Interlibrary Loans

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Sharing. It’s what libraries are all about: sharing resources with our own constituents and other libraries. Interlibrary loan is a seemingly simple concept, but has broad implications for both collection development and public service. What do we borrow? What do we lend, when, and with whom?

Ownership versus Access

What should your library purchase, rather than borrow, from other libraries? Traditionally, we buy what is current, with wide appeal; and we borrow titles that are old, rare, esoteric, or outside the scope of our collection.

However, it's interesting to note that according to OCLC, the most borrowed books are often bestsellers.

While ILL is not intended to take the place of acquisitions, funding and space often dictate what we buy versus what we borrow. Most libraries can’t be all things to all people. Collections must be community-centered and cost effective. For libraries in close proximity to each other or within large systems, the trend is moving away from overlapping collections and toward the creation of specialized branches. Therefore, interlibrary loan—whether it be within your system, consortia, county, or state—is the norm. District centers, headquarters, and other libraries with large budgets and buildings can better afford to be generalists. Now more than ever, it’s in our best interest to think and act strategically. What potential partner’s collection can fill the gaps in your own?

Budget issues are real for all libraries. Sometimes you simply cannot buy enough copies to meet demand, or hesitate to buy multiple copies of items that potentially inspire fleeting interest. Could there be more driving this trend than money?

Public Services versus Technical Services

It’s never a happy moment when you realize you don’t have the title a patron wants. And sometimes your disbelief mirrors theirs, making you ask yourself, “How can it be that we don’t own this?”

How many degrees of separation are there between those who order ILLs and those who buy materials? In your library, does ILL fall under the technical services department, while collection development or public service departments order new and replacement materials? If so, it’s important that the lines of communication remain open. You could be missing part of the selection picture. Did your patron request a title you already own because they need it in another format or bind? Should you be buying more in those formats/binds? Or did they request it because your copy is missing, dirty, or in poor shape? How well are you keeping up with items that need to be replaced?

Requests may also signal a renewed interest in older titles. Why? Did this title reappear on a bestseller list in paperback? Has it just now been reviewed? Is there a new movie or TV tie-in edition? Did you underestimate need and not buy enough copies? Did you weed out your multiples too soon? Perhaps you have access to a workspace that could serve as a closed stacks area, a kind of step-down unit for hot titles after they are no longer on a holds list. These titles can be stored with unavailable status in your ILS (for a limited period of time, such as six months to a year) before they are deselected entirely. This allows for a resurgence of demand, or to meet replacement needs for worn-out copies.

In addition to rehashing bestsellers and award winners, ILL requests can tip you off to trending topics and point to underserved areas of the collection. OCLC also found that ILL requests tend to reflect our current political climate.

Liberalize Policies

Make sure your collection development and ILL policies complement one another; they should be kept up to date and up to code. Many libraries choose to make their ILL borrowing and lending practices match. In other words, if you do not lend videogames to other libraries through ILL, you also do not borrow videogames from other libraries. Think about what items you don’t lend and borrow, and why. Sometimes policies are based on perceived difficulty, scarcity, or replacement costs, which may no longer hold relevance. Does your policy allow you to borrow/lend new materials? Many libraries prefer to keep their new materials circulating exclusively within their service area for the first six months to a year. Are these practices still necessary, and if so, what embargo period is appropriate?

While today’s libraries often cannot afford to be a one-stop shop, it’s important to acknowledge that for patrons, convenience drives everything. If the library doesn’t own what they want, and if borrowing appears to be too complicated, takes too long, or carries limits or fees, patrons will either go elsewhere or choose to buy the materials themselves.

We need all the support and funding we can get. The library’s traditional can-do attitude goes a long way towards winning new fans. And while we may not have all the answers or resources to meet every patron’s need, we can get them.

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