A submission came in to Awful Library Books recently from a librarian who said they had an interlibrary loan request for an item that they were embarrassed to have in the collection. Rather than fulfill the request, they weeded the item. Plenty of commenters thought that the ILL request should have been filled first, and the book weeded upon its return. I can get on board with that idea, but it prompted me to think about how interlibrary loan interplays with collection management.
Keeping an eye on the types of things coming in for your patrons via interlibrary loan is a great idea. They ILL’ed the item because your library didn’t have it. Maybe it is because the item they wanted was:
b) Wrong for your library’s collection and mission (too academic for a public library, for example).
c) Obscure or just plain weird
Interlibrary loan is perfect for those situations! We can meet our patrons’ needs through collaboration rather than direct fulfillment through our own collection in these cases.
However, I want to entertain the idea that paying attention to what items are interlibrary loaned also helps us find areas where we can improve our local collections. I see all kinds of items come through ILL that I think would be perfect additions to our collection. Sometimes they are books on hot new trends that the library was late to the game on. For example, Instant Pot took the world by storm this holiday season, and our library had to bulk up our offerings for our cookbook section. Meanwhile, our patrons were voracious with their ILL requests for Instant Pot cookbooks.
I also see items come through interlibrary loan that I know we have materials on in our collection. That prompts me to promote them better. Why did our patrons not find them in our catalog and initiate an ILL? Or, even worse, why did our staff not find them and put in an ILL for the patron? I like to look and see in what way the ILL’ed copies are different than what we are offering. Why did patrons like them better than what we have in the collection?
Next, I want to talk about circulation statistics. Use is a common criteria when weeding, but if an item was only ever used at other libraries, and not by your own patrons, that is very telling. If I saw that an item had been ILL’ed more times than circulated by our own patrons, I might not buy items like that again (depending on what it was, of course). Some ILS’s will give you that information and other won’t, so this might be a piece of data you cannot access. If you can see where an item circulated, that could be an interesting piece of information. (Also, if you see a weird, old item going out via interlibrary loan in Michigan, beware! It might be headed to Mary and I for an ALB feature!)
If your library has the last copy available in the interlibrary loan system you use (cooperative-wide or state-wide, for example), do you keep it in your collection? In our travels throughout the years, Mary and I have heard about “last copy” collections kept at state libraries and policies where libraries are required to keep the last copy in their cooperative or state. To be perfectly blunt, I call shenanigans on that policy! If an item is no longer right for your library’s collection, weed it! If it can be sent somewhere that can use it, that is fantastic. Otherwise, I don’t think it is any one library’s responsibility to keep weird, old, ratty items just because there aren’t any other copies around. I’m not talking about the Gutenberg Bible or the Magna Carta. There are very few items in your average neighborhood public library that are important enough to warrant this type of policy (local history/genealogy aside, but that’s a special case too).
How do you use Interlibrary Loan to complement your collection management efforts?