Open Access in Action for ILL

IUPUI University Library formally operationalized the use of open access in interlibrary loan (ILL) in 2009. Since then, I've written two articles studying borrowing requests received for open access materials and am now collaborating on a larger project with Collette Mak from the University of Notre Dame. All of my research has shown that any expectation that open access will negatively impact ILL is false. I have not seen any decline in requests that can be attributed to open access, and, at IUPUI, the number of requests received for open access materials actually increased each academic year from 2010 to 2013. (I have not yet repeated my study with the data of the last three academic years.)

Through my research, I have come to believe that open access is actually a help to ILL rather than some sort of death knell. In fact, I see three distinct benefits to utilizing open access resources in ILL.

1. Ability to Fill. Much of what is available through open access repositories falls into the category of grey literature (theses, dissertations, conference papers, etc.), which can be very difficult to borrow through traditional ILL methods either due to lack of holdings or unwillingness of the owning library to lend. Filling a request with open access versions of these materials allows us to fill requests that might otherwise be cancelled.

2. Speed. Filling a request directly with open access materials speeds the time between request and delivery by cutting out the middle man of the lending library.

3. Cost. Since open access materials are free of charge, borrowing libraries are saved potential borrowing and shipping fees that a traditional ILL transaction could incur. Filling a request with open access materials reduces the cost to a minimal amount of staff time.

The trick to putting open access in action for ILL is to balance alternative workflows with the benefits of open access. If the open access workflow is overly complicated or diverges too greatly from existing workflows, the benefits to ILL of utilizing open access materials begin to diminish.

However, open access in ILL also provides benefits to our users that should weigh in this balance. As more and more is available freely on the internet, library users have increasing difficulty in navigating the vast information environment and the myriad options for locating what they want. ILL practitioners provide a valuable service when they help library users locate and obtain these materials and can even help to educate users about the growing world of open access and changes in scholarly communication.

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Updated Oct 25, 2016 by cbaich