or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Interlibrary Loaning

   July 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Library Hold ShelfI was sad to read a recent post on Walking Paper, quoting someone who was unhappy with their local library's interlibrary loan record.

Any bad library experience is a blow, but especially so with interlibrary loan: I personally think the ability to freely lend library items across the country is one of our greatest strengths, and one definite thing that sets us apart from other local groups and for-profit organizations.

And honestly, I always get a bizarre little thrill when someone calls to request a book. I like knowing I can pull a book from the shelf, print a hold slip, and put that book on the hold shelf. Then, another staff member will continue to forward that book on to the patron, be it a local patron or someone in another state. Dorky, I know, but I like that sense of being part of a system.

But back to the comments: unfortunately, everything cited is (or can be) true. Requests can take time to fill. Books do go missing. Most ILSs don't provide an easy way to communicate problems upstream. Sometimes, the best a local staff person can do is mark their local copy missing and hope the request is filled by another library.

But that shouldn't be the best we can do. To capitalize on our unique network, and to compete with modern options like NetFlix, any new system (software and people) should be designed to optimize interlibrary loan, not just allow for it. Massachusetts is at least lucky that we have a (mostly-)state-wide catalog, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

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