ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 2, November 2002) -

*Trimming the ILL Fat:
Streamlining ILL Through the Use of Technology at the State University of West Georgia*


Angela Mehaffey
ILL Administrative Supervisor
State University of West Georgia

Interlibrary loan, once an operation buried under the demands of arcane and unfriendly software, vast numbers of copyright cards, and ever-growing paper files, has been altered radically in the last few years by technology. The library is increasingly a technology driven environment, and ILL can and should be a part of that transformation. The availability of ILL software such as Clio, Ariel and Prospero has allowed many an ILL office to streamline its procedures and join in this technology revolution. Such advances have allowed the State University of West Georgia's ILL office to transform workflows over the course of the last two years in an office staffed by paraprofessionals alone. The resulting savings in time and money have allowed us to reduce our student personnel (from four students to one over the course of time) and devote more time to those difficult requests that demand expert attention. I will now discuss how we chose and implemented our current software and what we have been able to change and/or eliminate as a result. In addition, the possible changes that will be generated by the coming introduction of the University System's Universal Borrowing initiative will be addressed.

Why did we need to rethink interlibrary loan? Beginning in 1999, when we experienced several personnel changes that resulted in a staff reduction from three full-time positions in interlibrary loan (one librarian and two paraprofessionals) to two paraprofessionals, we began to consider ways that we could streamline our procedures and run an efficient operation with one less staff member and two student assistants. While the task seemed daunting at first, we welcomed the change to use technology to improve our procedures. We became interested in the developments in the ILL office at Virginia Tech, where the ILLIAD interlibrary loan management software was created, and through ILL head Harry Kriz's accounts of their progress, we began to see the scope of the changes that were possible. We began investigating the various ILL management software packages that were on the market. We chose Clio, a very reasonably priced product that includes free upgrades. It has provided us with automated lending and borrowing, extensive record management tools, and the ability to automate our copyright statistics. Over time, these capabilities allowed us to reduce, and in some cases, eliminate, our paper files and boxes of copyright cards. The software also allowed us instant access to our statistics, providing us with valuable information about our operation, such as our turnaround times and fill rates. Clio's reports also help us to identify areas of our collection that may need to be expanded. In addition, it provided us with the ability to easily view a patron's request history. This has eliminated duplicate requests and allowed us convenient access to information that expires from the OCLC interlibrary loan system and then disappears forever, such as completed requests. No more searching through a backlog of paper files to find the needed information. The newest version of Clio interfaces with our catalog and allows us to check the status of items requested by other libraries from within Clio. One screen allows us to manage our incoming requests. We print only the pick sheets we need, thereby saving a great deal of paper.

Our success with Clio inspired us to investigate other types of interlibrary loan software. Much earlier, we had acquired RLG's Ariel scanning software that allows us to transmit copies of articles to other libraries electronically directly without creating a paper copy. Our desire to offer the same speedy service to our patrons led us to Prospero, electronic document delivery software available for free on the web. After receiving an email notifying them that their article has arrived, patrons can go to our Prospero web page and download their articles to their desktop using Adobe Acrobat. Initially, we kept temporary backup copies in Ariel of the articles that we received so that we would have a copy available for those patrons who were either having difficulty accessing the articles or who were reluctant to use the new system. Thankfully, we have had few such incidences, and we have received positive feedback from students and faculty who appreciate the quick delivery and the ability to either print or save their articles. Like Clio, Prospero has allowed us to save both time and valuable paper resources.

Change has presented some difficulties. It is often a challenge to educate patrons about new policies and procedures. Some patrons use our service intermittently, so they are not current with our practices. However, we have found email to be a very useful tool in this regard. In fact, most of our patrons prefer that method of communication. A helpful change we made in our online request form was to require patrons to either supply an email address or check a box indicating that they do not have one (we continue to notify those patrons by phone or mail). A few patrons have been resistant to the elimination of paper request forms and the emphasis on email, but we have found that students and faculty are becoming more tech savvy all of the time, and many welcome any changes that will deliver materials into their hands more quickly.

Of course, all of these developments have led to changes in our workflow. After years of ingrained habits, we have had to rethink our patterns of behavior and find new ways to structure our day. This has not been as difficult as it once seemed. After all, our colleagues in reference have had to adapt to enormous changes since the advent of computerized databases and the World Wide Web. Change is the norm in today's library, and it is the responsibility of each department within the whole to find ways to utilize new technology and function within these changes. We have had to learn to operate new programs and educate our patrons and colleagues about the changes that have taken place. Fortunately, we were able to make such decisions ourselves and with the full support of our supervisors. In addition, the staff and student assistants in our department continue to be very flexible and open to new ideas. We believe the end result to be an interlibrary loan office that functions far more efficiently.

In the near future, the libraries in Georgia's university system will be implementing a universal borrowing program that is an outgrowth of the GALILEO project (a virtual library that provides access to a number of databases and information resources). This means that patrons will be able to view a "universal catalog" that will display both the holdings of their home institution's library and those of other libraries in the system. They will be able to place holds on books and request that the items be shipped to their home library for pickup. The end result of this will be a reduction in the number of requests that the ILL office handles for books within our system. At this time, however, the plan is for article requests to continue to be handled by the ILL office for copyright reasons. Universal borrowing will lead to changes in the workflows of both the circulation and interlibrary loan offices across the system. While we are unsure at this time about the nature of these changes, we are sure that we will continue to need the technology that we have implemented to deal with our out of state lending and borrowing, which continues to be substantial.

Some would argue that such changes have created an environment lacking in the personal contact and communication that have characterized libraries in the past. However, we have determined that our primary goal is to deliver materials to our patrons and our libraries in as timely a fashion as possible. True, we have less contact with our patrons, but we know that they appreciate the improvements in service that we can provide them. We continue to be accessible to our users. However, this accessibility takes more diverse forms than it did in the past. We have certainly welcomed the opportunity to devote more time to those areas of the operation that were consistently placed on the backburner when we were overwhelmed by our daily borrowing and lending tasks. Now, we have more opportunity to plan for future developments and to participate in more library-wide planning and training activities. We can now meet the challenge of supplying items for an increasing number of requests, as well. After all, patrons' access to bibliographic information is growing all of the time while funds for acquiring new materials are shrinking. A direct result of this is an increasing demand for interlibrary loan services. Undertaking a process improvement study that addresses the needs and concerns of the interlibrary loan staff, as we did over a period of time in our interlibrary loan office, and implementing effective interlibrary loan software will make it easier to meet these demands.

Of course, we are not the first interlibrary loan office to institute such changes, and this is not the first account to document such change. However, during the course of our move to an automated office, we found it beneficial to read about the problems encountered by other ILL units, as well as their successes. Sharing our experiences will allow us all to learn about the challenges and joys of technology in ILL offices everywhere and perhaps inspire our colleagues who have not yet explored the possibilities to adapt some of these measures to their own institutions. The doors of our library are open wider to the surrounding world everyday, and paraprofessionals are an important part of the picture. We paraprofessionals at Ingram Library have created a highly functioning interlibrary loan unit to facilitate the opening of those doors.

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