Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 2008


Rethinking Resource Sharing: Boston Public Library Provides Scan-on-Demand for Interlibrary Loan

Michael R. Colford
Regional Administrator, Boston Regional Library System

With the decision to do scan-on-demand for ILL, the Boston Public Library's (BPL) interlibrary loan department found itself catapulted to the cutting edge of services. What for years had been a cumbersome and lengthy process for staff and patrons alike, ILL is now fresh and exciting again. Recently groups like Rethinking Resource Sharing and ALA Reference and User Services Association's Sharing and Transforming Access to Resource Section (RUSA STARS) have been thinking about new ways to deliver traditional ILL services. From home delivery to new discovery tools, it's clear that library users love the fact that it doesn't matter where a book is, their local library can get it for them, hopefully in a timely manner.

Last year, BPL, as a member of the Boston Library Consortium (BLC), became a part of the Internet Archive's Open Content Alliance (OCA). BLC Director Barbara Preece had this to say about the decision to go with the OCA: “The basis of the BLC's decision was that materials from all of the participating members insured that all content will be searchable by any search engine and available to the public, unlike some of the other scanning projects. Furthermore, BLC members determine what should be scanned, unlike restrictions placed upon proprietary partnerships. The Consortium believes that this collaboration is the living articulation of the BLC's view to expand access to its rich resources held by the membership. The BLC/OCA project will ensure that materials digitized will remain free and open to scholars and the public.”

As a member of BLC, and as the host location for the OCA's Scanning Center, BPL has easy access to scanning services that would under the best of circumstances be woefully neglected given current staffing levels. The Directors Council of the BLC have recently begun discussing the possibility of providing scan-on-demand for interlibrary loan requests using the OCA scribes, but it was BPL President Bernard Margolis who leaped upon the idea as one that would provide superior service to libraries and users around the world.

The BPL's research collections possess rich, rare materials, much of which were published before 1923 and are now out-of-copyright. Much of this material was requested by other institutions, and unfortunately these requests were denied due to item fragility. The opportunity to fulfill these requests with scanned copies of the books provides a wonderful service that the BPL was previously unable to provide. Even if the requested materials could be sent, scanning the books via the OCA allows material to be instantly available for any subsequent requests, and the twenty-four-hour projected turn-around time for the initial scanned material will certainly satisfy users.

BPL filled its first ILL requests with scanned books at the beginning of February. When requests came in through ILLiad (resource sharing management software), ILL staff sent conditional messages to the requesting libraries explaining that these books would be scanned and sent to the OCA. The books were then sent to the OCA scribes, and the next day they were scanned and uploaded to the Web site. ILL staff was then able to notify the requesting libraries that their materials were ready.

BPL is now working on standard procedures and policies that will be made available to borrowing libraries and users to make scanned books the norm when filling requests for out-of-copyright material. BPL is also investigating scan-on-demand for ILL for orphaned works that are out of print but still in copyright. This is a new day for resource sharing, and scan-on-demand for ILL is just one step in the way library services are keeping up with the times.

For more information, contact Michael Colford.