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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2000

Conference Reports

The Future of Interlibrary Loan and its Impact on Sci/Tech Libraries
Heads of Sci/Tech Libraries Discussion Group
ALA Annual Conference, July 9, 2000

Laura Lane
Temple University

Barton Lessin
Wayne State University

Forty sci/tech librarians gathered at the Hyatt in Chicago on Sunday July 9, 2000 to consider the future of Interlibrary Loan and its impact on the libraries that we serve. This session benefited from three discussion facilitators, who each shared her thoughts about interlibrary loan and trends in academic libraries.

Mary E. Jackson, Senior Program Officer for Access Services at the Association of Research Libraries, started the evening off with a clear statement suggesting that Interlibrary Loan was likely to continue for a long time as there is a still a need for this service. She noted that since 1986, borrowing activity has increased at a rate of 8% per year and lending is up at a rate of 4% per year ARL libraries. The year 2000 saw the first decline in lending, which may partly be attributable to the increasing availability of electronic resources. She also noted that patrons' expectations are changing, and some wonder why Interlibrary Loan can't be as efficient as Jackson explained a loan request currently takes 15.6 days on average to fill, but the best libraries average fewer than 10 days per request. She considered this mediocre service at best when compared with other types of organizations. She added that users do not want to go into the library to get information, yet patrons are not always technologically equipped to receive large files at their desktop. A question she raised is how to get vendors to deliver needed services. Jackson also addressed growing interest in patron-initiated Interlibrary Loan and the standard, pending approval in August, that will allow variant systems to handle Interlibrary Loan operations. The challenge is to reduce turn around time by reducing the role staff play in the Interlibrary Loan equation. She said that staff-related costs represent about 2/3 of the costs to borrow and 3/4 of the cost to lend. The environment of Interlibrary Loan is changing, and the primary need is to create faster, more efficient, user-focused services. Consortial arrangements are sometimes helpful in this regard.

Jill O'Neill, a writer in Corporate Communications at ISI Thomson Scientific, expanded the discussion by helping to consider the perspectives of a corporate document delivery vendor. She explained that document delivery is separate and complimentary to Interlibrary Loan and that most document delivery vendors do not want to be in the Interlibrary Loan business. They do it only because customers want it. O'Neill explained how a direct call to Eugene Garfield in 1959/60 prompted ISI to establish a document delivery service. The company would literally tear an article from its binding so that it could be sent to the patron. This was viewed as an exchange of reprints and eventually grew into the Genuine Article in the 1980's. It was around this time that ISI started a royalty payment schedule. By the 1990's publishers wanted more for their articles. The 1999 average royalty payment captured by ISI was between $7 and $8. In 1997 the Genuine Article was changed to ISI Document Solution with a shift in approach to focus on transaction access. O'Neill suggested that from the vendor 's view, document delivery represents substantive overhead. She told those attending the session that ISI is committed to continuing its delivery service and is working with suppliers to provide electronic solutions. She further offered that the market will determine how and under what circumstances ISI will continue in the document delivery business.

Nan Butkovich, Head of the Physical Sciences Library at Penn State University, views ILL and commercial document delivery as pieces of a larger document delivery program. She spoke about her proposal to streamline the way ILL and commercial document delivery requests are handled. Currently, users are faced with submitting their requests on a variety of forms each representing to the staff a possible source from which the request might be filled, such as ILL, consortia, commercial suppliers, and other Penn State campuses. The user, of course, is not concerned about where the information is obtained, only that they obtain it. Her proposal to the administration is to use a single form for all ILL and Document Delivery requests from Physical Science faculty and students. A secure form on the web, requests would be sent directly to the Physical Sciences Library where the information will be verified and a decision made on how to fulfill the request. Keeping with current practice, patrons would not be charged for copies obtained from sources outside the University, for items held in a Penn State remote storage facility, or at another Penn State campus. Patrons would be charged only for photocopying materials held at their campus. It is hoped that this fee will encourage users to check the university's OPAC before submitting a request, thereby, decreasing staff time spent searching for items already owned. The advantage to this proposal is that most of the necessary work is already being done. For the most part, only the process would need to be re-arranged. If the proposal is accepted and is successful in the Physical Sciences Library, it could be expanded to other parts of the University Libraries. We will get an update on this effort to simplify the document delivery process at a future meeting.

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