Radical Interlibrary Loan: A Manifesto

illThe information needs of the Graduate Center community are deep, varied, and potentially even limitless. The respect for, and use of, information among our patrons both inspires and challenges all of the librarians and staff members at the Mina Rees Library. Every day, as we work to connect you with traditional print material, digital resources, media, etc., our shared mission is to support your research and study. However, there is no library with the space or budget to purchase, license and collect everything that every library patron might need. And, although open access efforts are gaining impressive momentum, there is still a great deal of information that is unavailable freely online. It is because your information needs regularly, and inevitably, extend beyond the resources of our own library, and even beyond the rich collections of CUNY, NYPL, and all the other academic libraries in metropolitan New York, that we provide and support interlibrary loan (ILL) as a core library service. (Please also note that, in addition to using ILL, GC students can apply for a MarLi card through NYPL – this gives you access to the libraries of NYU and Columbia.)

Traditionally, ILL has worked by successfully facilitating the sharing of information – lending and borrowing printed materials and photocopies – between libraries. However, as the information world evolves and librarians navigate changing formats, fee models, technologies, copyright laws, license terms, and budgets, we must both maintain this role as well as rethink policies, procedures and staffing needs in service of new initiatives. For instance, in addition to processing your ILL requests, which we do many – as in tens of thousands of – times a year, we set up unmediated requesting of material by our patrons, consider purchases, arrange referrals to other libraries, track down incomplete or incorrect citations in any language, find open access material that is freely available online, and contact authors to request material that we cannot get through our international network of libraries. We also let you know when you request something that is actually available in print here, or through a database that our library subscribes to, or when it can be requested from another CUNY library through CUNY+/CLICS. Beyond this, we work closely with ILL staff members in other libraries, both to fulfill their requests and to learn from each other about best practices and using systems such as ILLiad and OCLC to best advantage.rrsi

It is not particularly radical or controversial that a library such as ours – with a small print collection and a commitment to supporting graduate students and faculty – would choose to support liberal use of ILL. However, since such services come with considerable financial costs and require labor intensive staff time, the GC’s commitment to excellence as both a borrower and a lender, and to ILL as a core service, is worthy of note, and, of course, reinforces the importance of innovation and advocacy in our ILL practice. This is why we have joined groups such as The IDS Project, which is a New York State consortia of libraries who believe that: “My library is your library and your library is my library” and who recognize that our success or failure in serving our patrons depends on all of us. In addition, as an active member of an international network of libraries, we affirm the Manifesto of the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative and work to implement and design services that advance its goals and help our patrons specifically, as well as scholarly communication, as a whole. The Manifesto reads, as follows:

  1. Restrictions shall only be imposed as necessary by individual institutions with the goal that the lowest-possible-barriers-to-fulfillment are presented to the user.
  2. Library users shall be given appropriate options for delivery format, method of delivery, and fulfillment type, including loan, copy, digital copy, and purchase.
  3. Global access to sharable resources shall be encouraged through formal and informal networking agreements with the goal towards lowest-barrier-to-fulfillment.
  4. Sharable resources shall include those held in cultural institutions of all sorts: libraries, archives, museums, and the expertise of those employed in such places.
  5. Reference services are a vital component to resource sharing and delivery and shall be made readily accessible from any initial “can’t supply this” response. No material that is findable should be totally unattainable.
  6. Libraries should offer service at a fair price rather than refuse but should strive to achieve services that are not more expensive than commercial services, e.g. bookshops.
  7. Library registration should be as easy as signing up for commercial web based services. Everyone can be a library user.


About the Author

Beth Posner is the Head of Library Resource Sharing at The CUNY Graduate Center Library.