Thursday, November 12, 2009

Technology and its Impact on Libraries: Resource Sharing

It goes without saying that one library cannot have everything its users might need or want. That is why resource sharing between libraries is absolutely necessary. Resource sharing has existed since the early days of libraries, but it wasn’t until the mid-2oth century when a standardized form made interlibrary loan an easier process. (Hilyer, 2006)

As computer technology became more commonplace in libraries, resource sharing began to expand. Many state consortiums, such as the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLink) and TexShare found their beginnings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Consortiums give libraries access to more information for less money. Using a shared catalog and pooling money together to buy journal subscriptions for multiple libraries enables those libraries to have access to more than they would be able to afford on their own. For example, the patrons at more than 90 OhioLink member libraries have access to more than 48 million different library materials.

These consortiums generally have different methods of shipping than traditional interlibrary loan systems. Courier services, such as TExpress for TexShare, are frequently used, allowing faster delivery times than with traditional interlibrary loan services. Many interlibrary loan departments tend to ship via the United States Postal Service using Library Rate, which can be significantly slower depending on location. The University of Alaska-Fairbanks specifically requests that any items be sent via first class at a minimum, to ensure that materials will arrive in time for patrons to actually use them before they are due back.

In addition to allowing these consortiums to form in the first place, technology has made significant improvements in interlibrary loan systems. Articles used to be mailed from lending to borrowing library. Now they are transmitted through electronic delivery systems such as Ariel, Odyssey or DOCLINE, which allows a much faster turnaround time.

The Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) catalog WorldCat, allows member libraries to determine which libraries have specifically needed materials in their holdings. Borrowing libraries can place requests for articles and frequently have them in their patrons’ hands later the same day. Books and other materials are still subjected to the library rate shipping, but it is a vast improvement over older systems, where forms were filled out in triplicate and mailed off to the potential lender.

Software applications specifically for interlibrary loan simplify the process even further. In the past, patrons placed a request and then waited patiently for it to show up. Now, applications such as ILLiad allow users the ability to track requests from the time they are placed until they are received. Systems such as ILLiad assist in reducing costs in shipping and photocopying, and help reduce staff workoad.(Atlas, 2008)

Even with all of these improvements, there are concerns where technology is concerned. For example, earlier this year, OhioLink experienced a hardware failure that knocked most of its major resources offline. While they moved as quickly as possible to fix things, it was still more than a month before everything was completely back to normal.

Not all libraries have the technology needed to simplify these functions, nor the money to invest in getting it. Some institutions, such as prisons and small public libraries, still rely on the old form in triplicate (although several have ditched the carbon sheets in favor of photocopying the original).

Copyright, always a confusing issue, becomes even more of a question mark now that other sources of electronic information are becoming prevalent. Details of the Google Books Settlement, for example, are still being worked out. Libraries should be aware of potential issues, such as the man from Nova Scotia who found work that he’d created in digitized form on Google Books.

Lastly, as libraries move toward more digital collections, concern about continued access grows. OhioLink lost access to a few databases this year that were funded by a grant. Access is still available through other networks in Ohio, such as OPLIN, but as money becomes a bigger issue for all libraries, there are no guarantees that it will continue.

Things to consider:

According to Association of Research Libraries statistics, interlibrary loan lending has been decreasing for the last several years, yet borrowing continues to increase. Why do you think this is happening? Should libraries be concerned?

Think about the library you frequent most often. In my own experience in interlibrary loan, I have encountered several reference librarians who do not know how to set up their own ILLiad account, let alone assist patrons in doing so. As technology plays a larger part in the services libraries offer, do you think the librarians you deal with are adequately prepared to assist patrons? If not, what do they need to improve? How comfortable will you be in assisting patrons with technology issues?


Atlas Systems, I. (2008). What is OCLC ILLiad? Retrieved November 2, 2009, from

Hilyer, L. A. (2006). Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery: Best Practices for Operating and Managing Interlibrary Loan Services in All Libraries.

Ohio Library and Information Network (2009, June 15, 2009). What is OhioLink? Retrieved November 2, 2009, from

Texas State Library and Archives Commission (2009, June 9, 2009). About TexShare Retrieved November 3, 2009, from


Amy Alcenius said...

I recently used ILL to get materials for this class (library leader). My local library had a spot online that goes right to MeL. You put in your barcode and the branch you want it sent to and then they call you when it comes. It looks like they have bypassed the neccesity of every librarian having to show each patron how to set up an account and made it REALLY easy to do ILL. Jackson District Library, rock on.

Wendy Schneider said...

My public library also has a spot online to order books through ILL. All I have to do is provide my info. and the book is sent to the closest library to my home. I agree that it's necessary for libraries to share resources, especially when the budgets are not large enough to cover everything that is needed.

In regards to the hardware failure that Ohiolink experienced is just something that libraries need to be prepared for, especially as the demands become greater in the future. Patrons also need to understand that whenever you're dealing with machines/computers, there is a chance information not backed up can be lost. This one just one of the reasons that it is necessary for librarians to take as many technology courses and have their skills updated to be able to keep the technology working for as long as possible. However, whenever you are dealing with machines, there is a chance of them breaking down and possibly losing vital information. At least we don't have to get those horrible papercuts from the card catalogs.

No doubt, regardless of the chance we can lose info. through technology that is not cared for properly or functioning as it should, resource sharing is up and running for most libraries and it is the way of the future for the libraries to save money and time.

Nicole Lesperance said...

As technology plays a larger part in the services libraries offer, do you think the librarians you deal with are adequately prepared to assist patrons? If not, what do they need to improve? How comfortable will you be in assisting patrons with technology issues?

I believe that many of the librarians that are currently working have a good idea how to work with many of the technological resources and issues that may arise, but it is definite that the education and training that we are receiving now is far superior to that. We can surely feel blessed to know that this program will give us the hunger needed to keep on top of these advances and the knowledge that we will need to help patrons better.

Tom Nowak said...

I appreciated a look at a technical services aspect of technology and the library. We get caught up in what's cool, and its easy to overlook mundane but crucial elements such as shipping that really make the library work.

Valbee said...

Nicole, I couldn't agree with you more about the superior training we're receiving. As much as those of us taking 6080 have groaned in frustration (and yes, even though I am a computer geek wannabe, I've had my "hair pulling" moments), the skills we are learning are going to put us ahead of many people already employed in libraries.

Lover said...

Wow! This was such a great, well-researched article. I knew about Ohio-link and ILL but I didn't know the true nuts and bolts of it that you provided here. And I agree with the other comments that this is awesome to know for when we enter the field. I've always wanted to know all the whys and details of how things actually work. I've often wondered how my books get to me when I order books form another library and pictured special deliveries and such. Now I feel silly! I had no idea there was even a special library rate, I knew that was a media rate, not a library rate. Once again, awesome article.