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Modeling One Practice Toward Ensuring Access to Scholarship

September 5, 2019

It has never been possible for one academic library, no matter how big, to provide immediate access to all the scholarly publications its institution’s researchers seek. In the past, a library’s success solely depended on access to well-gathered collections of physical publications. Nowadays, however, it depends on an entirely different approach to collection development. Resource sharing services are becoming an integral part of this modern approach. 

The Drexel Libraries is redefining what it considers its “collection of scholarship” to include what it owns, what it licenses, and what its consortia memberships provide through “collective collections” virtually created through collaborative agreements. This article offers insights into how the Drexel Libraries models one practice toward ensuring access to scholarship through its resource sharing services.

Resource Sharing Services: E-ZBorrow and Interlibrary Loan  

Simply put: resource sharing is the collaborative sharing and funding of library resources. The agreed practices are a way to extend use of resources, like books, journal articles, e-publications and limited acquisition budgets among libraries. Resource sharing services allow faculty, students and staff to borrow outside their local library’s collections and are a growing part of the Drexel Libraries’ approach to ensuring access to scholarship.

There are several different resource sharing services, among which the Drexel Libraries offers E-ZBorrow and interlibrary loan (ILL) services.

E-ZBorrow is an expedited interlibrary loan service available through the PALCI consortia. This service allows students, faculty and staff at participating institutions to borrow books and other materials from academic member libraries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia. Readers initiate E-ZBorrow automated requests without involving library staff, and staff from the lending library process and deliver materials to the home library of the requestor within three to five days.

Similarly, interlibrary loan (ILL) services are designed to extend access for Drexel clients to scholarly publications that are not available through either licensed immediate access or collaborative arrangements among PALCI member libraries. Through ILL, libraries from all over the world cooperate and share access to books, journals and other materials.

The Fastest Turnaround, Third Year Running

For the third consecutive year, PALCI applauded Drexel University Libraries for being the fastest in processing E-ZBorrow requests among its 69 member libraries for FY19. The average turnaround time for Drexel to process its E-ZBorrow requests was 2.49 days.

By contrast, the average delivery time for E-ZBorrow requests processed by other PALCI members was three days. The consortia design of a shared system and agreements to cooperate to expedite access to the “collective collection” that PALCI members make available to each other is a successful model for extending access to scholarship for Drexel researchers and readers.

Challenges of Streamlining Interlibrary Loan

Traditional ILL services are more difficult to streamline. Multiple systems and priorities for processing ILL requests among libraries around the world involve staff to locate, initiate, retrieve, and send books and articles, as well as to receive and notify clients of availability of their requests.

Drexel resource sharing staff continue to work on improving efficient workflows within the complex ILL service conditions. We now have an automated RapidILL workflow that moves requests from submission to sending, without staff intervention. When campus researchers submit requests already available at Drexel, they are automatically routed to Document Delivery queues for staff handling. Our system design automatically routes unfilled RapidILL requests to OCLC, except for medical literature requests, which are manually sent to DOCLINE®.  

In spite of improvements in the interoperability of multiple ILL systems, the turnaround time is still higher than focused consortia services. Drexel ILL staff take just under four days on average to process requests submitted by local clients. However, what is beyond the Drexel Libraries’ control is the time for staff from other institutions to process requests and transport services. This time is improving. In FY19, the overall turnaround time for staff from other libraries to process ILL requests from Drexel clients was just under 13 days, a drop from 15.17 days turnaround time in FY18. Put together, Drexel clients can expect to wait about 17 days to receive an item requested via ILL from another library.

Drexel continues to model practices to ensure timely access to scholarship, both for local and other library clients. Libraries have increasing pressure to meet their clients’ expectations of immediate availability of electronic publications. To increase the dependability of resource sharing services and to better leverage consortia agreements, Drexel is modeling the value of speed of access as a critical part of these services.