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Drexel Libraries Joins Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator Early Adopter Program

January 6, 2020

In September 2019, the Drexel University Libraries joined the OCLC Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Cost Calculator Early Adopter Program. The innovative ILL Calculator will help the Libraries understand the cost of sharing their collections through interlibrary loan, ensuring they provide the most cost-effective access to information.

As an early adopter of the ILL Calculator, the Drexel Libraries will be closely involved in testing the Calculator and will provide an analysis of their experience with the tool, as well as suggestions for its future development.

Lynda Sadusky, Program Manager for Shared Access at the Drexel Libraries, was immediately interested in testing the tool.  

“I quickly recognized the Cost Calculator as a potentially useful tool for strategic decision-making and advocated for Drexel Libraries to join the project as an early adopter,” she explained. “The Calculator can help the Libraries make decisions about resource licensing and purchasing—such as how to provide resources in the most cost-effective way while maintaining expected service levels for our clients.”

New Tool; Old Challenges

Determining an accurate cost per transaction for ILL has proven to be a historical challenge for libraries. Each transaction involves numerous steps, each with distinct associated costs, which makes compiling an average cost difficult.

What’s more, several external factors impact the cost of ILL, including publishing industry costs, the price of gas (which impacts shipping costs), as well as staff size and salaries. These factors—and therefore the cost of ILL services—fluctuate often, and libraries cannot publish revised calculations regularly enough to reflect the quickly changing nature of ILL.

Benefits of the ILL Cost Calculator

Since joining the Early Adopter Program, the Libraries has already used the Cost Calculator to estimate the average FY19 cost of an ILL transaction in both borrowing (copies and loans) and lending (copies and loans).

For FY2019, the estimated costs per transaction to the Libraries for providing various ILL services was:

Borrowing copies: $11.87
Borrowing loans:

Lending copies: $11.49
Lending loans: $20.56

These estimated costs are good news. Before joining the Early Adopter Program, the Libraries used the common industry estimate of $30 per transaction. OCLC’s Cost Calculator reveals that the Libraries’ estimated average cost of borrowing and lending copies is 1/3 to 2/3 lower than previous estimates, likely due to the Libraries’ commitment to automating its borrowing and lending transactions.

Improving Efficiencies for the Future

As an early adopter, the Libraries will also have access to data from other participants. Access to data from other institutions will allow Libraries staff to compare its own numbers to individual averages for organizations across the country.

Additionally, Libraries staff can use the calculator to run simulations to determine the impact of any changes in the Libraries’ workflow on overall ILL costs.

 “For example, we can consider the cost of borrowing an article via interlibrary loan compared to the cost-per-use of a subscription to the same journal title,” Sadusky explained. “If we find that a journal has low usage and that our ILL costs would have been cheaper than the subscription, we might decide not to renew that title.”

As the Drexel Libraries continues to add data to the Calculator, it will be easier to identify changes and trends over time. And, as more institutions offer feedback and add their data to the Calculator, the tool’s accuracy will improve and will eventually provide even more data points that can be used to improve library efficiencies.