Posted by Lori Ayre on March 10, 2012

Someone recently asked me for suggestions to ask of other libraries when doing your due diligence on an AMH vendor.  I was happy to get that question because too often I think that libraries don't do an adequate job of digging into the experiences of other libraries with vendors. And even when they do, oftentimes the person providing the reference seems to have some incentive to paint a pretty picture rather than giving you the harsh truth.  I guess if they tell you about something that hasn't gone well, it suggests they did something wrong.....  

I try my best to be as honest as I can be about my assessments of vendors and libraries too!  So, if you ask me, you will get an honest answer.  I urge libraries to do the same. No vendor is perfect and no procurement, implementation, migration is either.  Don't be shy about sharing what hasn't worked well or was HAS worked well.  As my therapist used to's all just information.  

Anyway, here's some questions that I recommend you ask about a libraries work with an AMH vendor:

  1. How responsive is the vendor to support calls?  How quickly are they able to fix something that is broken or misbehaving.  Do they have spare parts readily available or is there a long wait to fix stuff.  How proactive are they are preventing problems?  
  2. What do library staff have to do to keep the system functioning well?  How often do you have to clean rollers and sensors?  Is there anything else you have to do?  Is cleaning rollers and sensors easy to do or do you have to crawl around underneath the machine or wade through a tangled bunch of wires to do so.  Is the machine designed to be easily maintained by anyone (e.g. could Grandma do the maintenance or do you need someone with special tools and skills and yoga experience??)
  3. How often do items get sorted to the wrong place?  How do you know (or more frightening, do you know you don't know??)  
  4. How easy is it to modify the sorting program?  Can library staff do it or does it require the vendor to do something?  
  5. Can you make changes to the sort program on the fly or run more than one program?  (e.g. can you sort things differently on long weekends versus while the library is open?). 
  6. How flexible is the system about receptacles.  Can you only sort into one size bin or can you switch between bins, tubs, crates, totes, etc?  What are the options?
  7. On the patron induction side, is there a shelf for people to set their items on?  Is there an awning so people can see the screen even when the sun is shining?  Is there a light for using it at night?  How intuitive is it to use?  
  8. In terms of there a door that opens when a patron pushes a button or is it open all the time?  What happens if someone puts a non-library item on the conveyor: does it spit it back out or accept it?  What are the options for controlling how it deals with those things?  
  9. Are you happy with the process used by the vendor to design how your system is set-up?  Did they think through the entire workflow or just slap in the system?  

Some of the questions above should also appear in your RFP but that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask the vendor's customers' the same questions.  Perception is reality and all that.....