Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 2008

The Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative

"Rethinking Resource Sharing. Inspiring Libraries. Empowering People."

Beth Posner
Head of Interlibrary Loan Services, Mina Rees Library, CUNY Graduate Center, new York

As the philosophy of library service evolves and delivery and communication technology improves, librarians are both increasingly willing and increasingly able to share the wealth of their collections through interlibrary loan services. Today, however, because of convenient, easy, free, or inexpensive access to "good-enough" online information, people are turning from libraries to the Internet for their information needs. In addition, information is migrating from library shelves to the Web. Therefore, not surprisingly, librarians are being challenged to rethink how they go about helping library patrons and non-library users alike to access library and other information resources.

In 2005, in response to this evolving information landscape, a group of librarians, product vendors, and library technology specialists produced a white paper titled, "It's Time to Think Again about Resource Sharing." Hoping to spark a revolution in resource sharing, this ad-hoc group organized themselves as the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative (RRSI). Their seven point manifesto (see article on page 7) calls for libraries to become user-centric and to simplify the information resource sharing process. Specific ideas for doing so (some examples follow) can be found on their Web site and wiki, and are being publicized through presentations, articles, forums, and an award for innovations in library resource sharing.

Given that an ILL request is filled through OCLC every four seconds, there is no doubt that interlibrary loan remains alive and well. However, it also true that the sharing of library material remains costly, time-consuming, rule-bound, and library-centric. This is why the RRSI is working to reinvigorate the practice and the practitioners of library resource sharing. By supporting grassroots change, partnering with innovators, and advocating for administrative decision-makers to open up policies and collections, the RRSI seeks to provide people with options about how to get the information they need, when they need it, and in the format they choose. Old-school concerns about stretching limited resources to cater to an overly entitled Internet generation need to give way to service goals that help librarians best allocate their valuable resources to empower all people with information. It is in this way, as librarians implement new procedures and policies to facilitate information access across local, regional, national, and international borders, that libraries will remain inspirational, invaluable, generous, and responsible institutions that, as always, thrive at finding ways to best connect everyone to quality information.

For more information about rethinking resource sharing or the innovation awards, or to get involved, visit Rethinking Resource Sharing Web site.

How Libraries are Rethinking Resource Sharing

Rethink Policies

  • Pay all reasonable ILL fees for patrons.
  • Lend to countries around the world.
  • Digitize items that you cannot lend.
  • Allow audio-visual material and new items to circulate to non-patrons.
  • Negotiate license language so that e-serials can be lent and borrowed, subject to the same copyright guidelines as print material.

Rethink Procedures

  • Set up open URL resolvers so patrons can make requests for articles or books easily.
  • Use WorldCat Direct Request and custom holdings so that ILL requests can be unmediated.
  • Use ILL management software.
  • Post ILL articles online.
  • Consider keeping basic services free and charging for quicker delivery.

Rethink Services

  • Join a consortium of libraries that have a shared circulation system for book borrowing.
  • Provide online request forms.
  • Buy items from booksellers or document suppliers. It may be cheaper and faster or the only way to get an item. Then consider keeping the book for your library or letting the patron keep it.
  • Pay for scanning of rare items from research libraries.
  • Consider home delivery of ILL material.
  • Provide document delivery of local holdings for patrons.
  • Publicize plug-ins that allow people to search library catalogs when they are searching online bookstores.