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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995


Una M. Gourlay, Document Delivery and Fee-Based Services, Rice University Library, Houston, Texas, USA
Pentti Vattulainen, National Repository Library, Kuopio, Finland



Since the late 1980s there has been much emphasis on the fact that, from the user's point of view, access to needed documents is the criterion for judging the level of service in a library . It is n ot possible to have everything in the collection just in case a customer happens to need it. So when we talk about access, it is clear that the role of document delivery is a vital one for all kind s of modern libraries.

The terms interlending and document delivery are self-evident for librarians. Document delivery is a broad, generic term for interlibrary lending . Both terms refer to library functions that have a long history, although now they have new meanings.

Originally interlending was a minor service in the library. The quantity of interlending grew gradually after union catalogues and other information retrieval systems began to develop. At the same time library policies in many countries changed, making the collections accessible in new ways. However, traditional interlibrary lending of books has remained quite a marginal operation.

The emergence of document delivery can be traced to the time when reference databases began to develop. New databases gave more and more references, but it was difficult to get the documents. Inter lending departments functioned somewhat slowly and in many cases they could not provide the customers with needed documents. This need for better service caused the birth of document delivery enterp rises first in the United States, beginning in the early 1970s.

Only after the emergence of document delivery, which naturally required new reproduction techniques such as photocopying, did the amount of interlending traffic grow to such an extent that, in some c ases, it became an industrial enterprise. Currently in Finland the amount of interlending, including document delivery, is about 20% of the total lending of academic and special libraries.

Since the 1970s the effect of diminishing public funding has been a permanent topic of discussion in libraries. The concept of resource sharing, which has evolved from these discussions, is being se en as the cornerstone of libraries' survival strategies in the near future. Resource sharing usually includes the concepts of union catalogues, cooperative reference and collection development progr ams, joint storage facilities, and sharing bibliographic information. However, interlibrary lending has been the most visible and successful form of resource sharing.

The concept of resource sharing in an international context has been problematic. In the postwar era many countries have had official policies to strive to be as self-sufficient as possible. Inform ation resources were seen in the same category as energy resources. For example even in the 1980s, in Finland it was considered that being too dependent on foreign interlending and document supply m ight be a threat to the advancement of research.

There have been various national solutions to meet the objective of self sufficiency in information resources. In many countries the solution was the formation of a national library network, with sh ared responsibilities in the areas of collections and interlending. This included a national library, or in some cases, many national libraries with national duties, as well as libraries with specia l subject responsibilities. The network participants shared a national responsibility for cooperation and self-sufficiency.

A network-based library system is said to be vulnerable because the network which relies on libraries with subject responsibilities cannot function well if charges are introduced. And charges have t o be introduced, or some other funding arrangement has to be made, before the participating libraries can carry out their interlending activities. In Scandinavia, for example, where interlibrary len ding was free up to the 1990s, various solutions have been adopted. In Sweden the government gives extra funding for net-lending libraries. In Norway it is expected that interlibrary lending will b e funded from libraries' acquisition funds. In Finland, library clients are charged for their interlibrary loans.

In countries where more centralized interlending solutions were adopted, as in the United Kingdom, it was easier to charge for interlibrary lending because the system did not require reciprocal treat ment of interlibrary traffic. But whatever the solution was, the functioning and costs of the chosen system have come under reconsideration, showing that all solutions still have problems.

These considerations are also bringing about changes in attitudes, so that the old more or less clearly articulated attitudes of nationally self-sufficient collections have become obsolete. It is no w generally accepted that libraries function in an international arena and that interdependence on foreign information providers should no longer be seen as a threat.

The most recent changes in interlending and document delivery have been caused by developments in information technology. Two changes which have made significant improvements in access to national and international information resources are the formation of information networks and the ability to digitize library materials.

The term "access" is ambiguous, and there are different levels of access . Traditional understanding of the concept is built on library-oriented access, from which librarians can find out what mate rials are held in libraries. User-oriented access tells users where the material they need is located, how they can get it, and at what cost. The development of user-oriented access will bring sign ificant changes to traditional interlending, providing clients the opportunity to enjoy control of their own information needs and costs.

The development of information networks such as Internet is driving the change from library-oriented to user-oriented access. Already there are some changes from the user's point of view. These inc lude greatly improved access to the catalogues of libraries, leading to increased user expectations regarding the level of service. Also, in some cases Internet has provided better access to origina l documents and full-text information.

If solutions based on user-oriented access are favoured in national library policies, there may be a gradual restructuring of many existing national library networks. Promoting user-oriented access means also promoting users' awareness of the costs of their information needs, which should have a positive influence on the attitudes of librarians toward customers and also toward service .

The second change in information technology is the ability to digitize information. This will lead interlending and document delivery in entirely new directions. More precisely, it will influence on ly document delivery, because it may make the traditional interlending obsolete . It may also mean the end of resource sharing in its present form. In the future libraries will practise information- oriented rather than paper-oriented resource sharing .

There exists a need for better access to national collections, whether or not they are archival. It is clear that digitizing huge collections is expensive, and even in a small country such as Finlan d, the estimated cost for digitizing the whole national collection is 400 million USD, while the total annual print production costs eight million USD. Digitization is still quite a slow process: th e estimation for completion of such a project for the new National Library of France is 76 years. However, in some libraries, such as the Library of Congress and the British Library, the work has al ready begun. Once copyright problems have been solved, digitization may be a practical solution for international interlending. National libraries will be able to serve customers from all over the world without fear of losing their archival or valuable material.

The change about which we are now talking is not a quantitative change, but rather a qualitative one. It is not a change in the role of document delivery in libraries, but in the role of libraries i n document delivery.


Many changes have occurred in the last five years in the interlending or interlibrary loan operations of North American academic libraries. Recent literature indicates that academic libraries throug hout the developed world have been undergoing similar changes. In this section of the paper the operation is called "interlibrary loan," the traditional North American name, although many libraries are now choosing different names.

In the 1980s, as a result of the combined effects of a steady rise in the cost scholarly journals; reductions in library materials budgets; and unfavorable currency exchange rates; many libraries exa mined their journal subscriptions and cut less frequently used titles. Some libraries were forced to cut further, eliminating their most expensive titles. The Interlibrary Loan Department was there fore required to obtain photocopies of articles from journals which were no longer in the library's collection, and there was significant pressure upon the department to obtain the materials quickly.

In the same time period, libraries began to provide access to article-level bibliographic databases, either on CD-ROMs or on their networks. Suddenly users had access to the contents of many more jo urnals than in the collections of their own libraries, and their requests to Interlibrary Loan increased accordingly.

Meanwhile across the campus: personal computers, workstations, and networks were proliferating; the computerized library catalog was accessible from the scholar's desk; and Internet was the new way t o communicate with fellow researchers worldwide. Now the academic community had heightened expectations for prompt delivery of its research materials, and Interlibrary Loan was expected to provide a much faster level of service than in the past.

Traditionally the interlibrary loan service was considered slow and somewhat inefficient, with overworked staff attempting to get materials at minimal cost, through reciprocal agreements with other l ibraries. That situation was seldom questioned, because library administrators did not give serious thought to the true cost or value of the service and did not fund their departments adequately. B y the end of the 1980s, administrators recognized the importance of resource sharing and acknowledged that fast, efficient service would require recent technology developments to be applied to the re questing and delivery processes. The interlibrary loan service was designated as a major component of the library's user services and assigned a more significant place in the library's budget.

While these situations were developing in libraries, the number of commercial document delivery services was growing rapidly. Major commercial database systems, such as DIALOG, STN and ORBIT, develo ped online ordering mechanisms for articles which were found during searches of their databases, to be obtained from commercial suppliers. By the late 1980s, there was a fast growing collection of d ocument delivery suppliers, such as UMI, Chemical Abstracts, CARL, BLDSC, and ISI, to name but a very few. Their holdings could be searched in databases mounted independently or on existing networks ; and their goal was to deliver journal articles by fax within two to forty eight hours, for a suitable fee.

While the commercial document delivery business grew, some libraries were also responding to the opportunities presented by the need for faster delivery. Since the 1960s, there have been academic li braries with fee based services. Such services typically provide photocopies, books, and computerized database research to the business community on a cost recovery basis. In recent years they have gained academic libraries as clients, because of their ability to provide expedited service for a fee. In other libraries, the photoduplication service has been upgraded to provide an efficient doc ument delivery service, charging on a graded scale, depending on the level of service required. These libraries will typically provide free service to consortial or reciprocal partners, and charge a ll other libraries.

In the early 1990s several library groups began working independently to develop software which would allow libraries to scan documents electronically, send them over Internet, and deliver them to a fax machine or a laser printer. The Research Libraries Group's ARIEL; North Carolina State University's joint project with the National Agricultural Library; the Big Ten Universities' project at Ohi o State University; and various other local projects are operating successfully today, delivering documents electronically to libraries. The most internationally known and most universally used syst em is ARIEL. There are now approximately 600 active sites worldwide, and ARIEL has become a regular means of delivery for journal articles, at a significantly better resolution than group 3 fax.

Of course, commercial suppliers are anxious to deliver documents electronically also, but they have met resistance from publishers, who fear loss of revenue and widespread copyright violations if su ppliers scan and electronically store journal articles for delivery over Internet. In the last five years, major publishers have initiated their own pilot projects or have collaborated in joint proj ects with selected universities and other major research organizations, to explore electronic delivery and to determine the parameters under which they will participate in this new market.

Now in the mid 1990s, what is the current situation for interlending and document supply in academic libraries, and what will the future be? In most libraries, journal articles are obtained from a mix of network or reciprocal library partners, and charging sources such as commercial vendors or fee based library services. Where possible, staff select sources which will respond and deliver the materials quickly, sending them by fax, ARIEL, or batched in overnight courier packages. To cover the costs of the articles from charging sources, some libraries pass on the charges to the requestor s, while some receive enhanced funding, possibly from acquisition budgets. Of course it is not always possible to fill users' requests from document suppliers or other expedited sources, so there ar e still occasions when a request is sent to the only one or two holders of an item in the hope that they will supply it, however long it may take. There is one aspect which librarians do not like ab out obtaining copies from commercial vendors. The vendors charge royalties on copies which could be obtained from libraries within the fair use guidelines.

Borrowing and lending of returnable items such as books has also seen some changes. It is now possible for library users to browse catalogs of libraries worldwide on Internet. With the increase in speed for delivery of copies, the average length of time to get a book seems unacceptable. While in the United States, the Postal Service library rate category has been the accepted delivery mechani sm, it is slow, and has just become much more expensive. Within consortia and state systems, various improvements have been made whereby books are delivered by courier rather than by mail, and if th e libraries of a consortium share a circulation system, users may check out items at other libraries and have the books delivered directly. For other book requests, however, the process is still too slow. There are several initiatives in process to develop agreements with national carriers for discounted rapid delivery of library materials.

The increased availability of full text in electronic form has also had a significant effect on library users' needs. In many libraries users have access to images of journal articles on CD-ROM serv ers, such as ADONIS or UMI's ProQuest. Also some libraries allow selected users access to the full text databases on systems such as DIALOG and NEXIS. These services are expensive to provide, but t he libraries justify the cost by their commitment to providing user-oriented services which provide journal articles immediately. An increased number of databases mounted on library networks allow u sers to tag citations and order the articles for direct mail or fax delivery, using a credit card or a library account. Examples of vendors offering such services are OCLC, RLG, UNCOVER, FAXON, and EBSCO. These companies seek to expand the end-user document delivery business by providing table of content databases; while OCLC and UNCOVER also offer electronic table of contents subscription ser vices, tailored to the user's specification, and with the option of ordering articles directly by e-mail.

While the market for the credit card services will undoubtedly grow, it seems likely that many academic library users will wish to keep the option of having their requests routed through a library sy stem, with the library assuming responsibility for the materials arriving quickly at the users' workstations. With this option, they may or may not choose a supplier, but they will not be concerned about who ultimately provides the materials or how many steps are involved in getting them, and if their library subsidizes this service, they will not be concerned about the cost.

The North American Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery (NAILLD) Project has been initiated by the Association of Research Libraries, with the cooperation of many software and hardware vendors, an d with considerable input from libraries. The NAILLD objective is to develop an efficient, integrated, seamless environment in which a user will identify needed material by browsing in electronic ca talogs and databases, using a single interface, and will transmit a request in electronic form. The request will be checked first against the holdings of the local library; it will then forward it t o an appropriate selection of suppliers; the potential suppliers will communicate back to the system; and the requestor will receive the material directly at his or her workstation. The project seek s to ensure that electronic records management and accounting systems are developed for libraries to manage this new electronic environment. The participating vendors are encouraged to develop piece s of this environment while adhering to standards which will allow the various systems to work together. Some of these standards exist already, while others have yet to be developed.

This is a view of the future for interlending and document supply. In this environment, librarians will play the role of coordinators and facilitators, rather than managers of the process. Of cours e there will be many variations of the process. There will continue to be users who prefer to talk to real people and fill in paper forms; but there will be many who will enjoy the speed and efficie ncy of the integrated electronic environment. Librarians will continue to have significant roles in coordinating the whole process, and in accommodating the needs of all users. Realistically, there is much to be done by the many participants before the goal is reached. Meanwhile, libraries will continue to provide as many options as possible for their users to gain fast access to the material s they need; and interlibrary loan departments will play major roles in providing these user-oriented services.

Certainly Interlibrary Loan has seen many changes in the past few years, but librarians are encouraged by the ongoing developments, and look forward to the changes in the next five years.