The Wonderful World of Interlibrary Loan

November 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

One of the most exhilarating things about writing and publishing a book is putting your name into Amazon and seeing the page with your book on it come up on the screen. When I started working as a librarian in 2003, I would have laughed if someone had told me that I would write a book on interlibrary loan. But in 2007 I wrote a short article on running one-person interlibrary loan service for the Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Deliver & Electronic Reserve.  Later that year, the publisher at Neal-Schuman contacted me. He was sure that I had more to say on the topic of small ILL departments.

I was less sure, but after a few months delay, I sent in a proposal and finally started on the manuscript in the fall of 2008.  Right when I was starting my doctoral program. Writing the manuscript and completing my coursework took quite a bit a bit of juggling.  I had to save the most laborious chapters (policy!) for the winter break.

Throughout the writing process I learned more than I ever thought I would know about copyright law, interlibrary loan management systems, user-initiated services, and the correct name of the giant library service in Dublin, OH (OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.). I discovered that interlibrary loan has a long history and that ILL librarians were very excited about MIME, the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension which allows attachments to be added to email.  When I finally finished the manuscript, the book ended up covering a wide range of topics including how to establish a paperless ILL office, how to interpret the ILL code for a small department, and tips for writing a policy when you don’t have a committee to help you.

Even though the chapters on ILL policies were the most difficult to write, they also contain some of the most interesting material.  I would argue that the suggestions for policy writing might have some utility in other service areas of the library. If you happen to work at a small library, just remember that other staff members might be more willing to pitch in if you volunteer to actually write the policy and they just have to read it and offer suggestions.  As Sandra Nelson and June Garcia note in their book on writing policy in public libraries: “Committees do not write, individuals write.”  This is excellent advice for all administrators to keep in mind.

In the end, it turned out that the publisher was right about me–I do have a lot to say about running a small interlibrary loan and document delivery service.

Emily Knox


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