Yes, interlibrary loan (ILL) is great. I’m in an ILL state of mind – NELLCO’s ILL group got together for the first time in a while on Friday. I’ll leave it to the house organ to detail what was discussed, but there was a good discussion. One thing that showed throughout the day was that everyone really likes ILL. People like it, and need it too. Between tighter budgets and tighter library space, libraries have less stuff that patrons want (especially patrons who really want physical stuff.)
Allow me to reminisce. The first ILL experience I remember was while I was working in a law library after college (I admit, I didn’t ILL in college as an undergraduate student. Only later did I realize how it could have helped a few of my papers!) Anyway, the ILL requests weren’t even academic – they were between law firms! Weren’t law firms supposed to be opponents? At times, perhaps, but in library world, everyone was trying to do the best they could for their users. That is the kind of behavior that made me want to be a librarian.
Unfortunately, I’m a little worried about the future if ILL. The biggest issue is licensing. As we license more, we’ll have to consider how to explicitly include the right to interlibrary loan with databases. Personally, I think it could be a win-win – what better way to sell a database product than fulfilling a couple of one-off ILL requests? Would I trade the right to fill a few ILLs in exchange of telling the database company who I was filling them for? Eh, tougher, but then again, it’s not like OCLC doesn’t know whose requests we are filling already!
I’m also a little concerned for the post office, but there isn’t much librarians can do about that. They aren’t the only way to move a book.
My last concern is that the automation of the process makes it too easy. ILL is based on people and organizations being nice, with a dash of self-interest in ensuring that filling requests today will get requests filled tomorrow. Automation may reduce transaction costs, but it makes it easy to forget that there is some other person on the other end, pulling a book off a shelf and packing it up, keeping it out of the hands of their patrons. So thank you, interlibrary loan librarians and staff everywhere!