But as Barbara Fister points out, the interlibrary loan system is no longer sufficient because a library's access to many resources is behind pay walls, licenses, and publisher databases.
In what is a great response for the need of a library given interlibrary loan, Fister gives the following example: Quite a few years ago, a college president said to us, not entirely in jest, that he couldn’t see why the library needed all that money when we had interlibrary loan. Why not just order whatever students and faculty needed from other libraries? We had to explain that there was a legal agreement in place that prevented us from sponging off other libraries. Sharing is great, and we couldn’t possibly meet the needs of our students or faculty without it, but it only works so long as every participating library was willing to pitch in. We had to have a collection that we could share if we wanted to borrow. We all had to be prepared to do our part.
Just like all libraries had to work together to facilitate interlibrary loan, we have to continue to work together to share licensed materials, which is becoming a larger and larger part of our collections. "Academic libraries all spend a large part of our budgets on ephemeral licensed materials which, for the most part, we cannot legally share among libraries. We can still get our students and faculty what they want, kind of like interlibrary loan, but we have to pay publishers by annual subscription or by the piece and for the most part we don't have any assets to show for the money we’ve spent. If we have a bad year, large chunks of the library can vanish."
And we are still trying to figure out how to collaborate and share materials in this new terrain. Fister brainstorms a collective funding stream where all libraries work together to fund open access to scholarship. "Somehow we’re going to have to persuade those who hold the purse strings that the only way we’ll all get adequate access to knowledge is if we put our institution’s money into projects that benefit others through organized and equitable sharing - by all of us doing our part."
This is one of the major issues facing libraries today. If you are interested in these issues, you may want to look into the Northwest Interlibrary Loan and Resource Sharing Conference 2015 (NWILL). The program committee for the Conference is interested in proposals in the following areas:
- Managing your ILL statistics
- Sustainable ILL & green practices
- Coping with fewer resources
- ILL for public libraries
- Succession planning
- Libraries without books, what does it mean for ILL?
- Keeping track of licensing of e-content for ILL
- Training staff and students
- Copyright and licensing
One of the ways that we can stay on top of this issue is to come together and brainstorm solutions for collaborative, collective action.