Seems that the Spokane County Law Library (SCLL) has found itself in a bit of financial difficulties in paying its Westlaw (Thomson Reuters Legal) bills on time. According to an article by John Craig of the Spokesman-Review, SCLL “has $75,129 in past-due bills on a contract for legal research materials that officials say is too expensive and unpredictable – and can’t be canceled.” Craig reports that the library has a Westlaw annual bill of approximately $144,000.00, which accounts for its overall budget of $220,000.00. So, SCLL spends nearly 2/3rd’s of its annual budget with Thomson Reuters Legal, leaving them $76,000.00 total to pay for all other materials, building costs, and salaries. To make matters worse, the Westlaw bill is expected to go up by over $25,000.00 as an annual increase in the contract.

Reading this article makes me wonder who the heck signed this contract in the first place? Back in my previous position, I managed 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 county law libraries, and one of the good and bad things about county law library budgets that are tied to filing fees (like SCLL is), is that there usually isn’t a huge swing up or down in the budget each year. So, signing a contract that puts in an annual increase of 17% smacks of insanity both on the part of Thomson Reuters and SCLL. Did anyone think that court filings were going to increase 17% a year?? Of course, I’m basing this on only reading Craig’s article, so perhaps there are additional circumstances involved in this situation that justify a 17% increase, but I’m really scratching my head on what that could be.

SCLL Librarian Cynthia Lucas is scrambling to explain to the county commissioners that the library needs to renegotiate the law library contract with Thomson Reuters, and that she claims that SCLL is paying three times the price that Piece County (Tacoma area) in 2007 for the same exact services. If this is true, then someone at Thomson Reuters Legal needs to step up immediately and make this right. If it is a matter that SCLL simply acted carelessly and bought too much product and now can’t pay, then someone at Thomson Reuters needs to get in there right now and renegotiate by trimming down the subscriptions and getting the payments back to a reasonable amount. Lucas said that she fears that Thomson Reuters might not negotiate a debt-payment plan without SCLL signing a new contract. I hate to be blunt here, but SCLL needs to negotiate a new contract!!!! The one you have is horrible!! Get someone from Thomson Reuters on the phone today and start working out a deal to get your payments under control.

I hope that the Washington Association of  County Law LibrariesWestPAC and AALL are ready to step in to help Lucas get control of this situation. Whatever happened to get SCLL to this extremely bad situation (and contract) needs to be resolved in a way that both Thomson Reuters and SCLL share the pain, but get a better contract that gets costs to a more reasonable amount for SCLL to pay.