February 2006 Brown Bag Lunch

The New Jersey Law Librarians had a lot to discuss at their February Brown Bag lunches- Bills! Bills!  Bills!   Held in 2 locations on different dates, the 2 sessions invited librarians and their staff to the informal lunches hosted respectively at McCarter & English in Newark, and Riker Danzig in Morristown.

Bills!  Bills  Bills!  We all deal with library bills- it’s a nasty, time-consuming job we have in common. And, it’s a job we need to roll up our sleeves to do.  Library invoices must be scrutinized carefully, because so many of them are just not right. 

A dedicated publisher rep who knows and provides personal service can be invaluable.  In fact, a great customer service rep can be the best librarian time-saver for subscription payment problems.  Big librarian time-eaters are the problem invoices, especially for returns or duplicate shipments.  It’s possible to spend an hour or hours on a billing problem-even if it’s only for a few dollars.  While it would be nice to forget it, it’s not possible because the problem never goes away…sometimes it hovers for years.

For a given location, one account number per publisher is desired for easier management of invoices. Libraries with multiple locations need multiple account numbers to distinguish invoices.  Consolidation of account numbers is an ongoing process, as publishers continue to acquire each other, merge services…and make new accounts.    

The Thomson West Monthly Invoice takes years to master.  Putting West packing slips in date order is a fast way to match them against the monthly charge.  Some bill payers put the West packing slips in delivery number order.   Not every West charge comes with a packing slip, such as Advance Sheet subscriptions. Deciding how to handle the West monthly invoice if a shipment is not received depends on the cost of the missing item.  Small ticket items can be re-ordered and flagged for follow up.  It is nearly impossible to pay a West item that is skipped on the monthly invoice without a lot of extra work and explanation. 

How long to keep those paid invoices?  The prior year invoices are vital to the bill paying process.  Three years is the minimum for keeping paid invoices handy, with some librarians keeping them much longer. ( I began discarding West packing slips of prior years, and am testing keeping a running year.  So far the monthly West invoice is sufficient for backup.  For troubled items, such as returns or unwanted material, the packing slips are kept longer).

Returns pose a big challenge because the invoice may have already started along the approval process before a return decision is made. The item may have been unwittingly opened or stamped.  Astute library staff can obviate the problem, but publishers are adding without telling, so we are often surprised  with growing sets…

 There are a few nagging current publisher billing issues.

In NJ we have a recent problem of publishers re-billing a subscription for sales tax after the invoice has been paid . BNA and ATX have both done this.  Don’t  they realize it is nearly impossible to get this type of charge paid?  First, because the invoice has already been submitted and paid, and secondly because the additional charge (with no explanation) comes as a balance due, or a statement.  The added on charges are showing up as unpaid balances, but they do not agree with the original submitted invoice amount.  The bill has already been paid!  Accounting can’t be expected to understand, or pay re-issued balances.  It  requires a personal trip to accounting, if one ever gets the time. 

Research Institute of America (RIA) has recently caused headaches on their WG&L titles by sneaking in a prior balance column on the invoice.  If a new supplement is shipped before they receive payment for the prior, it is added to the invoice total.  Of course, this causes a problem if you have already submitted the prior invoice, because the current invoice amount is incorrect. Do you call for a corrected invoice or do you correct it yourself?   Of course, when you fail to catch it, you pay twice. An invoice is for a item.  A statement is for prior balances.  It’s an aggravating, double billing practice that is not endearing bill payers to RIA. 

Thompson (with a p) is notorious for constantly issuing invoices.  If a double payment is made, Thompson (with a p) will not notify you or show you a credit.  Has there ever been a Thompson (with a p) statement?  If so, it would be a revelation.  Double payments are applied and extend the subscription period, sometimes for years into the future. And their Customer Service will not refund the money once they are discovered. 

It is up to us to keep our invoices straight.  Every bill that comes with a problem takes our valuable librarian time to figure out.  Every unwanted item probably takes at least an hour resolve.  Some publishers take money and never divulge overpayments.  Some publishers apply payments to open charges that were deliberately not paid, as when a subscription is cancelled. The  erroneous application of payments take hours to figure out. 

The golden rule is to never pay an invoice unless you know exactly what it is for.  Even so, it’s possible for one to get by.  The time it takes to recover the payment is too precious to spend on publishers.  The time it takes to pay  invoices is much too long anyway- we have a library to run.

Lucy Rieger, NJLLA President