Have five minutes to give for better databases? Take that vendor call or write an email!

Over the past eighteen months, many of you have asked how you can help encourage database companies to reformulate their core products to reflect a wider range of identities and perspectives. Luckily, there is a quick and easy way you can contribute: reach out to your vendors and ask for what you need!

This action can be as simple as picking up the phone when a rep calls, sending a short email, or adding this topic to your contract renewal conversations.

We have found that when two or three librarians from different geographic regions have reached out offering feedback about product offerings (as when companies have done marketing blasts for new “ethnic” databases over the past year) it makes people within the company take note. Imagine if a company hears from twenty or thirty of us? Or two to three hundred? Alone we are just one independent school. Together we represent a significant customer base for most of our vendors.

To help you out, below please find potential talking points to use with vendors. Credit where it is due: Sara Kelly-Mudie led the way documenting these points, a group of eight additional independent school librarians from around the country contributed to the conversation, and then Sarah Levin of the Urban School of San Francisco and I ran these past the Bay Area Independent School Librarians group last fall for feedback. So – we hope you will find a point or two that can help you get started.

Whether you work from these points or have another approach based on your personal observations, if you have wished for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school products, now is the perfect moment to let your vendors know. We will not get what we do not communicate that we need.

Talking points for vendor reps

Our ask:

The core school database product should offer a realistic reflection of the people who live in the United States/Canada/your country. We should not have to buy “special” add-on databases representing “other” identities or perspectives (be they socioeconomic, ability-based, racial/ethnic, religious, gender-based, etc.) in order to offer basic representation of the people present in our school communities and in our country.


*We are so excited to share that our institution is expanding its commitment to equity in every department. Here in the library we are auditing all our services and resources, including databases.
*Much like our collections, our electronic resources need attention if they are to reflect our communities and provide the perspectives we need.
*As we think about which vendors we will continue to patronize, we have decided to prioritize those committed to building central products that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of our students and their communities.
*We’re so excited to see the equity work you’re currently doing – identify two or three things you have noticed (examples here and here), OR ask them what they are doing to recreate their core school product to be equitable and inclusive – to reflect our nation in a realistic way.
*Looking ahead, as we consider our next round of renewals, we have a few questions:
Are you committed to offering a broad baseline of experiences and perspectives in your flagship product (rather than in add-on packages)?
*What is your current equity audit process and timeline? Do you have a rubric?
*Are there simple ways to offer feedback about gaps?
*Thank you in advance for your time and attention. We look forward to hearing from you and to our ongoing collaboration.

Responses to the objection that this ruins databases’ profit model:

*At this moment, our institution is looking to represent our population and those we study.
*We are exploring many vendors’ offerings and, while none is exactly what we’d like, some are moving with intention toward our ideal.
*We are happy to work alongside a vendor for another year or two as you work toward realizing the commitments we asked about above. If we don’t see significant growth after that, we’re happy to take our business elsewhere.
*We believe the vendors most willing to engage in this work alongside libraries will be poised to capture our attention in the next round of renewals and beyond.
*We don’t mean that you have to “give us everything” – we understand the value of being able to purchase extra depth in areas central to individual schools’ curricula. However, databases that do not provide realistic representation of our national population do not actually provide the sources our students need to be educated adults.

9 thoughts on “Have five minutes to give for better databases? Take that vendor call or write an email!

  1. This is a timely post. Thank you. I contacted Britannica in the fall because our 2nd graders were working on a biography project. We found very few Asian-Americans listed in their elementary school biography section. They contacted me and said that they were adding more but I haven’t seen an improvement yet. The only Asian-Americans that were represented were a couple of current authors. I am all for more librarians reaching out to Britannica to do a better, inclusive job with their biographies.

    • Thank you for reaching out to them! I know I also hope to have a conversation with them in the near future!

  2. Two weeks ago, I sent an email to my gale rep because students using Gale Middle School in Context could not search for anything with the words sex or sexual. They were looking for information about sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. I have not heard back from them yet. Your article has inspired me to write again.

    • Absolutely! A great way to do it is to start with your rep. Your rep makes a commission off of sales to you, and so is incentivized to attend to your needs. Also, they are an important way that companies gather information about what people need.

    • Ugh, that is so frustrating! I went back and forth with Gale reps this fall about blocking search terms in databases. Time to follow up again!

    • An update on the Gale situation, as I have had many conversation with them since this post:
      As we tested their databases we got a lot of mysterious results, and were clearly hitting many stopwords. In some databases, there was a technical issue that is now being addressed. With regard to stopwords and MS in Context, they are figuring out stuff on their end and we will have a more formal meeting in a few weeks to learn more. I will share with AISL what we learn.

      In the meantime, we strongly urge everyone to ask for a list of all stopwords *by individual database product* as part of the renewal process. Engineering is able to provide your vendor with that information.

      • We have also discovered that there are blocked terms in even more Gale products than previously known. Most recently, we gound that Global Issues in Context also does not allow for searches such as [sex work], etc.

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