Benefits of Automating ILL and Document Delivery

Posted to ILL-L on November 23, 1999
Dear ILL colleagues:
As the importance of ILL continues to grow, and as more libraries
become interested in automating important processes, I've received
many questions about Virginia Tech's ILL automation efforts.  So I
put together the following summary to keep things straight in my
own mind and to inform others about our results.  I'll be posting
this note, with a slightly different introduction to ILLiad-L and
to a couple of Virginia library listservs.  I hope you find this
information useful.
--Harry Kriz
Virginia Tech automated ILL borrowing in 1997, followed in 1999 by
ILL lending and document delivery to distant learners.  I am often
asked how much money we have saved and how many positions we have
eliminated in ILL as a result of automation.  The short answer is
"none."  The longer answer follows.
It is worth repeating that automation has two purposes that are
closely related:
   1.) Improving customer service
   2.) Ensuring the survival of the enterprise
We should also remember that automating a library process is not an
achievement, it is merely a cost of doing business.  Library
achievements can be measured only in terms of customer success.
The benefits outlined below have been achieved for our customers
since 1996 with no increase in ILL staff.  They result from a
comprehensive, process approach to library automation, not from the
simplistic task computerization that we so often see in libraries.
It is clear that the process approach to automating ILL/Document
Delivery can impact many areas of library service, including
collection development, reference service, and user training.
1.)  Ability to handle increased volume of customer requests -
     In fiscal 1999, ILL borrowing obtained 22,574 items, a 52%
     increase over fiscal 1996.  This growth rate continues.
     During the first 4 months of fiscal 2000, ILL borrowing posted
     11,061 requests to OCLC, an increase of 25% over the first
     four months of fiscal 1999 and a 76% increase over the first
     four months of fiscal 1997.
2.)  Reduced Turnaround Time -
                         1996                   1999
                 (random sample Oct-Nov)  (all Oct-Nov requests)
     Returnables        12.6 days               11 days
     Non-returnables    13.8 days               10 days
     We now measure turnaround time from the instant the customer
     enters a request into the ILL database, not from the time we
     first see the request and start working on it.  (For example,
     requests submitted on Friday evening are not seen by the staff
     until Monday morning, but that intervening time is counted as
     part of the turnaround time.)
     Note that 90% of turnaround time is caused by external factors
     such as time for lenders to respond and ship and time in
     transit.  This causes significant changes in turnaround time
     during the year.  Average internal processing time for each
     request totals 1 day, including the night and weekend hours
     that elapse from the time a customer inputs the request until
     we begin processing it.
3.)  No limits on customer requests -
     We do not impose any limits on customer requests.  Some
     customers have submitted 50 or more requests in a single day
     and these were processed that same day.
4.)  New services for distant customers -
     ILL staff now provides automated document delivery of Virginia
     Tech materials to faculty and students not located in the
     greater Blacksburg area.  Since ILL began this service on
     September 6, 1999, we have delivered about 3,000 items.
5.)  No daily backlogs (ability to handle peak loads) -
     All requests submitted by 4:00 pm weekdays are posted to OCLC
     by 5:00 pm.  All requests submitted over the weekend are
     posted to OCLC by Monday afternoon.  When we lost Internet
     connectivity on Monday, October 18 we were able to process all
     weekend requests and Monday's requests by more than doubling
     our normal daily output to a total of 352 requests sent to
     OCLC on Tuesday October 19.

6.)  Improved customer confidence through full disclosure -
     Customers can view the complete transaction history of each
     one of their requests.  They can track each step in the
     process, know the name of the staff member who worked on each
     part of the process, and see the date and time each step in
     the process was begun and completed.
7.)  Improved public and staff understanding through statistics -
     The public can use their web browsers to generate statistical
     summaries of ILL performance in real-time from our live
     database.  The complete history of more than 79,000 ILL
     borrowing requests entered since July 1, 1997, 32,000 ILL
     lending requests received since March 10, 1999, and 3,200
     document delivery requests processed since September 6, 1999
     are now online.
8.)  Improved customer and staff understanding and feedback -
     Customers and staff can attach an unlimited number of notes to
     any request.
9.)  Improved customer convenience and reduced effort -
     a.)  Customers provide their mailing address and other
     necessary information only once when they first register for
     ILL service.  Over the Web, they can update their shipping
     address and other personal information at any time, even while
     a request is in process.  Customers can choose to receive
     articles electronically or by mail, as well as choosing a
     location to pick up materials if they prefer.
     b.)  Customers can renew ILL loans online.  Phone calls from
     customers asking about their requests are almost non-existent
     despite the large increase in number of requests.  When a
     customer does have a question, staff can respond instantly
     because all information about each request is immediately
     displayable on screen.
     c.)  Customers can submit and track the progress of their
     requests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from any location on
     earth.  They can retrieve electronic photocopies on the same
     d.)  Customers can resubmit a request canceled for incomplete
     or incorrect information simply by calling up the request in
     their Web browser and providing new or revised information.
10.) Quality control of electronic articles -
     All electronically delivered articles are verified for page
     orientation and readability.  Automated page reorientation
     keeps all pages upright on screen.
11.) Improved reliability of request information and delivery -
     All data about the request is keyed by the customer and
     transferred programmatically to the OCLC work form.  This
     eliminates misunderstandings resulting from staff
     interpretation of handwriting or staff mis-keying of customer
     supplied information.
12.) Services provided regardless of location -
     We provide automated ILL service and document delivery service
     over the Web to faculty and students working at remote
     locations as far as 3,000 miles from our Blacksburg, Virginia
Survival of the library as a viable entity within the university
depends on its ability to satisfy the demands of the university.
Survival of the university depends on its ability to satisfy the
demands of its students and governing bodies.  In the past 10 years
or more, the demands on the library have been to provide more
service using less funding and fewer staff, and to provide greater
access to information with smaller acquisitions budgets.  ILL now
plays a key role in meeting these demands.
1.)  Doing more with less -
     In addition to absorbing the increase in ILL borrowing,
     automation of ILL made it possible for our department to
     absorb significant new duties in the past three years:
     a.)  ILL staff assumed responsibility for document delivery to
     faculty and staff outside the greater Blacksburg area,
     processing 3,100 requests in the first 10 weeks of service.
     b.)  ILL staff assumed responsibility for all packaging,
     shipping, and receiving for items borrowed from or loaned to
     Virginia libraries.  Previously this task was handled by the
     library mail room.  (Out of state shipments are still packed
     by the mail room.)  Shipping of loaned or borrowed returnables
     is done through FedEx.  (Articles sent free to our consortial
     partners are almost always sent by Ariel.)  In fiscal 1999, we
     handled packing, shipping, and return of 7,700 returnable
     c.)  We offered automated electronic delivery of Ariel
     photocopies facilitated by automated sorting and processing of
     incoming Ariel files based on customer delivery preferences.
     d.)  We redirected staff time to provide increased personal
     attention to solving customer problems and to handling
     difficult requests.  This became possible when we eliminated
     all our paper records and the associated filing of several
     tens of thousands of pieces of paper each year.  Staff time
     was also released when customer inquiries declined as a result
     of customer online access to all information about their
     requests.  Automated e-mail for customer notification and
     overdue notices also released staff time while insuring more
     rapid return of overdue materials.
2.)  Substituting for reduced subscriptions -
     By providing greater access to information held elsewhere, ILL
     has become an effective substitute for subscriptions to many
     serials.  Reduced turnaround time and improved responsiveness
     has increased customer confidence in the ILL process.
3.)  Reduced staff training -
     We reduced the need for training new employees and improved
     the flexibility of existing employees.  Automated systems fill
     out the OCLC workform, download and sort requests into
     priority queues, automatically insert double entries in the
     lending string for EMST lenders, and perform other tasks that
     formerly required special procedural knowledge on the part of
4.)  Adapting to staff shortages -
     ILL staff are better prepared to adapt to temporary staff
     shortages.  For example, despite a staff vacancy during the
     current semester, the busiest in our history, we maintained
     service quality such as rapid turnaround time while beginning
     the new document delivery service for distant customers.  This
     adaptability results in part from the reduced need for
     training in complex procedures that now function under program
5.)  Adapting to increased university demands -
     As the University Administration emphasized services to
     distant learners, ILL was prepared through automated
     efficiencies to provide these new services and to improve the
     ability of those at a distance to reach into the Blacksburg
     campus to obtain information and services.
6.)  Improved management ability -
     Detailed statistics on tens of thousands of ILL requests and
     thousands of customer profiles are being analyzed to improve
     ILL service, collection development, reference service, and
     end-user training.
I hope you will agree that the benefits of automation are many and
varied.  The process approach to automation of ILL directly affects
the bottom line of the library business, which is service to our
Harry Kriz
Director of Interlibrary Services
Virginia Tech (VPI)
----------------------------------------------------------------- 540-231-7052 FAX: 540-231-3694 
University Libraries Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (Virginia 
Tech) Blacksburg, VA 24061-0434 USA "What joy to awake every morning in a 
world so filled with things to learn." - H. M. Kriz (1994)