by Tom Gilson, Associate Editor,

Interlibrary loan faces more competition than ever and while some may argue that users will never pay the fees asked by services like “Get it Now” or “On Demand Books” they might not have to.  What happens if libraries discover that it is more cost effective to allocate funds to pay for these patron driven services.  After all, you can buy a lot of content for the funds allocated to ILL staffs, OCLC fees and the other costs of running ILL departments.  Plus the turnaround time for these services is almost immediate.  Other than being able to obtain some obscure and esoteric titles, what is the upside to ILL?   Quite frankly, the cumbersome infrastructure required by ILL departments is hard to justify in our increasingly electronic environment.  Collection Development librarians like Michael Levine Clark are already recommending that whenever possible we replace ILL with demand driven acquisitions (Against the Grain, June 2011, p24) At the very least ILL departments will have to incorporate patron driven services, downsize staff and dedicate fewer dollars to services like OCLC, ILLIAD, etc.  It’s a brave new world and ILL will have to adapt or become irrelevant.


2 Responses to MultiGrain Discussion: ILL

  1. Dennis Brunning says:

    Doing reference and library instruction, I take comfort interlibrary loan exists. I’m told Arizona State University still does a brisk ILL and document delivery business. We believe the varied interests of our users and our search engines turn up valuable publications that exceed our capacity to buy or license.
    I’m also aware that those of us who write about technology and librarianship often don’t have the complete picture when we recommend major change. Our hearts are in the right place—change or die is today’s mantra. Many librarians point out, though, that they “get this” and have already carried out the changes that we put to press.
    I believe this is the case for many ILL departments and however much Tom may be right for some libraries in particular his view may be too off point for others. Like I said, ILL is a great comfort to me and others who know we can cover all bases.

    Let’s say a blessing for this sermon and move on.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I agree with Dennis that one size doesn’t fit all. And I am not saying that “all” ILL departments should cease to exist. However, I would argue that they need to re-examine their modes of operation and incorporate patron driven solutions when it makes economic sense – despite requiring downsizing and allocating fewer dollars to traditional “infrastructure”. Other services are having to make this type adjustment. In many libraries, reference services are no longer primarily desk centric. Library instruction, virtual reference, and the creation of value added resources like LibGuides are equally, if not more important, elements in reference service. In a number of cases, reference desks are primarily staffed with well trained students or are being merged with other service points. In short, Interlibrary Loan is not immune to change and needs to re-invent itself.

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