The International ILL Toolkit: a classic community-working-together story

Translated request templates, International ILL Toolkit

The International ILL Toolkit is a freely available crowd-sourced tool, initiated by members of the OCLC SHARES resource sharing consortium and designed to make global resource sharing easier.  The Toolkit’s emergence is an exciting development that fills a longstanding need for information about interlibrary loan suppliers willing to share internationally.  And its origin story is a perfect example of how the world’s collection sharing practitioners regularly band together, with skill and creativity, to overcome the many logistical barriers standing between researchers and the materials they need.

The tools in the toolkit

The International ILL Toolkit has three main components:

  • An ever-growing listing of ILL lenders from around the world with contact, delivery, and payment information

The lists are divided between US and non-US libraries.  We have 35 US lenders and 216 lenders in 43 other countries listed as of this writing, with new entries being added every month.

  • Tips and tricks for international ILL by country/region 

Examples include a union catalog for libraries in Australia, what to put on your packages to Canada in order to speed the items through customs, and a link to the international interlibrary loan guidelines maintained by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

  • Translated ILL request templates which can be copied for local use, prepared in collaboration with library professionals fluent in that language

We currently have templates for 11 languages, including five non-Latin languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, and Russian.

Origin story: how and why the toolkit came to be

I’ve hosted weekly virtual town halls for members of the OCLC SHARES resource sharing consortium since the pandemic hit; folks gather to support each other, discuss shared challenges, and brainstorm about solutions.  On March 4, 2021, the main topic was the difficulty of finding contact and policy information for international interlibrary loan lenders that aren’t suppliers on OCLC’s WorldShare ILL resource sharing platform. 

Many such international lenders have loaded their bibliographic holdings into WorldCat, OCLC’s global catalog of the holdings of over 10,000 libraries worldwide, so finding out what materials they own is fairly easy.  But many other international lenders haven’t contributed their holdings information outside of their own local catalogs.  And while all suppliers on OCLC WorldShare ILL can indicate policies, practices, and pricing in the OCLC Policies Directory, there is no existing directory for global interlibrary loan suppliers that aren’t on WorldShare ILL. 

At the SHARES town hall, Brian Miller of The Ohio State University Libraries described a cheat sheet he compiled containing information on dozens of non-US suppliers his institution borrowed from directly, as they aren’t reachable through WorldShare ILL.  Lapis Cohen of the University of Pennsylvania shared that his version of the cheat sheet also contains tips on borrowing from specific countries. Many at the town hall reported having compiled their own cheat sheets on international interlibrary loan suppliers. Gathering and combining these cheat sheets seemed like an obvious next step.

Brian and Lapis stepped up to embrace that challenge and quickly took the project far beyond a mere merging of cheat sheets.  I provided the infrastructure.  Based on our SHARES discussion, I set up a Google Sheet containing columns for all the data points suggested by town hall attendees.  Brian and Lapis not only merged their cheat sheets but also searched their ILL request management systems for any borrowing transactions with the supplier type “Other,” which meant their institutions had placed those requests manually.  Most of these “other” requests were to international lenders that aren’t on WorldShare ILL.  Brian and Lapis merged the resulting lists in the spreadsheet, cleaned up and enhanced the data, and within two weeks had produced a tool containing detailed discovery, contact, ordering, pricing, payment and delivery information for over 200 international ILL suppliers that aren’t active on WorldShare ILL.

We added a tab containing borrowing tips by country to the Google Sheet, including items about union catalogs, shipping options, and copyright idiosyncrasies.  We also added Google Forms so users can contribute information on specific suppliers and their own tips on borrowing from various countries.  We used the SHARES town halls as a focus group, refining the tool repeatedly, sorting out issues such as what data points should be included for each lender, and in what order; whether to list the names of institutions in the local language or in English (we do both); and what naming conventions to use for countries and regions where there might be sensitive political implications.

More chefs, better broth, with an international flavor

By May 2021, two months after the first glimmer of an idea, Brian, Lapis and I were actively promoting the International ILL Toolkit to the wider resource sharing community, via ILL listservs, by interacting with collection sharing colleagues, and meeting with resource sharing committees of various library organizations.  The reaction of one member of the American Library Association RUSA STARS International ILL Committee exemplifies the reception afforded to the Toolkit: “Wow!  Can I break a bottle of champagne against this thing?”  The Toolkit clearly fills a longstanding need.

Best of all, more eyes and hands on the Toolkit made for significant improvements.  Another member of the ALA RUSA STARS International ILL Committee, Jenny Vitti of Emory University, mentioned that she has developed a small collection of email templates for borrowing ILL requests in different languages; would we be interested in seeing those?  Brian and Lapis took Jenny’s examples and then collaborated with language specialists at their institutions to develop a suite of templates in 11 different languages, which were added as a new tab in the Toolkit.  Before meeting with the IFLA Resource Sharing and Document Delivery Standing Committee, Brian and Lapis increased the value of the Toolkit exponentially by recruiting US libraries willing to accept ILL requests from non-US borrowing institutions via email or through request forms on their library Websites.  This information was added as a new tab on the Toolkit.  Each month, more libraries from around the globe are adding their names and essential information to the lenders lists.

Next steps

Obviously, we’d like to keep adding lenders, tips, and requesting templates in more languages.  We’re also exploring options for making the Toolkit available in a more durable format than Google Sheets.  Longer term, Brian, Lapis and I will work to establish a succession plan so that the Toolkit can continue to provide value to the global resource sharing community far into the future, without it being dependent upon the three of us for its care and feeding.  We have a few ideas in mind and would also love to hear your suggestions.

We continue to spread the word across the globe about the existence of the International ILL Toolkit.  We’ve noticed that seldom do we have to explain the value of the tool, as to a resource sharing practitioner that value is immediately obvious.  We’ll be presenting about the Toolkit at a free Webinar on Thursday, 17 February, starting at 11am Eastern Time in the US and 4pm in the UK.  The Webinar, co-sponsored by the OCLC Research Library Partnership and the ALA RUSA STARS International ILL Committee, is open to all.  Register here if you’d like to attend live or be among the first to receive a link to the session recording soon after the event.

Brian Miller and Lapis Cohen deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the International ILL Toolkit.  Many in OCLC SHARES and across the global resource sharing community have also had a hand in its development.  It’s a great example of a community banding together to make the world a better place.