States report high level of reciprocal borrowing arrangements

A great deal is reported by libraries about staffing, expenditures, programs and services yet we know little about reciprocal borrowing activity within states, between states, and in US territories. 

In September, 2004 Denise Davis, Director of the Office for Research and Statistics at ALA, sent a three-question survey to the State Data Coordinator from each state library and each US territory to begin an investigation. The questions asked about the presence of statewide reciprocal borrowing, reciprocal borrowing between similar libraries (public, academic, school, etc.), multi-state reciprocal borrowing, and whether the state had implemented a statewide library card.  The results were quite interesting.  All states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands responded.

Reciprocal borrowing was still co-mingled with interlibrary loan services in the minds of many respondents.  This was confirmed with additional follow-up, but raised questions about what libraries considered reciprocal borrowing versus interlibrary loan.  For the purposes of this cursory investigation reciprocal borrowing was considered an arrangement between libraries that allows registered library patrons to borrow materials from libraries other than their home library.  Interlibrary loan was considered a library-mediated activity of borrowing materials on behalf of a library patron even if the loan was patron-initiated through an online catalog or other online means.

Fifty percent of respondents reported statewide reciprocal borrowing between all library types, 38 percent reported no reciprocal borrowing, and 27 percent reported reciprocal borrowing between public libraries only.  The map presents the distribution of reciprocal borrowing in the US.


(Revised 02-01-2005)

Responses regarding multi-state reciprocal borrowing were fairly distributed – 33 percent reporting yes, 33 percent reporting no, 31 percent reporting they did not know of such arrangements.  Distribution was fairly even across library types for those states responding yes - 71 percent academic, 76 percent public, and 53 percent each for school and special libraries.  Comments from respondents indicated these were multi-state shared catalogs, as well as consortia, regional networks and cooperative agreements.

Statewide library cards have a very low adoption rate according to responses from states.  Only 23 percent of states reported having a statewide card and one state will launch a statewide card for public libraries only spring 2005, but 75 percent reported no statewide card.

The table of responses, and additional color maps, are available at the  Reciprocal Borrowing Survey page.