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Logo of jmlaJournal informationSubscribeSubmissions on the Publisher web siteCurrent issue of JMLA in PMCAlso see BMLA journal in PMC
J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 October; 98(4): 313–314.
PMCID: PMC2947129

Document Delivery and Interlibrary Loan on a Shoestring

Reviewed by Ellen Burchill Brassil, MS-LIS, AHIP

Emily Knox 
Document Delivery and Interlibrary Loan on a Shoestring.
New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers. 2010. 225 p. $65.00. ISBN: 978-1-55570-678-4. 

The proliferation of new sources of scholarly information, coupled with more ways of identifying sources, challenges already strained budgets and stressed interlibrary loan (ILL) operations. As sufficient time, money, and staff are shrinking commodities and essential to ILL service, author Emily Knox offers an elegant overview of time-saving and economical strategies that can help. Her book offers ideas that smaller libraries can use to substitute for expensive commercial ILL management systems and has applications to many library settings.

Document Delivery and Interlibrary Loan on a Shoestring provides libraries with both a theoretical focus and a practical foundation for dealing with many facets of ILL—whether borrowing or lending. General information on topics including the history of ILL, sharing networks, ILL governing codes, technology systems, copyright compliance, and ILL policies exceed the coverage of many ILL handbooks, while the enriching narrative will engage both students and veteran practitioners alike.

Knox states the intention and scope of her book in her preface. She describes her target audience as librarians who juggle many responsibilities and who might be newly assigned to oversee ILL, as well as the ILL staff in smaller libraries. Knox's manual strikes a balance between service concepts and concrete, practical information. If readers are interested in developing effective ILL policies, attaining high service standards, or learning more about expensive commercial technology solutions for ILL, the book will help them by providing detailed descriptions and examples. Even self-explanatory phrases related to ILL such as “best practices” are presented and defined for possible adaptation to a small library. The level of background information, replacing the need for a glossary, is accompanied by extensive commentary, analysis, and explanation, complete with supporting data. When whether to charge a fee or not is the question, the reasons why or why not are analyzed from a common sense perspective. Although she presupposes that most readers struggle with limited financial or technological resources for ILL or commercial document delivery services, Knox says in her introduction that smaller libraries need only employ “technological ingenuity and time management skills” (p. xi) to offer service on a par with major institutions. Her book is infused with that philosophy, and the chapters that follow tell the reader how to use available tools to do so. Some sections promote efficient strategies and others explore fundamental concepts and policies that are universal to all libraries, large and small, in pursuit of quality ILL service. The author does not merely enumerate time-saving procedures, however, but instead emphasizes devising policies upon which effective practices can be based. As such, she greatly emphasizes policy development and later shows that effective ILL operations too must be guided by sound, underlying principles. One might even view the guidelines that Knox outlines for ILL policy development as a model for effective management in general. This is especially evident in her thoughtful discussion of lending policies and procedures to help maximize resources, which are explored in chapters 5 and 6.

Chapter 8, “ILL and Document Delivery Technology Systems,” describes costly ILL systems, while chapter 9, “Going Paperless for Cheap,” outlines how simple office technology and open source products can replicate the big systems to offer important ILL applications such as tracking and receiving ILLs electronically. The book's creative solutions to issues of ILL work flow can be tailored to almost any library. While the book discusses DOCLINE several times, greater coverage of OCLC's WorldCat Resource Sharing (WCRS) and other key ILL resources and functions are important to all libraries and transcend any disciplinary context or specialty setting.

Throughout the book, the author refers to compliance with copyright law and the importance of regulations and guidelines. An entire chapter focuses on both copyright in general and as it pertains to ILL. The appendixes include the actual Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, as well as the accompanying Explanatory Statement that amplifies sections of the code. Knox imparts this information in clear, layperson's terms, but rightfully points out that copyright concerns at any institution should be handled by expert legal counsel.

More thorough than most primers on ILL, the book condenses a wealth of ideas into best practices, guidelines, and policies that help conserve resources while delivering quality ILL service. Furthermore, the practitioner can rely on many practical considerations for actual decision making. Recognizing that state-of-the art technology distinguishes the haves from the have nots, Knox offers useful criteria for selecting the most cost-effective technology and provides a comparative summary of the most widely available technology.

Even veteran practitioners can learn something new from reading any of the nine well-organized chapters or may keep the book on hand for future reference. Each chapter, featuring valuable reference lists, either stands alone or can be read in sequence. The book features an abundance of figures that illustrate such tools as easily reproducible forms, sample written policies, templates, labels, screenshots, and even typical email notifications and hypertext markup language (HTML) scripts. Specific examples include exemplary borrowing and lending policies for both academic and public libraries, screenshots of OCLC WCRS borrowing forms as well as Request Manager, ILL statistics and library network charts, and even a sample reciprocal agreement for transactions between libraries, to name a few.

This praiseworthy book focuses on cost-saving approaches that will benefit smaller health sciences libraries and inspire those who manage ILL services on any scale. Given the economic challenges confronting every library today, the book's emphasis is especially timely and earns it a place on most library professionals' bookshelves. Meanwhile, the overall subject of ILL itself is generally timeless for medical libraries.

Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association