the way of my colleagues – instead I’m going to keep standing up and speaking and correcting facts – and of course educating!! So if you want to email me and complain about your situation – go right ahead, but I’m going to say the same thing to you all – ‘Do something about it!’

One last note – of course I know that not all librarians are like this – I am a vocal librarian :) and I know there are plenty of you out there – I’m only talking about those quiet librarians who are complaining behind the scenes to each other and to me – but not doing a darn thing about their situation!

Okay – morning rant done, time to get back to work documenting the upcoming release of the completely open source Koha :)

26 comments

  1. I can’t help but wonder to what extent we’ve been trained to keep quiet about our vendors. There are so many stories of people’s jobs being threatened because they happened to criticize a vendor publicly, and often vendors reward staff with perks that turn them into public defenders. Several times when I’ve been critical of vendors I’ve been called into people’s offices and dressed down for it– never because it was a conversation about how good their service was but because of the lack of alternatives or the “special” relationship our library alleged has with them.

    I think our relationship between libraries and vendors is fundamentally codependent and dysfunctional. We owe it to ourselves to stand up more.

  2. Matt, I actually have been in that situation – and when I was called out on speaking badly about a vendor I laughed. I asked if I said anything untrue – and when they could find nothing untrue they just had to deal with what I said. I am not saying go around trash talking your vendors – I’m saying – publicize your experiences and when it comes to vendors not meeting your contract or expectations talk to the vendor and get what you paid for.

    I’m with you on this – not everyone can just laugh when brought to the ‘principal’s office’ but – seriously – if you were fired for telling the truth or demanding a service you paid for then I’m pretty sure you have cause for action against your employer.

    I’m with you – start standing up!

  3. I have been threatened with lawsuits twice for criticising a norwegian ILS vendor publicly. That kind of tactic scares librarians and tells a lot about the kind of relationship there really is between libraries and vendors. As long as you have your facts right things should be easy, but the tactics some vendors adopt are so far outside most librarians experience that they will need support (which is probably not forthcoming from their employer) and even practical help. To know that this help exists would probably alleviate some of the silence. So, where is the support group, advocacy organization for librarians who criticise ILS vendors?

  4. Great post. It *would* be nice if more librarians stood up to vendors.

    Regarding job security….can’t librarians who work “at will” be fired (or leave) without liability except in cases of obvious discrimination?

  5. Thomas, in this case we’re talking about a small vendor – a baby compared to many of the vendors we’re used to being threatened by. That means they can’t afford to go after people for complaining about them.

    Yvonne, you are right I guess – I don’t know much about it. All I know is I’ve always been “at will” and I’ve always spoken and written my mind without consequence.

  6. I can see asking the staff to remain quiet while the administration is beating up the vendor in the background to make a point, but in general, staff should be able to speak out about their ILS vendor (and I think that ours is going downhill on a sled in some respects.) I think that they own the vendor a duty to be honest and correct mistakes if they’ve been made but public companies should be open to criticism.

    I recently attended a Koha presentation where they tried to spin this announcement (gee your lives will be so much better if you let us do everything…) It went down well for the smaller libraries in the room, the rest of us weren’t impressed.

  7. As a client of a particular vendor – I would like to give everyone a snapshot from my point of view on this. Some people have some background/working relationship with this vendor others only have a contract. When many of us signed our contract it was very generic – vendor will provide software and support. Things were going along swimmingly – I was getting bi-monthly updates roughly, things seemed to be great but as I read my contract I technically shouldn’t have been getting those updates. July hit a few employees left the vendor one way or another etc… – Sept 11 comes(which I found it ironic that the announcement was made on that day by the vendor) announcing a new business model. First time the clients had heard of the new model with specifics. I believe many of the clients are still in a what does this mean mode. Whenever we have asked our vendor about something they say “We are totally committed to open source but we also need to make money”. When we ask – “when will X happen or how will you do this” we get – “when we are caught up and clients have signed off on their development”.

    It has been 4 months now and we clients have been working in the background trying to understand what the vendor is going to do. WE still don’t know so we are not sure how to be vocal when we haven’t got anything yet to be vocal about. Yes we are upset but technically my contract says “When a new community release is provided we will upgrade you.” OK I have nothing in my contract that the vendor hasn’t lived up to at this point.(I may be a little different as I am NOT a hosted site) I have a couple development items that I’m waiting on and at that point I might have something to say, but until I hear more detail from my vendor – I don’t have anything to complain about YET.

    As open source goes – the clients are currently at a disadvantage unless we can get organized and work together. There isn’t a structure for that yet so hopefully we as USERS can come together and work on this.

    There is another fairly new vendor out there that has done some work for a client or two code wise – but most of it hasn’t been released either so why are we picking on one particular vendor who historically has been community friendly?

    I’ve probably said too much, and hope not to get called into the principals office, but I felt as a client I needed to provide my prospective.

    Time will tell how far off the vendor has gone and then when the first library wants to return to community that vendor will have to be judged on its open source ethics.

  8. David,

    All I’m saying is asking questions ain’t enough – demanding what you expected is – and complaining behind the scenes is not the way to handle this. So – instead of sending emails to people who aren’t involved complaining – complain to the right people!

    As for code from other vendors, I’m not complaining about code not coming back – I’m not complaining about the decision made by the vendor – I’m solely complaining about librarians who aren’t vocal enough. And the fact that you have to worry that you’ve said too much is what I’m talking about – why worry – you’re speaking your mind and that’s A-OK and shouldn’t carry with it any punishments.

    Once again – my complaint is not about the decisions made by LibLime, it’s about the people who aren’t happy about it and are whining to me like I can do something about it – and then tell me they can’t speak up about it :(

  9. Cathy, yes, I agree – I can see times when it makes sense to ask the staff to hold back. In this case – at least from the messages I have received – it is not the case :(

  10. Once again – not about pressuring anyone – if you’re happy – awesome! If you’re not and you’re complaining to everyone but the company in question – cut it out and speak up!

    Also this is not about community versus a vendor it’s a call from one librarian to others to give up on their passive ways.

  11. I just have to chime in here that I am vocal about things NOT working correctly, and make changes when possible. For example, I’m dumping a time/print management company as soon as my contract with a new one goes through. However, when I sent in the new contract, there was a one sentence line that basically states that “substitutions will be allowed.” I think that one sentence will cover them if they decide to pull a switcheroo. Maybe it won’t hold up in court, but I’d have to pull in the town’s attorney to get that started, and I’ve been informed that we’d have to have severe harm before the town will pay for the attorney’s bills.

  12. Jen, awesome! Glad you’re speaking up and standing up for your library. One question – why didn’t you ask to have that line altered in the contract – so something like ‘substitutions will be allowed with permission from the library?” No biggy, keep standing up for yourself and your library!

  13. Nicole’s last statement is key. We just signed a contract with a different vendor for a different open source ILS, and using a good attorney is essential when negotiating the contract.

  14. As someone stuck in this LEK mess (using a pretend name b/c I’m stuck in the mess), I kind of resent your accusations a bit, Nicole. At least in the group that I’m in, people seem to be very vocal about LibLime’s double crossing and failure to maintain their end of the contract.

    But what, exactly, would you propose we do after that? We haven’t had the product long enough to make it cost effective to leave yet. We’re still paying off our start-up cost. What institution would want to basically throw away tens of thousands of dollars like that? And so, let’s say, we do bring legal action against LibLime for breech of contract (in a completely imaginary world b/c at least my institution would never do that). Then what? We win? We lose? Either way we’d probably be looking for a new ILS and a new vendor (we have no sytems librarian and can’t even pretend that we have the infrastructure to host our own ILS). So then there’s another huge lump sum of money we would have to have our institution fork over to another company that may or may not be better then LL (although, it really couldn’t get a whole lot worse). Then we have to work with a company (that is terribly understaffed, has a terrible customer service track record, and is even more resentful towards us now that we’ve made a stink) to try to effectively and correctly migrate our information from a seemingly incompatible-with-the-rest-of-the-world ILS to another proprietary ILS. How does that make any sense?

    I can imagine people talking to you about this mostly becasue of your former role at LL; I can’t imagine that they actually think you’re going to do anything. From my own experience, it’s just a pressure release to talk to someone who actually understand the situation, and quite frankly, you probably have an incredibly firm grasp on the situation. Good for you for sticking to your principles and leaving a company you no longer supported; for those of us dependant on this company to allow our library to function (even if it is like driving a cart on square wheels), it’s not really that cut and dry. And that’s why vendors have an upper hand with librarians.

  15. Lucy,

    I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. It’s actually great to hear that someone is being vocal about their opinions – but where are you being vocal? Just with the company? Cause if that’s the case it’s falling on deaf ears. I’ve had at least 2 people who were being vocal with the company tell me that they have been cut off from the company mailing list – whether by accident or because no one wanted to hear what they were saying. It’s not enough.

    Let me explain what I’m talking about using another example. I my local pharmacy (a huge chain) didn’t provide me with the service I expected and I posted my complaints in a private forum to the company as well as online using several venues. Within a week I got a phone call from the regional manager who not only solved my problem, but gave me his private cell phone number to call should the pharmacy still not live up to my expectations. Now we’re talking about a company with millions of customers and tons of money – they don’t need me – or my one prescription a month – but they took care of things because of the public complaints.

    I am by no means suggesting you jump to legal action, I’m saying you paid for one thing and you’re not getting it – which means you shouldn’t have to be paying all that money you’re talking about. And if you have chosen to have an open source ILS – aka Koha – then you have several options to move to for support and continued migration. That said, I have actually talked to customers who are willing to walk away from their contracts and lose money because they’re so upset – and yes that is an extreme that many libraries can’t afford, but when that press release goes out – as I’m sure it will that’s some pretty bad press showing the world that the company isn’t living up to their word.

    I don’t have an easy solution for you, but there are plenty of avenues to make a fuss and speak your mind. Right now it looks like only long time Koha community members and ex-employees are doing that – making it look like we’re just making this crap up.

    The point of my post was to push people to use the World Wide Web as their ‘pressure release’ while making a difference. It was also my ‘pressure release’ after holding in all of the anger and annoyances that people are sharing with me. It was my way of telling the world – for them – that they are not happy and a way for me to express my frustration as well.

    Anyway, if you can point me to where on the public web librarians stuck in this situation are being vocal I’d greatly appreciate it – and will edit the post above to link to those pages.

  16. Liblime should be called LibSlime now. This is very bad indeed. Before this even, they were trying to dominate the software by hosting it and trying to make their name synonymous with Koha. They even went about trying to discredit other vendors such as PTFS for going against the open source credo. Now they are looking like hypocrites.

  17. So what will I gain if I complain publicly? Better service? Don’t think so. Answers to my questions? Don’t think so. Positive results? Hasn’t worked so far, so I don’t think this will either. Retaliation? Unfortunately, more than likely.

    So … am I to complain publicly so I can validate the complaints of others? To make LL look even worse? They don’t need my public help. LibLime listens to the complaints of those outside its community even less than it listens to those inside (and we are at zero, so you can do the math, and we’re the ones paying to get non-answers, non-fixes, etc.)

    Our reasons for not going public may not be what you consider valid, but we are doing our best to not make a bad situation worse while at the same time trying to get what we are paying big $$$ to get; therefore they are valid to us. We are between a rock and a hard place, with thousands of dollars at stake. We don’t need to be taken to task for being judicious in what we say or when and how we choose to say it.

  18. Lucy, I don’t know who you are, but this blog post was not aimed directly at you. Nor was it written to take anyone (including you) to task, it was an outpouring of frustration due to the fact that those of us speaking publicly were being met by silence or attacks.

    I am frustrated because I know that many libraries are unhappy, and their word would carry much more weight than mine. I just don’t want to see other libraries end up in the same situation you are – and if it’s not public knowledge then that is a real danger.

  19. I think I understand this frustration, just recently Nicole made a comment that LEK is not the same thing a Koha.
    She was attacked and called a “minority defender of the faith”.
    http://www.coloradolibraries.org/2009/12/07/aspencat-is-up-and-running-libraries-unite/#comments
    These and other ad hominem attacks (on various mailing lists and blogs) are what Nicole faces when she speaks out.
    So you can understand why when people say “I’m not happy” in private it is frustrating.

  20. I’m very glad Nicole has taken up this baton. I don’t have time to even watch much of it at the moment, much less get involved, but as one of the owners of the oldest not-for-profit Koha support enterprise, I know what sort of attacks and abuse Nicole will be facing. Most librarians seem to accept the mushroom treatment from their vendors, keeping these things in the dark. If it wasn’t for an enlightened few, the co-op would probably no longer have Koha developers.

  21. Nicole, I don’t think your example about the pharmacy is a fair analogy. There are 6 pharmacies in a two-block stretch in my hometown. If I don’t like one, I can take my business to another, no problem. The employees of all of these pharmacies know this. On the other hand, with an ILS vendor, libraries are in contracts, sometimes multi-year. It’s the difference between dating and marriage. Once you’re married, you both have a vested interest in trying to make things work out. You may complain publicly, but it doesn’t make you or your spouse look good, and it sure doesn’t help the marriage. In fact, I can’t think of anything I would gain by complaining publicly except to make you feel better.

  22. Blitzen, bad press is bad press whether there is one vendor or 100 to choose from. And yes you’re in a contract – but if you’re not getting what you paid for then there has to be some action you can take – and being vocal will make any good vendor attempt to prevent further bad press. That’s all I’m saying – and with that I will continue to speak out when I don’t get the service I expect – contract or not.

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