Investigating Interlending

This was a scoping study of resource discovery, sharing and cooperation. It was led by Dr. Briony Birdi (PI), with Professor Stephen Pinfield (Co-I), Sophie Rutter and Dr. Simon Wakeling (Research Associates), working with, and funded by, The Combined Regions Management Board.

The research consisted of three phases, conducted sequentially in 2015:

Phase 1: A review of the relevant academic and professional (including policy-related) literature.

Phase 2: An online survey was distributed to key mailing lists. The primary objectives of the survey were to establish the current levels of provision of interlibrary loan services in public libraries, and to investigate library managers’ views of the role of the digital environment in resource discovery and resource sharing.

Phase 3: Interviews were conducted with twenty people associated with interlending in public libraries. The interviews explored perspectives on current interlending services, the impact of the digital environment, and visions of the future for interlending.

Taken together, results from these three phases of research indicate several areas of consensus within the interlending community, namely:

  • Interlending rates are declining nationally
  • The sharing of e-content was highly problematic.
  • Higher Education involvement adds value
  • There is a lack of public awareness of services
  • There was potential for a national catalogue
  • Interlending Terminology is not used consistently
  • There is variation in how schemes operate
  • Opinion was divided over the extent to which public libraries operated under a moral imperative to offer interlending.
  • The digital environment has made things more challenging
  • Complex issues around interlending, collections and shrinking budgets

The Executive Summary gives a summary of each of these issues, and the full 123-page report gives results from all three phases, together with recommendations for stakeholders (see below) and for further research.

Recommendations for Stakeholders arising from the report were

  1. To establish a consistent terminology for interlending that is used in discussions in order to promote coherence in policy-making and service delivery
  2. To develop unified marketing tools, material and strategies for libraries keen to promote interlending, emphasising the value of the service to library users 
  3. To develop further marketing tools for use by managers and senior stakeholders to lobby other organisations and national organisations to gain their support for developing a more unified approach
  4. To identify action that needs to be taken regarding licensing e-content, possibly including an education program and liaison with publishers, followed by implementation of the identified actions
  5. To establish an inter-consortia forum for sharing best practice – perhaps facilitated by the FiL or TCR, or alternatively discussed in a free-standing summit
  6. To review the current relationship with other sectors, particularly the higher education sector, with a view to developing possible synergies
  7. To coordinate discussion regarding the feasibility of a universal, national catalogue with reservation functionality (potentially by enhancing the FABLibraries system), and specifically, to determine whether further investment is justified.