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Request For Proposal (RFP)

  • An RFP is a formal open bid document that a library prepares to obtain a customized response from a vendor.
  • Responses may include pricing, enhancements, implementation plan, and timeline.
  • An RFP is usually the precursor to a legal contract between vendor and library.
  • An RFI is a formal request that a library prepares and sends to vendors for information on their automation systems.

Source: Library HQ, Library Automation Resources section-Library Automation Technology Glossary, December 2002

What to Include in an RFP

  • Library Background Information
  • Libraries Service Plan, Mission Statement, Technology Plan, other supporting information (Create appendix for attachments)
  • Size of your collection
  • Number of staff and patron computers
  • Number of patrons
  • Network operating system
  • Number of servers
  • Type of wiring
  • The existing database that you are using for library records that will need to be migrated into the new program

Module Requirements:

Be sure to look at the NISO publication, RFP Writer's Guide to Standards for Library Systems. It provides detailed information on all the common library standards that vendors should support such as Circulation Interchange Protocol standard, Marc standards, Z39.50, barcodes and more. It also includes typical language to use in your RFP for describing this standard/requirement to vendors.

Criteria to request in vendor response:

  • How many copies of response to include
  • Management Summary of Company
  • Prior Experience-list of customers
  • Format of response (hardcopy, electronic, MS Word, PDF, etc.)
  • Financial report of company
  • Cost Proposal-this is often kept separate in a sealed envelope from the technical proposal

Tips on writing the RFP

  • Write clearly and spell things out
  • Don't just rely on spell check-proof read for clarity
  • Don't give vendors RFP's at trade shows; this is a busy time for them
  • Don't leave vendors hanging; tell vendors when you have made your final decision
  • Include a machine readable copy of the RFP
  • Give vendors 4-6 weeks to respond to your RFP
  • Try to send your RFP during less busy cycles--not during ALA conferences
  • If you are migrating from one system to another, send sample data such as a patron and bib record for the vendor to test with their system
  • Take a team approach to writing the RFP; include representatives from the various departments of the library. What circulation needs may be different than reference or tech service needs
  • Develop a method the vendor should use for scoring each feature. This will allow you to compare vendors on a standard lists of features. You may want to include a narrative section as well, allowing vendors to elaborate on any given feature.

For additional information, email: Regan Harper (

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