January 18, 2023. New technologies are simplifying the workflows of interlibrary loan and document sharing services, expanding access for users to larger collections and minimizing the workload on librarians
Nothing speaks more to the uniquely collaborative nature of libraries than resource sharing. The idea of banding together to share collections has always held the promise of strengthening individual libraries and empowering them with larger collections. However, reality hasn't always lived up to promise. Frustrations abound with traditional interlibrary loan (ILL) management systems and document delivery services (DDS). Librarians lament complicated set-ups, incompatibility with other library systems, and even manual workflows are rife with dead-ends and wasted steps. In a world where budget dollars and staff time are at a premium, traditional ILL systems are simply too expensive.
Imaginative new technology solutions are enabling librarians to overcome these challenges and bring the full promise of resource sharing to reality.
A modern approach to resource sharing
Rapido, from Ex Libris, part of Clarivate, is among a new generation of resource sharing solutions that streamlines both ILL and DDS by automating processes and freeing librarians from tedious manual steps. Users are freed, too: they self-serve, from discovery to request. This new generation of resource sharing solutions hinge on predictability, efficiency and transparency. Requests are routed to libraries that have the materials available – no dead-end searches on either end. Users know when and where their materials will arrive. Because steps are eliminated, materials arrive faster, improving service to users.
The University of Liverpool is one of the first to implement Rapido in the U.K., where it encompasses another automated service, RapidILL from Ex Libris, as well as physical lending and borrowing. "We decided to move to Rapido because of its seamless integration with Primo and the user interface," said Dr. Rachel Schulkins, the University's Acquisitions and Document Delivery Manager. "Though still in its early days, we believe that having a Rapido community for physical lending and borrowing would allow us to minimize staff intervention and reduce costs, while introducing faster delivery times and improving the user experience."
Simpler, more effective management for libraries
For library staff, this type of innovative system allows them to better manage resource sharing. For example, borrowing and lending between libraries is automated, enabling libraries to handle greater volume, even when staff is limited. Further, a complicated request doesn't throw a wrench into the entire system's works – a librarian can handle a complex order manually while routine requests continue to be processed automatically.
Librarians can set controls within these new systems that allow them to work within budgets and respond to unique needs of their patrons. For example, Rapido allows libraries to set different loan policies based on the user group. Libraries can adjust things like maximum costs and delivery times per loan for students versus those for faculty, still another for other staff.
They can also set controls for what they're willing to lend and to which libraries.
Finally, Rapido also allows "load balancing" so that a single library isn't overwhelmed by requests when others have the same materials available.
Transparency and independence for users
The new generation of resource sharing systems focus on independence for users, who can explore and find resources beyond their library's collection on their own and then place requests by themselves. Rapido, for example, allows users to order either a physical or digital copy at the click of a button and then track the progress of their loan delivery up until arrival. This user-friendly interface is simple, fast and efficient. While built-in automation enables resources to arrive faster, it is the transparency about delivery that is key to improving service. For example, a user ordering a physical book through Rapido may learn that the book won't arrive in time for their needs. The user will then be offered options to either wait for the physical book or change the request to digital content that arrives in less than a day.
"The system clearly points users to available services with expected delivery times, thus allowing them to make an informed decision on whether to request a digital copy or borrow a physical item from another library," said Dr. Schulkins.
The choice is up to the user, giving them control and reducing any friction that comes with uncertainty.
System integration simplifies set-up
New generation technology is notable for its seamless installation. In the case of libraries using the Alma library management system, which is built on the Ex Libris higher-ed cloud platform, implementing Rapido is as simple as setting a feature flag in their production system. No further integration is needed. Ex Libris' shared index means all metadata is available from the existing library systems so requests can be automatically processed, eliminating human error and missing data that can happen with manual request forms. Rapido also integrates easily with third-party systems –including other ILL provider systems and library resource-sharing technologies – via standard and open system interfaces.
An opportunity to rethink collection building
ILL started for a reason: libraries have always embraced a responsibility to find the resources that their users want and need. Yet even the largest libraries can't be expected to have everything. Resource sharing helps to solve that dilemma and enable libraries — no matter how small — to open a world of knowledge to their users. As demands increase, as publishing continues to outpace budgets, resource sharing becomes ever more essential.
Now, as technology (and the imagination of its creators) advances, ILL, DDS and resource sharing of all kinds can be managed efficiently and effectively, helping this key service strategy live up to its promise.
Dr. Schulkins sees a world of opportunity: "We hope Rapido will build on the success of RapidILL by further strengthening peer-to-peer networks across the U.K, not only for digital copy supply, but also for physical lending and borrowing. Over time, this would allow a rethink of the approaches taken towards collection building and collection sharing."