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    Behind the Scenes:  Interlibrary Loan Borrowing
    by Johlene Hess, co-editor

    Where can I find this article?  We don't have this journal in Carrier Library.  Interlibrary Loan to the rescue.

    The Interlibrary Loan office does not contain a paper copy of every article ever published tucked away on dusty shelves, as students may imagine.  However, Interlibrary Loan will find and borrow materials from other libraries worldwide.

    To use the ILL system, students, faculty and staff first need to fill out a one-time registration.  Starting this year, users log on using their regular JMU e-ID and password.  The ILL process begins with the submission of an online ILL request form.  The first thing Interlibrary Loan staff do when receiving the form is double-check to see if Carrier Library really does own the requested item, since borrowing from another library can cost $25.00 or more in staff time and other costs.  Interlibrary Loan staff will then select up to five libraries that are likely candidates to provide the material, and make an electronic request.  ILL staff become experts in searching library catalogs, and knowing which libraries are reliable, speedy lenders.  At the same time, they must distribute borrowing requests so some libraries aren't overburdened.

    If the item wanted is a book, the lending library checks to see if it is physically in their building, packs it up and ships it to JMU by UPS.  If the book is checked out to a local patron, the request cannot be filled and the request moves to the next library on the list.  Books can take from two days (speed record) to three weeks to arrive at JMU.

    If the item wanted is an article, Interlibrary Loan staff again build a "lender string" of libraries that own the journal issue.  If the lending library sends the article in electronic form, receipt can take a couple of hours from request time or up to several days or more for a paper copy sent by "snail mail" (U.S. Postal Service).  The requestor is notified by email when the article arrives.  Electronic articles stay in an ILL electronic account waiting to be "picked up" for 30 days.

    Libraries in the "lender string" could be in California or Australia, but most likely they are nearby Virginia libraries.  The statewide library consortium, VIVA, promotes cooperative borrowing agreements among Virginia academic libraries and provides some financial support for shipping costs.  VIVA members do not charge each other for ILL services.  VIVA's ILL guidelines recommend a 48 hour standard, meaning libraries  should process all requests within that time, or move the request promptly to the next library in the string.

    Article borrowing at JMU dropped by 18 percent last year, probably due to the increased availability of electronic journals.  At the same time, borrowing for books was up by over 20 percent.  The average turnaround time for electronic delivery of articles has decreased to 4.7 days.  The average turnaround time (time from request to pickup) for books and other materials is down to 9.47 days.  Some requests do take the full two to three weeks to fill.  Difficult to locate items can take significantly longer.  One request for a book took almost a year, as the book was not cataloged in a library, and the Interlibrary Loan staff had to locate the author in a foreign country.

    Missing information on the ILL request form causes delays as ILL staff try to verify the citation.  "Fuzzies" are Interlibrary Loan's name for requests with a bad citation.  These are checked in databases to clear up problems.  To expedite your requests, fill out all information on the request form, especially where you found the citation.  Starting your research early in the semester will also facilitate quicker response.  Requests for Interlibrary Loan at the beginning of the semester are 15-20 per day, peaking at mid to end of the semester at around 60 per day.

    The Interlibrary Loan staff, Mikki Butcher, Susan Huffman, Anna Lee Newman opening mail and at the ILL office door.

    (Editor's note:  Borrowing is only half the responsibility of the Interlibrary Loan unit.  JMU also sends out over 8,000 books and journal articles each year to other libraries.  But that's another story.)

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