ILL: Peering into the Future

By Crawford, Walt | American Libraries, November 2000 | Go to article overview

ILL: Peering into the Future


Crawford, Walt, American Libraries


Message from This Month's Guest Editor

In a future where everything is in digital form and freely available to everyone, everywhere, all the time, there will be no need for interlibrary loan or other forms of resource sharing. But such a future is as unlikely as one in which every library has infinite resources--enough money to buy everything, enough room to shelve it, and enough staff to catalog it. Today's libraries, and tomorrow's, need to share resources. That's always been true, and it's always been a complex, difficult, expensive process.

As a long-time employee of the Research Libraries Group (RLG), I'm acutely aware of the importance of resource sharing. Through SHARES and other programs, resource sharing has been a fundamental part of RLG since its inception. Today, it is one of RLG's primary strategic directions, as we commit to making peer-to-peer resource sharing more effective.

Libraries have come a long way from the multipart typed forms and manual record-keeping systems of the 1970s and before. With the emergence of bibliographic and citation databases, resource sharing has become more important. High-speed communications, a variety of computerized systems, and document-delivery devices ranging from book vans to Ariel have all helped libraries improve resource sharing.

It's easy to think of academic ILL as a parasitic process, with small libraries sponging off big ones, but it's not that simple. The largest libraries are active lenders, but also active borrowers. Harvard loaned 38,272 items in 1998-1999 and borrowed 26,797. UC/Berkeley loaned 46,415 items and borrowed 23,004--while the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign borrowed slightly more items (57,961) than it loaned (55,245). In all, 21 of the 111 reporting ARL libraries borrowed more items than they loaned in 1998-1999, and another 23 borrowed at least three items for every four they loaned.

Resource sharing works, and resource sharing matters--now and in any plausible future. A number of developments are making resource sharing faster, cheaper, and more effective. The five articles that follow reveal some of these developments and how they affect libraries.

Making it work

Julie Wessling and Tom Delaney begin with an astonishing story: how Colorado State University survived the destruction of its bound journals. A combination of local software and good library partnerships made it possible for CSU to work through the aftermath of a disastrous flood without spending unsupportable amounts to substitute for local collections. …

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