Scholarly Communication and Interlibrary Loan Services

Librarians participate in the scholarly communication process in many ways, from the collecting and preserving of information, to its discovery and evaluation. The sharing of library resources is also essential for robust scholarly communication. More information sharing means more knowledge, more learning and more growth. This is why facilitating access to information is one of the primary goals of all librarians, and one of their primary contributions to scholarly communication.


This is certainly the case for interlibrary loan (ILL) specialists. In essence, what ILL services do, even more than facilitate access to materials, is to facilitate communication across time and space by facilitating access to information. Whether students require information in order to learn, or scholars and researchers to advance knowledge, if that information is not freely available online or through a local library’s databases or on its shelves, then ILL can help. ILL works because librarians around the world lend or share information that they have purchased or licensed, be it print or digital. However, as much as librarians want to connect people and information, there are inherent costs and challenges in providing ILL services. An understanding of these demonstrates why change is needed in order to better facilitate scholarly communication today and in the future.

While there is still a great deal of information that remains available only in print form, and only from libraries, some print material may be unavailable through ILL because copyright restrictions govern what can be copied and fears of loss or damage or local need limit what can be loaned. As for digital information, as more and more information is being licensed by libraries, rather than purchased, many e-journal licenses include embargoes of recent issues by publishers. This means that few or no libraries own them, and so, instead of borrowing from other libraries, librarians must purchase this information at high prices from publishers. E-books licenses also often prohibit sharing at all beyond local library users. So, even as ILL service gets faster and more efficient because of ILL software, best practices and electronic transmission of information, costs remain in terms of time that library users must wait for information, and monetary costs for processing fees, copyright fees and ILL staff remain significant.

At the same time as digital information is restricted by license agreements, however, digital information is also paving the way for a revolution in scholarly communication and in library resource and information sharing. Now that information can easily be posted online by authors or their institutions and freely accessed there by readers, there are obvious benefits in time and money saved. This is why ILL librarians who believe in information sharing are not only advocating for more liberal sharing of their own print materials and digital information, and fair use exceptions to intellectual copyright law but also for open access publishing and institutional repositories.

Of course, real challenges to the information sharing that ILL services facilitate and that scholarly communication requires remain. For instance: Who will pay what costs there are? How will the quality of information sources be ensured? Who will be responsible for information preservation? What about information access for those without computer access? In fact, there are many substantial and significant issues for librarians, scholars and society at large to address. However, for now, and for the foreseeable future, information sharing through interlibrary loan services remains one of the most successful and time honored solutions to scholarly communication challenges. And, as for the future, even if the methods of information sharing change, and whether or not information is available in print or online, from library or human resources, it is up to librarians to continue to find ways to ensure information access.


Need an article and hit a paywall?

Use the Open Access Button …

And then place an interlibrary loan request!

About the Author

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