The Librarian as Consumer Advocate

Last year during the Westlaw iPod debacle, someone  made a comment on a blog to the effect that it was high time librarians started acting as consumer advocates.   I was really surprised by this…I never thought of myself or my actions in the consumer advocacy vein.  For me it was about pedagogy; I thought it was weird to be recommending a particular electronic research service to a student while sipping out of a coffee mug with that same electronic research service’s name splashed on it, so I didn’t accept vendor swag.

Flash forward a year.  I’ve educated myself more on the ins and outs of the business of information dispersal (although am still by no means an expert) and really see the need for more consumer advocacy.   Furthermore, I think that librarians are a perfect group of people to be doing this.  It’s why I joined and support the efforts of the proposed consumer advocacy caucus forming in AALL, do what I can to support groups like Library Renewal and otherwise make a pest of myself on this blog and elsewhere.

Through it all, I’ve been really wanting for AALL, SLA and other library organizations to step up and be a organizing force and leader in these efforts.  However, it seems like there’s been a reluctance on their parts to really get active and even make declarative statements one way or another.  I must say, I am not unsympathetic to their needs – large organizations have duties to protect their assets and have to be cautious.  When words like “anti-trust violations” start to get thrown around, the people organizations hire to be risk adverse get risk adverse and choose not to take action.

Well, I got my wish, in a way, and AALL has made a declarative statement on consumer advocacy.  I have to say, though, I am dismayed at the proposed AALL Antitrust Policy.  For links to the policy and an explanation from Consumer Advocacy Caucus, please see Consumer Advocacy Caucus Blog.  In particular, I want to draw your attention to the list of examples on page five (5) of the document. It reads:

The followlng topics are some examples of the subjects which should not be discussed at
Association meetings, either virtual or live:
1. Do not discuss current or future prices (be very careful of discussions of past prices).
2. Do not discuss what is a fair profit level.
3. Do not discuss standardizing or stabilizing prices or pricing procedures.
4. Do not discuss cash discounts or credit terms.
5. Do not discuss controlling sales or production or allocating markets or customers. (This
applies to services as well as products.)
6. Do not complain to a competitor that its prices constitute unfair trade practices and do not
refuse to dealwith a company or individual because of pricing or distribution practices.
7. Do not discuss anticipated wage rates.

 I mean, maybe I’m just a terrible dinner date, but this is pretty much the only thing I like to talk about during breaks at AALL meetings! (And the policy specifically mentions that these should not occur at formal or informal gathering of members, so I don’t think I’m over-reading it.  If I am, perhaps the language should be tightened up so that people aren’t unnecessarily worried about violating the policy.)  If this proposed policy passes, I know I for one am going to have to seriously consider whether or not I can continue as an AALL member.  It’s not even a matter of opinions and what AALL should be doing…I am seriously not sure I can physically comply with it.

It’s not too late and this policy has not been enacted yet.  If you have an opinion on this – one way or another (you can’t complain if you don’t vote!)- , I urge you to contact the AALL Executive Board and let them know.

(I am also not an anti-trust expert, but this article sheds more light on economic boycotts.)

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  3 comments for “The Librarian as Consumer Advocate

  1. KC
    July 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I am deeply concerned about the proposed policy by the AALL Board banning, among other things, any discussion of “current or future prices” and caution with regards to “discussions of past prices.” I plan to write the Board.
    Since when did the fear of the vendors lead us to such a narrow and overly-cautious interpretation of antitrust law?
    I understand that the Executive Board has struggled with transparency in the past, but this is obviously a step in the wrong direction. Since when did ideas developed during AALL programs become dangerous to our community? The vendors we are dealing with have a “divide and conquer” strategy – we need to stand up and be heard before law libraries are completely marginalized by the vendors.
    If we have no ability to talk about vendor’s policies, then truly the hand of Westlaw, Lexis and the rest of the vendors has reached into the halls of our AALL meetings and crushed our right to comment and criticize. This is unacceptable.

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