Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Déjà vu re library data and ownership rights

Recent events in the librarianship profession have brought me out of the slumber I've been in with this blog, although the actual causes for that slumber are separate and work related. 

I've found myself over the past two weeks marveling at the reaction of the many librarians contacting me about the recent purchase of BePress by Elsevier and that reaction was compounded by a former vendor of our library sending us a legal letter that raised my ire considerably. Both reactions are related to the issue of the library's data when stored in proprietary systems, and particularly, the library's rights to get that data back out of the system when the library is ready to move to a different system.

At that point, it's really too late to do what I'm about to say, but please, when selecting the new replacement system, make sure you do the following if you're buying a proprietary system.  Here is a list of things that need to be specified about the data in both the RFI or RFP as well as the actual contract between the vendor and your organization.  Those are:
  1. The Library owns their data.  No conditions apply or allowed.  The Library owns ALL their data and all the rights associated with the use of that data. 
  2. You have the right to request that data be extracted in an industry standard specified format (and that format should be stated in the both the procurement and legal documents).
  3. The cost for extracting that data should be identified in the contract.  That number should be reasonable for your institution and certainly should not exceed the cost you paid them to load it (but, be fair and remember the inflation factor, can apply over time).
  4. The time period for the delivery of that data should also be specified.  A reasonable time period is 30 days from the date of request.  Any more than that and you're going to be creating a backlog of updates to apply to it once it is loaded in your new system.
Now, here is the part that has surprised me since joining the academic world over four years ago, which is how the legal department of the academic institution is really somewhat disconnected from the librarians who are selecting systems.  For instance, most librarians write up their RFP and send it to purchasing, which then conducts the procurement and basically acts as a wall between the vendor and the librarians, filtering things through in a way that ensures a fair procurement.  Once the librarians select the system of choice, procurement works with the legal department to get the contract put together and in most cases, the librarians sit on the sideline during this process, until the document is signed. So, they're not involved in the negotiations and are totally reliant on their legal department to ensure crucial points are covered.  

I can tell you from experience, that counting on this for coverage of crucial points is NOT always the case because your legal people will not have the same understanding of your needs, nor the depth-of-understanding of the topics that you do.  Their expertise is legal and negotiation, but if a vendor flat tells them "we don't do that", legal might give it away in the negotiation and you might lose out.  So, make sure you see the contract language BEFORE it is signed. If you don't understand what it is being said, ask your legal people to explain it to you.  I'm usually, stunned when I ask a librarian if they've read their vendor contract, either before or after the signing, and how many will tell me "no".  Mistake, mistake, mistake! You know when you pay for that mistake in this area?  When you go to leave and find out your data is locked in a proprietary format, will be delivered in that format and because it is proprietary means you can't give to your new vendor without violating intellectual property laws.  Or that you're only entitled to a subset of what you think is your total data set.  Or that cost of having your data extraction approaches the cost of a new replacement system.  Or that sure, you can have your data, but it'll take six months to get it.  Or... you get the picture.  

We've lived through these issues before with integrated library systems and now apparently many have forgotten those lessons of history.  As Yogi Berra once said: "It looks like Déjà vu all over again."