Collection Management and Interlibrary Loan

ShareA 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:

a) Old

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 bulkĀ  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 itemĀ  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?


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  1. It could also be that the patron didn’t necessarily want that particular book, but a book on the subject. Maybe Awful Craft Book was the one they thought of, but branch Y has a brand new craft book that’s just as good or even better.

  2. I’m wondering if this happens elsewhere. In my former library, which was a small specialist library with a decent budget, many of our fellow libraries in the network borrowed much more from us than we did from them. This was because we had the budget to buy, and they didn’t. This was especially true of latest editions and new releases. It seemed like were buying books for everybody else too, and of course when our own patrons came looking for a desirable book there was a chance they couldn’t have it because we’d sent it somewhere else. In the end we reluctantly marked some in the catalogue as “not for interlibrary loan” to keep things fair for our own patrons. We didn’t like doing this in so tried to keep it to a minimum. An interesting dilemma!

    1. I’m late on responding on this, but when I was a media specialist (school librarian), we marked several of our items as “not for ILL.” My school was criticized for this practice, but we did have a legitimate reason. We had a thriving manga club, and we managed to get some funding which was specifically for manga, and naturally our collection of 741.5 was much bigger than other schools’. The requests were constant, and it kept our students from getting access to these books. So we marked them “not for ILL” until they had been in the collection for a year. This led certain other schools (calling out some nasty fellow media specialists) to refuse to send us ANY materials at all through ILL, and I had to get our district supervisors to intervene (they tried to force a compromise). Since then, some sister schools adopted the same policy for certain specific items that were part of specialized classes (medical books at the school with a pre-med program, for example), and I agree with this.

  3. Well, last year a student asked to ILL a copy of 50 Shades of Gray–she wanted to read it, but not spend money on it. (We did it.) We’re an academic library, btw.

    When one of our users wants to borrow a book through ILL, we buy it if it meets certain criteria (recent publication date, price, availability through our vendor). My reasoning is that if one student wants to read it, another probably does, too.


    1. 1: Censorship.

      2: Things are weeded because they’re too old, moldy, damaged, or never checked out. Not because of censorship. If it was about censorship then I’d make sure idiot anti-vaxxer “Dr” Bob Sears’ book was long gone. But we do not censor, despite what people think.

  5. Thanks for this post. I manage outgoing ILL for my public library system, and recently had a request for a book that had some extremely dated and offensive views on race and interracial marriage. I did send the book out on the request (it could have been for a research paper), but asked the library manager if they wanted to keep the book in the collection. This was its only circulation since the catalog was digitized 12 years ago, so it was removed.

    We run a last-copy report before deleting items, and last-copy status is one of the criteria we use in retaining or deleting. We are a multi-county system that is part of a state-wide consortium, and if an item is the last copy in our system, and especially if it is the last copy in the state, we do consider keeping it if condition allows.

  6. I personally would be really disappointed if I ILLd a certain book and then was told that the library got rid of it after receiving the request. I wonder what made the book in this particular example so embarrassing.

  7. I’m an ILL librarian in a small academic library. I do it all. I have no way of knowing why someone requests one of our books. They could be doing research and need the original source to critique it. I’ve ordered lots of old and wacky stuff because I have weird interests or I want to reread a book from my childhood. I’d be ticked off if someone weeded something before sending it to me. Weed after it comes back. Borrowing requests from our patrons are very useful for collection development.

  8. So with the original post that brought this up, I think the submitter did wrong by that patron. For all they know the patron could’ve been doing research to write an up to date book on that woman.

    But I did get an ILL once I wish they would’ve discarded instead. I’ve been trying to read all the Discworld books and one I ILLed was a rotting paperback with loose pages and a split spine. Instead of discarding it and letting another library fill the hold they rubberbanded it to a piece of cardboard. I right away sent it back and submitted a new request stating to NOT send me one that’s falling apart. Rude, I know, but it was ridiculous they would’ve sent that one when there’s about 100 other libraries that have the same book.

  9. Hey,everyone, I’ve got a question. An ILL is, by definition, a book that comes from outside of one’s own library system. Therefore, that book belongs to another library system and must be returned to that system when the borrower brings it back. How then could we weed a book that is the property of another library system?

      1. I don’t get why they would do that. What good does it do to deny a patron a specifically-requested material? They might send it with a note for the recieving library’s staff not to send it back, they might weed it upon return, but how does weeding it instead of sending it out help the patron?

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