Book Reviews

The Complete Guide to RFPs for Libraries. Frances C. Wilkinson and Sever Bordeianu, eds. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2018. 299p. Paper $60.00 (ISBN: 978-1440859397).

Book cover for Complete Guide for RFPs for Libraries

Purchasing resources and services for libraries has never been as straightforward as one would hope. An increasing number of necessary resources and services now come in an electronic format over networks and software platforms being managed by several different players, requiring careful negotiation of responsibilities and levels of performance. While vendors can use economies of scale to provide these services at a more reasonable price than a purchaser going it alone, budgets are ever tighter and being scrutinized more closely by governing boards. Thus, libraries face enormous pressure to be very deliberate about purchases. The Complete Guide to RFPs for Libraries seeks to help library staff successfully navigate some of the issues involved in acquiring a new big-ticket product or service.

The introduction sums up the purpose and layout of the book: “While reading the book from cover to cover would be an instructive exercise, each chapter is complete on its own. Librarians can quickly turn to the chapter that covers the good or service they are considering buying to get a complete guide to how to proceed” (xxiv). However, the first two chapters as well as the last four provide important context and perspective that make them a highly recommended read before engaging with one of the more focused chapters.

Chapter 1 lays out the basics of preparing the RFP (request for purchase): determining need, figuring out how the proposed product will enhance service, timeline for implementation, and so on. The importance of planning and organization are highlighted. The concepts of request for information (RFI) and a request for quote (RFQ) are introduced, as well as descriptions of when those processes might be used in gathering information for the formal RFP. The chapter also sets aside any ideas that creating an RFP is a quick, simple undertaking, while stressing the value many libraries have found in conducting the self-examination that creating an RFP for a major service or product requires.

Chapter 2 offers a view of the process of actually writing the RFP to present to the vendor and reviewing the vendor responses. This chapter’s importance lies in pointing out the need for careful, deliberate action and near-constant evaluation of the process. Some basic ideas of constructing a readable, effective proposal are included. Taken together, these two chapters comprising Part I of the book provide essential background and overview of the need for and conduct of designing an RFP.

Part II of the work is broken into three subsections dealing with broad categories of RFPs: those for collections, integrated library systems (ILSs), and other services. Chapters in the first two subsections address more specific situations within the broad category, such as creating an RFP for an ILS for an academic library. The third subsection discusses other types of RFPs for very specialized products like bindery services or disaster recovery. The reader can choose the chapter that most closely matches the situation they are facing; these are the standalone chapters alluded to in the book’s introduction. There are hints for negotiating with vendors, descriptions of “where we went wrong,” and detailed suggestions for items to include or consider. Many chapters include boxouts and sidebars to provide quick access to crucial elements or synopses of projects. Several include detailed timelines of the steps of the RFP process.

Not to be skipped are the four final chapters of the book, constituting Part III, titled “Vendor Perspectives and Ethics.” Chapter 14 presents information collected from interviews with seven vendor representatives from a variety of service providers. Based on that information, the authors present a concise view of best practices to ensure that the library and the vendor are speaking the same language.

The following chapter discusses the library-vendor relationship, setting that relationship in the context of services meeting needs. Stephen Bosch describes how vendors are an important part of the functioning of a library, “Library-vendor relationships exist in order to advance their mutual self-interests and these relationships grow from a foundation of mutually beneficial goals” (242). The remainder of the chapter highlights the importance of clear, honest communication in maintaining an effective relationship with vendors. Bosch also presents ideas for the effective use of email and other means of contact.

In chapter 16, Andrew Pace describes the RFP process from the vendor point of view. He highlights the time pressure that vendors face, as well as the cost they incur responding to RFPs. The more vague or complicated an RFP is, the more time a vendor needs to spend addressing it, and they may (and do) decide that responding simply isn’t worth the cost. Pace also provides some important information about pricing and requesting quotes. Being aware of the vendor’s criteria for responding to an RFP is invaluable in creating a request that will not only get read, but will actually produce an intended result. Chapter 17, “Ethics for the RFP Process,” sums up several of the themes that recur throughout all sections of the book: transparency, honesty, and fairness. The authors give a concise yet detailed history of ethics in the field of librarianship and describe how those ideals apply to the purchasing process.

Each chapter in the book concludes with a list of references or suggestions for further reading, a nod to the intended “each chapter standing alone” format. There is a glossary at the end of the book, which seems redundant. However, this glossary highlights where some common phrases or words have a slightly different meaning or nuance. A bibliography of all the contributors highlights the authors’ qualifications for each chapter. Finally, the book includes a useful index.

This book is an excellent tool for both understanding and creating RFPs for libraries. It can be used as both an introductory text for librarians unfamiliar with RFPs and a handbook while engaged in the RFP process.—Michael C. McGuire, Colby College

Copyright Michael C. McGuire

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