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

Planning for wider User Involvement in Document Delivery and Interlending in the Nordic Countries.

Agneta Lindh, The Royal Library´s Office for National Planning and Co-ordination, Stockholm, Sweden


The Nordic countries have a long tradition of cooperation and this also applies to the library and information sector. One of the earliest manifestations of this tradition was the so called "Scandia Plan" - a cooperative acquisition plan which started in the 1950´s. The plan never worked the way it was intended to and the main reason was obviously the lack of extra funding. The Scandia plan wa s officially declared dead in the 80´s but new ways of cooperation have arisen since then.

NORDINFO - The Nordic Council for Scientific Information is today the most important organization for coordinating Nordic library and information issues. NORDINFO is financially supporting developme nt projects which make information more efficiently available to Nordic users. An example is the Nordic Catalogue of Serials (NOSP). It started as a development project in the late 70´s and is now a permanent, self-supporting activity within Oslo University Library.

One of the most obvious ways for libraries to manifest cooperation is through interlending and document supply. NORDINFO has therefore strongly promoted projects which aim at faster document delivery . The latest offspring in this field is a report with the, to some extent, misleading title "A Nordic Uncover" 1 It is the result of an investigation which was made by In gegerd Nilsson from the library of the Karolinska Institute of Medicine - one of the biggest net lenders of documents in Sweden. The aim of the investigation is to find quicker and more cost-effect ive ways to make the most of the very good Nordic library collections instead of getting more and more dependent on commercial document delivery services abroad. The total amount of journal titles i n the Nordic countries is estimated to half a million. What is lacking is fast delivery and good accounting systems.

As a follow-up a new NORDINFO-project is on its way, aimed at developing the already existing cooperation between the Nordic union catalogues which are all in machine-readable form. Most of them hav e also functioning ILL routines and the idea is to add to this structure. Much background work has already been done in connection with the NORDINFO project called "Nordic SR Net". This project is i n its turn connected to the EU-project ONE (Opac Network in Europe). Figure 1 shows the possible WWW/SR gateway to some of the Nordic bibliographic databases.

One of the reasons for the library user to favour commercial document delivery services to the usual library to library handling is said to be the saving of time. The Nordic union catalogues have all more or less well functioning ordering systems which can be used also by the end-user. The Danish union catalogue DANBIB can be used for the ordering of journal articles and the requests are transmi tted to the libraries via email and fax. There is also a project on its way in Denmark with a special contract with UNCOVER. The Norvegian union catalogue for periodicals, SAMPER, offers online-order ing facilities as does the second library cooperative in Norway, BIBSYS. The Finnish union catalogue, LINNEA has not yet a functioning ILL system but it is on its way. For the time being the orders h ave to be sent directly to the libraries. Perhaps the Swedish national library system, LIBRIS, has the most sofisticated ILL routine - at least it is the oldest one. It has recently been revised and offers new and exiting possibilities. When ordering photocopies of journal articles you may for instance request rush service and delivery to your own fax. A separate database is linked to the ILL s ystem, with local information on current charges, loan conditions for different materials and so on.

There is - as you can see above - a well functioning infrastructure in the Nordic countries which ought to make it quite possible to compete with international document delivery services. Why doesn´ t it work out the way it should? One thing lacking in most of the Nordic online catalogues is a good table of contents system. This was pointed out at the roundtable meeting where Ingegerd Nilssons report was discussed. The meeting also decided that someting must be done to improve this.

In connection with the NORDINFO-investigation mentioned above a questionnaire was sent to seventy research libraries in the Nordic countries. The return percentage was low - only forty-five libraries responded. Still, some conclusions can be drawn from the material especially about different ways of ordering and delivery time. The investigation only covered photocopies.

Nine different ways of ordering were used and the study showed that the national union catalogue online was the most used (48%). Only 19 % of the requests came by mail and all together as much as 81% were ordered online in different ways. This meant that they were received the same day they were sent. For Sweden the direct online ordering percentage was as high as 90%. The reason is probably th e frequent use of the Karolinska Institute´s own online ordering system and the fact that LIBRIS ILL-routine has grown enormously popular. Figure 2 shows the increase in transactions from the beginn ing in 1989/90 with 61 000 requests to approximately 325 000 for the year 1994/95. To summarize you can say that the ILL-ordering function in the Nordic libraries is well functioning and should not cause complaints.

Let´s look at the delivery time. First of all the time for processing the request was measured. One to three days was the average time. The study was supplemented by a random sample in a couple of l ibraries. The sample showed similar results.

The villain of the piece is obviously the delivery of the material or rather the ways are used for delivery. Even today most of the documents are sent by normal mail, and if things are really bad, wi th the cheaper so called economy mail. / Since the exemption from postage for state institutions in Sweden was removed a couple of years ago - compensation was given out - many libraries try to econo mize by using the cheapest possible postage. We are right now in Sweden investigating the possibilities of using alternative delivery services or a higher discount off the ordinary postage./ The use of fax and for instance Ariel is only used for rush service, especially among the bigger document suppliers. The Library of the Karolinska Institute has around 1000 requests daily to process and want as few different ways for delivery as possible.

One safe way to speed up document delivery is to enhance the end-users participation in the process. There are hardly any restrictions for the users to take advantage of the new document delivery ser vices, UNCOVER, UMI, First search and others, that we put at their disposal. I have made a mini-inquiry at a couple of the biggest ILL-libraries in Sweden to check if they had any idea to which exte nt the customers used the new possibilities. None of the libraries knew for sure but they pointed at big variations betweeen different subject fields. Not surprisingly they found the biggest interes t in the STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) field. What is quite noticeable is however that this doesn´t seem to influence the amount of requests made through the libraries. Instead several libr aries could note an increase in their ILL-activity.

How is the delivery of a requested item made? Delivery of books direct to the user involves some extra thoughts about how for instance the returning of the material is made. But as far as photocopies are concerned there can be no possible reason why they are not sent directly to the user from the lending library( except cheaper mail, putting five articles into one envelope.) Still, when you ask a couple of big research libraries it seems that the normal routine is that the lending library sends the copies to the borrowing, and then they are either sent to the individual requester by mail, or he or she has to pick them up at the library. This procedure requires quite a lot of paperwork and updating of files and of course the mail handling takes additional time. Why is this time-consumi ng operation still the most common one - at least in Sweden? If you want to be nasty you could say that librarians are perfectionists and want to check that no pages are missing and that the copies a re readable. There is a Swedish saying used when somebody is too anxious: You need booth braces and belt. There are of course also other things influencing the way libraries handle the delivery to i ndividuals. One is the much talked about problem of finding an efficient accounting system to use in the cases a fee is involved. Good systems exist, however, but probably the libraries should look outside their own field to find the best ones. We do not have to wait for technology in order to make our ILL-routines more streamlined. It´s the routines themselves which should be scrutinized.

Figure 3 is an illustration of the confusing processing of an ILL-request the way it usually is made. The picture needs no explanation or even translation of the Swedish words to anybody who has been involved in interlending. The message goes through without words: there must be an easier way!

In the NORDINFO-investigation the libraries were asked whether they wished a closer and more direct cooperation between the lending library and the end-user in the future. Asmany as 94 % of the lib raries looked forward to this development and the only problems mentioned were concerned with accounting. This relates to photocopies. Concerning the lending of books directly to an individual user m ost libraries are very reluctant. Problems in returning the material on time and the risk of it being damaged or lost are the things most libraries are afraid of. There are however exceptions from t his rule: SPRI Library in Stockholm (The Library of the Swedish Institute for Health Services Development) is the biggest special research library in its field. The number of loans were 34 950 (1992) and as much as 94% of them were to external users. Half the number were sent directly to individual users. This has been practiced for a long time and the library has not met more problems in gettin g the books back from individuals than from other libraries. The SPRI Library handles a lot of grey and special material but this has not stopped it from this outreach towards the end-user 2.

To conclude this presentation you could easily object that the whole situation in which paper documents are sent from one point to another soon will be mere history. At least in the Nordic countries we are well on our way into the electronic society which will solve some of the problems automatically but perhaps create new ones. We must, on the other hand, be aware that we for a long time are g oing to work with double systems - for old material and new - for material on paper and in electronic format. This is indeed one of the most frustrating and time-consuming situations you can meet wit h: coping with the present while preparing for the future. Why not make it as easy as possible and avoid unnecessary control and double work in the meantime?


1. Nilsson, I. Basundersökning över förutsättningar för förbättrad dokumentleverans i Norden. NORDINFO report. Draft. 1995.

2. Jakobsson, A.. Multiple ways to national HFA literature: Outreach towards the end-user. Exlibris. 1994; 2(1).