How a Librarian Handles Negotiations

The slide deck below summarizes thoughts and tips I had for law librarians attending a Toronto Association of Law Libraries event this week.  As I mentioned to the organizer, my expertise in negotiations comes from experience, not study.  I’ve talked about negotiating electronic licenses before, and benefited from other Canadian law librarians who shared their license clauses.

Since a couple of attendees asked for the slides, I figured I’d post them.  I’m a bit reluctant, because slides without the context of the presentation aren’t necessarily that useful, and I’m getting tired of being attacked by people who lack context.  This presentation was very much “how David negotiates” when it comes to electronic licenses and other products or services used in libraries. It was geared towards the new law librarian or the law librarian new to doing negotiations.

As someone who learned about negotiation in law school, it was interesting to observe how it’s different from the typical lawyer approach.  Perhaps law school is different now, but my negotiation style has ended up reflecting more of the ADR class I took in law school than anything else.  The approach may not resonate with many people, and I made it clear to the attendees that they needed to work out their own approach, because what works for me has to do as much with how I deal with conflict and my general approach to working with people as anything.

The clauses in the presentation come from real licenses that I’ve worked on.  Many of these licenses are boilerplate available on the legal publishers’ web sites, and my commentary on them is merely supplementary.  The custom clauses are highly tailored to a specific need I was trying to address, and they are not necessarily the most artfully worded clauses.

I appreciated the questions afterwards – and beforehand, from someone who couldn’t attend – and what they showed about law library negotiations:

  • it’s hard to commit to single source legal research licenses, not because it’s not widely recognized how commoditized the content is, but because it’s a challenge to buy just what you need.  There was a lot more interest in single source than I expected;
  • librarians are challenged in their negotiations because they may not have secured an understanding from the lawyers who use the content.  This can create a sense of having to complete a disadvantageous contract – not walk away – because the lawyers haven’t been part of the discussion about whether the value they get out of it is worth the increased cost;
  • relationships and communications are hard, and they are the foundation for the negotiation.  I was surprised that a law librarian might make a tactical decision that had no business purpose because they weren’t feeling treated properly by the other side.  It made me wonder how often the challenge of negotiation has more to do with soured relationships in the very small world of law librarian-legal publisher than with the actual elements of the content or money under discussion.

Here are the slides.  If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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