Most Requested Titles through Interlibrary Loan

When you process as many requests as we do at the University of South Carolina (42,964 during the 2016-2017 fiscal year!), you start to notice some trends in requesting patterns. It’s always interesting to see which books are the most popular with our patrons. Disregarding duplicate patron requests, our most frequently requested book during 2016-2017 year was Hillbilly Ellegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. It turns out we aren’t alone. The most requested book across all institutions through ILL during 2016 was Hillbilly Elegy. 

Curious about the other most requested items? Check out OCLC’s list of the top ten most requested titles through ILL. If you have extra time to read over the holiday break, feel free to place your own request for one of these titles from

-Contributed by Amie Freeman

E-books through Interlibrary Loan? Believe it!

Have you received a notification lately that your ILL item is available to download as an e-book? If so, you’re one of the early beneficiaries of a new service offered through ILL: Occam’s Reader! Developed, once again, by our friends at Texas Tech University in collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Greater Western Library Alliance, Occam’s Reader allows for the easy sharing of e-books between libraries.

Image used with permission from Occam’s Reader (

While many libraries have maintained the licensed right to share e-book content through ILL for years, the lack of a technical platform prevented full e-book loans until very recently. Sensing this long-unfulfilled need, a group of librarians and developers approached the problem with the mindset that “other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one” (What is Occam’s Reader?, slide 2). From this productive collaboration came Occam’s Reader, a secure method for requesting and transmitting secure and legal e-book loans from one library to another.

We’re pleased to say that our involvement with Occam’s Reader has allowed us to deliver 24 e-books to USC patrons. We hope to provide many more in the near future. If you’ve been a recipient, we’d love to have your feedback.

-Contributed by Amie Freeman

A better shipping system

In ILL, we rely on quite a few different shipping services to get books into the hands of our patrons as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, some get lost along the way. Frustrated with the lack of information available to us when attempting to track down these missing items, we turned to a new tracking system–OBILLSK, or Online Based Inter-Library Loan Statistical Kit, developed under the direction of Ryan Litsey, Texas Tech University.

Moving beyond traditional tracking methods, this system traces items every step of the way across a number of shipping services, such as USPS and Fed-Ex. We simply input the shipped item’s intended recipient, shipping label, and reference number into OBILLSK and have immediate access to full tracking information in one place. We’re thrilled to report that now, when items go missing, we can detect their location or prove their delivery.

OBILLSK Dashboard

Beyond tracking, the system reports on a number of helpful statistics, including our top receivers and the average number of items shipped per package.

One of the neatest things about this system is the interactive map of shipment recipients. OBILLSK tracks each shipped item and creates an interactive visualization that can be sorted either by recipients within the United States or the world. Beyond the practical benefits of having a robust tracking system, it’s interesting to see a visual representation of our resource sharing process.

-Contributed by Amie Freeman


Open Access and Interlibrary Loan

The University of South Carolina Libraries care about sustainable publishing and research collection practices. We readily acknowledge that open access publishing has more than a few issues. However, we support the exploration of different types of open access models that can enable our patrons to access resources more quickly and affordably while reducing our budget.

One way that we’ve attempted to both introduce our patrons to open publishing and to encourage economically viable research is by implementing an open access policy into the Interlibrary Loan workflow. 

Before requesting any article, thesis, or gray literature from another institution, we check to make sure that this item is not already freely available through an open access publisher or a repository. While there are a many places that scholars can check for open access to needed materials (see this excellent list compiled by the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois), we’ve found that the simplest way to quickly check for access is through a browser add-on called Unpaywall.

Unpaywall automatically checks requested content against numerous repositories for legally uploaded copies of documents. When we search for an item in a browser, we can quickly see if a free copy is available. If it is, we simply copy the link and place it in an email that not only provides access to the article, but includes a link to more information on open access for interested patrons.

Have any suggestions to improve our open access workflow? Let us know in the comments!

-Contributed by Amie Freeman

Some neat things in ILL

The field of resource sharing is ever-changing and full of innovators and, dare we say it?, excitement. In the next few posts, we’re going to discuss some of the interesting projects that we’re involved in.

Keep an eye out for our thoughts on:

  • Open access and resource sharing
  • Sharing electronic books (and other e-resources) through ILL
  • A new and creative shipping program designed to connect libraries and minimize loss

Contributed by Amie Freeman

Partnership/coordination between libraries

Sometimes, a library patron may not be able to find the book or article they want at their particular library.

This is what Interlibrary Loan is for! We can find books that are not available in our library’s catalog at another library or institution!

When you cannot find a book in our stacks, you can place a request with us. After locating places that have the book available, we send out your request to other libraries, usually three to five at a time, and try to borrow the books from these institutions.

Some books are harder to find, if they are rare or new. We do our best to get any book or article you are looking for, and if there is any reason we can’t find the book, we send a detailed cancellation note as to why we couldn’t find the item.

Before you place a request, it helps us if you make sure the item is not in our catalog. At times, patrons may accidentally place an ILL request with us, when the book has been in our catalog and doesn’t need to be ordered through another library. Also, we do not order textbooks or any assigned reading for classes.

The institutions we work with do their best to reply to us as soon as possible, and they work hard to ship books to us on time. If you are associated with our school and need to order anything you cannot find at Thomas Cooper Library, consider using our services. We will do everything we can for you!

Contributed by Brian Barr

Scan and Deliver

Today I will tell you about a day in the life of Scan and Deliver. For those of you unfamiliar with Scan and Deliver, it’s kind of like ILL delivery of articles, except it is for documents that we own in the library. Yes that’s correct, we will scan something and send out a pdf, so you don’t even have to come in.

One of the most important tasks is verifying the citations. I receive all kinds of weird, and incomplete citations, despite many of the fields, on the log in form, being mandatory. Essentially all someone has to do is type one character, and they can bypass this mandatory field. Now one of my favorite things to see, is the lack of call number, this is actually quite common among library science students, yes the students studying to be librarians, are not aware of what a call number is. It is quite common for someone to put their phone number in the field as well. The phone number always brings a smile to my face.

Okay, so after we’ve done our best to verify the citation, we then move onto making sure, that we do not have access to it online, or in our vast amount of databases.

After all of the following tasks have been completed, I then go and pull the book from the stacks. This gives me a nice chance to get a little bit of walking in during my day.

Finally I scan the book, and post the pdf to a server where our patrons can access it. Now if there should be any problem, such as a missing page, or book, then we can do an ILL request for the article. Also occasionally the book may be too large, brittle, or the article too long, for us to scan. We also have a limit of one chapter or article per book, and no more than 50 pages.

I hope this sheds some light on the glamorous job of Scan and Deliver.

Contributed by William Boland

The life cycle of an ILL request: part two

In our last post, we left off the life cycle of an ILL request with a push of the “send” button, when an ILL request leaves USC’s office and is submitted to other libraries for review. Today, we’ll discuss what happens to an ILL request after it’s been submitted to different institutions and how fulfilled requests are returned to our patron.

Each of the libraries that we’ve selected receive the request in turn. They have three options—to fill the request, conditional the request, or cancel the request. In most cases, if a library owns an item, they’ll fill the request. The library can conditional the request, or send it back to us for review, if they need more information or for us to agree to certain restrictions. The request is cancelled and moves on to the next lender for one of several reasons: the library charges more to fill it than we can pay, the exact item isn’t owned, the item has been designated as non-circulating, or if it doesn’t abide by another of their restrictions.

Once a library has selected to fill the request, they’ll either scan and upload the item or mail it to us directly. In most cases, scanned items will be automatically delivered to our patrons via electronic delivery, and—hooray! The request is complete. However, if the item is mailed, there are several more steps. We’ll double check the item for accuracy, check it in to our system, and either bring it to the circulation desk for pick up or mail the item directly to our patron. After we’ve notified the patron that the item is available, the patron will pick up the item and it will be checked out to his or her ILL account until the item is returned. Once returned, we check the item back into our system and send it back to the providing library, where their staff will (once again) check in the item, completing and finalizing the request.

It sounds like a lot of steps, but it’s essential that we perform the process carefully to ensure that we get you the information that you need as efficiently as possible. So, there you have it: the full life-cycle of an ILL borrowing request. Stay tuned for more posts from your ILL team!

Contributed by Amie Freeman

The life cycle of an ILL request: part one

Today, we’re going to walk you through the life-cycle of an ILL borrowing request. Typically, an ILL request begins when one of our patrons discovers a research need that cannot be filled through our library’s resources. At that point, the patron has two options: submit a request directly from the ILL webpages, or, if the item has been discovered through a library database, click the “Request from ILL” button.

Here’s where things get interesting: the request is sent to our request management system, ILLiad, into one of two queues: “Awaiting Copyright Clearance” or “Awaiting Request Processing”. Did you know that we have to confirm copyright abidance of all requests published in the last five years? We determine if the request abides by both copyright law and something called the CONTU guidelines. If it does, we pass the request to the “Awaiting Request Processing” queue. If it doesn’t, we determine if the copyright fee or cost to purchase the item directly falls into our budget.

Moving into the “Awaiting Request Processing’ queue, a staff member will open and review the request. In most cases, the staff member will track down the original citation for confirmation or to add additional details to ensure that we are requesting the correct item from our lenders. The more, and more accurate, information we have, the better! We use something called an OCLC number, which is similar to an ISBN but represents a library record, to determine which libraries own the item. Next, we request, or “send-out”, our request from matching libraries. We can select up to fifteen potential lenders to review the request.

And—poof—it’s out of our hands, with a push of the “Send” button! In our next post, we’ll discuss what happens to the request after it has moved into the ILL ether and how the fulfilled request gets back to the patron.

Contributed by Amie Freeman