Connecting Technical and Public Services: An Interlibrary Loan Perspective

By Ariana Santiago

Every library, and therefore every Interlibrary Loan (ILL) operation, is different. In some libraries, ILL may be very much "behind-the-scenes" and completely a technical service. In others, it may be incorporated into Circulation or Reference, rather than being a stand-alone department. Interlibrary Loan can range from one person doing it all, to larger departments with several full-time employees and student assistants. Where I work, at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery Services (ILL/DDS) is a department within the Technical Services unit. In 2012 we processed over 43,983 lending requests, 18,809 borrowing requests, and 10,569 document delivery requests. My experience working in ILL/DDS at UCF have led me to view Interlibrary Loan as both a technical service and a public service – it uniquely connects with many areas of the library and acts as a bridge between these two worlds.

Many of the daily activities of ILL are very technical in nature, and several Integrated Library Systems (ILS) may be used to complete the process. This technical nature of the job may be one reason that the specifics of Interlibrary Loan are learned through on-the-job training rather than in school. Technology changes quickly, and systems get updated – it wouldn't make sense to teach any particular ILS as part of a curriculum when the workings of the software system will likely change soon with updates anyway. More important is the ability of staff to learn new technologies and adapt to change. Here is a sampling of the variety of software and systems that may be used by ILL staff on a daily basis:

Many libraries use ILLiad, a management software for Interlibrary Loan that automates the process and streamlines the management of lending, borrowing, and document delivery. ILLiad integrates with WorldCat Resource Sharing and allows patrons to place their requests online. Others work directly through WorldCat Resource Sharing or use other management systems, such as Clio. In addition to ILLiad, the Interlibrary Loan staff at UCF regularly uses Aleph, an Ex Libris ILS, to verify the enrollment status of UCF patrons, to check out materials to our patrons as part of the Document Delivery Service, and to loan materials to borrowing institutions. RapidILL is a resource sharing system that provides fast and cost effective article sharing; it will work alone or with management software such as ILLiad. Odyssey, another software product designed for the sharing of electronic resources, also integrates with ILLiad. Various types of scanners are also used, along with microfilm and microfiche readers, to scan articles.

Search skills are vital for success in Interlibrary Loan. Citations must be verified before sending a borrowing request to another institution, and articles may be available full-text online or in a database. Therefore, it is imperative for ILL staff to be able to effectively search and navigate various databases for articles and citations. This becomes more difficult with requests for rare or obscure titles, conference proceedings, or foreign language titles. Although the inner workings of many specific technologies can be learned on-the-job, this is where skills gained through MLIS programs come into play – in understanding the information cycle and being able to locate resources.

Working in Interlibrary Loan is not all technical; providing quality public service plays a large part, as well. ILL is connected to areas of the library that are considered public services or access services. We work closely with Circulation and Media Services to develop effective workflows for such processes as loaning UCF materials to borrowing institutions, and how our patrons pick up borrowed items at the Circulation Desk. Reference librarians emphasize the value of ILL in library instruction classes.

At UCF, the ILL/DDS department is not completely behind the scenes or behind closed doors. In fact, the office is located in a central and high-traffic location, drawing many people in to inquire about the services we offer. Throughout the day, the ILL staff answers questions through phone calls, emails, and in-person visits. We interact with patrons all the time and know many of them on a first name basis. In addition to processing requests and doing everything possible to borrow materials for our patrons, these interactions create a constant need to deliver great customer service and to make sure our patrons have a positive experience with all aspects of Interlibrary Loan. It is not uncommon for us to provide extra assistance to those who have difficulty using computers, or to invite them to use a computer in our office so that we can guide them as they register in ILLiad and make their first request.

I have been in my current position for over eight months, and in that time I have come to see many facets of Interlibrary Loan: it is a technical service, a public service, and many things in between. Through Interlibrary Loan, I have gained exposure to many other areas of the library, including Circulation, Media, Reference, Acquisitions, and Cataloging. Interlibrary Loan communicates and collaborates with other library departments, and requires a wide variety of skills. Whether you are tech-savvy or a people person, Interlibrary Loan can be a valuable opportunity for MLIS students and library professionals.

Ariana Santiago is a Senior Library Technical Assistant at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. In December 2012 she received a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida.