Lending and Borrowing across Borders: Issues and Challenges with International Resource Sharing

Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Lending and Borrowing across Borders: Issues and Challenges with International Resource Sharing


The charge of the RUSA Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources Section (STARS) International Interlibrary Loan Committee is to evaluate trends in international interlibrary loan (ILL) and resource sharing, to develop materials and resources for international ILL practitioners, and to promote international ILL resource sharing efforts. In 2006, the committee decided to survey U.S. libraries regarding their international ILL activities as a way to gather information on the current environment and identify strategies for improving international ILL. The survey was deployed in the spring of 2007. In the fall of 2008, the committee members drafted an executive summary, which was approved by the RUSA STARS Executive Committee and posted to the STARS website (www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/ divs/rusa/sections/stars/section/internationill/ILLReport ExecSummary.pdf).

Specifically, the survey sought to determine what types of U.S. libraries participate in international ILL services as borrowers and lenders, to what extent libraries work internationally, and what tools and services survey participants use to go global. The results of the survey will help guide the committee in developing tools to resolve issues that may hinder international resource sharing and uncover opportunities to promote and expand both the use of and the participation in global ILL services. This article intends to reflect on changes in the resource-sharing environment since 1998, provide an overview of current practice, and lay the foundation for future International Interlibrary Loan Committee efforts.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Libraries in the United States and abroad have engaged in some level of international ILL for more than one hundred years. In the early 1900s, the Library of Congress began lending to other national libraries. International ILL grew slowly in the early decades of the twentieth century, but came to an abrupt halt during World War II. In the years following, U.S. libraries were reluctant participants in international ILL. This changed in 1959 with the American Library Association's ratification of the International Interlibrary Loan Procedure for United States Libraries. (1) Despite this long-standing practice and earlier adoption of procedures, the ILL community still lacks formalized efficient methods for conducting international transactions. Over the past several decades, international ILL has become a larger issue because of the rapidly changing information environment we face.

The ease with which library patrons are able to locate international resources is constantly growing. Anyone can easily locate the online catalog of an international library. It is also increasingly common to find international holdings in OCLC'S WorldCat regardless of whether those libraries participate in international lending. Our patrons are not aware of the difficulties in obtaining these resources. When they request items, they expect to get them. With the speed of new technology, our users are accustomed to instant gratification in their information seeking.

In addition to increased patron expectations, the inverse relationship between inflating materials costs and decreasing materials budgets necessitates a closer look at international ILL practices. With higher prices and more publications with less to spend, many libraries are being forced to turn to resource sharing for materials they previously would have purchased.

As a result, ILL practitioners increasingly express frustration over the lack of coherent procedures and communications methods and seek ways of improving international cooperation. In 2002, Robert Seal clearly delineated many of the challenges of international ILL:

(1) inadequate human resources to carry out interlibrary loan, especially on an international scale; (2) insufficient funding which prevents starting and sustaining collaborative projects; (3) out-of-date computer technology, incompatible systems, and poor telecommunications infrastructure; (4) a lack of international standards for bibliographic description, record format, and exchange of data; (5) copyright issues; (6) insufficient information about foreign holdings; (7) a lack of knowledge about methods of access, regulations and policies abroad; (8) negative attitudes or mistrust; (9) lack of resource sharing tradition; and (10) an unwillingness to share limited resources which could be lost or damaged.

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