For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
May 15, 2002 - Borrowing from other Library Systems (ILL) Will Get Faster, Easier
I recently attended a conference on Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan, or ILL as it is known in library land, is the process through which patrons borrow library materials that their local libraries don't own.
ILL, as I noted in a column some months ago, used to be a very delicate matter. Libraries then were not in the habit of loaning out their stuff to people who didn't happen to be part of their local community.
So the first ILL librarians were like diplomats, seeking to establish friendly ties with sometimes prickly foreign nations. Like all diplomats, their chief tool was protocol, through which they soothed the feelings and honor of the "other" libraries in order to loosen lending restrictions. These protocols required certain forms, a strict order in which libraries might be approached,certain limitations on what might be asked for, and so on.
And they were successful. As anyone who runs a request through ILL has learned, ILL librarians are very good at what they do. Moreover, their skills represent a cross-section of library expertise.
They conduct mini-reference interviews to be sure that they understand what the patrons are looking for. ILL librarians are expert catalog searchers, hopping from one automated system to another to track down just the right item. In order to do this, they have to be fairly knowledgeable about sometimes obscure cataloging practices.
Then, when the items comes through, ILL librarians have to ease the materials into the native circulations system, carefully tracking the item to make sure that it gets back on time.
While it isn't unusual for me to hear words of praise for our staff, I can count on at least one outpouring of gratitude for our ILL staff every year. ILL is often the ONLY solution to a longstanding reference, genealogy, or scholarly request, and our patrons are deeply appreciative of the service.
I've only ever had three mild reservations about ILL.
First, why "ILL"? It just sounds ... sick.
The second is that the service constitutes a remarkably small percentage of our overall use. In 2001, what we loaned to other libraries accounted for just .15% of our overall checkouts. What we borrowed FROM other libraries was a little higher: .28%. Taken together, that's less than one half of one percent.
But frequency of use doesn't necessarily speak to value. You might only have one open heart surgery operation in your whole life, but that doesn't mean it wasn't important.
My third reservation concerns speed. For many years, ILL typically took some 4-6 weeks to get something for you. Given the complexity of the task before computers catalogs and e-mail, I suppose that's not surprising.
Things have changed. These days, most items we can locate, request, have delivered, and have ready for checkout in just a couple of days.
In June, Colorado will be rolling out something called SWIFT - StateWide Interlibrary loan Fast Track. (As acronyms go, "SWIFT" is certainly a step up from "ILL.") This will allow patrons to place their own holds from other catalogs and have the items delivered to one of our branches.
Other advances, some technological, some a result of the great openness that characterizes Colorado libraries (and is a direct result of ILL librarians' efforts), have made it much easier to get article requests via e-mail, or just stroll into another library and check something out on the spot.
Today's library patrons are wired to the world. They see their library cards as international passports.
And today's Interlibrary Loan librarians are no longer diplomats. They are tour guides.