Interlibrary loan represents one of the University Libraries’ most successful and popular services. From July 1, 2019 through February 20, 2020, the Access Services Department filled 11,465 out of 11,888 possible requests—a 96.4% completion rate!
“I adore the University Libraries, and especially interlibrary loan,” says Victor Asal, Professor of Political Science. “When I need a book or an article for research they get it for me - it has been a tremendous boon.”
Who makes the service so successful? That would be Angela Persico, who joined the University Libraries as a Resource Sharing and Reserves Associate in 2015. To get a pulse on the operation of interlibrary loan, we shadowed her on Tuesday, February 25 to see a day in the life.
No Ordinary Day
Outside of Persico’s office sits a book truck that she jokingly calls her “problem cart.” It greets her as soon as she walks in, before she even has a chance to put her backpack down. The overnight staff leave incorrect citations, incoming books where titles don’t match paperwork, and notes on items they couldn’t find on the shelves. On a good day, there may only be four or five “problems” on her cart; on a busy day—any day at the start of the semester—it looks like it could collapse under the weight.
After she gets herself situated, she walks to the interlibrary loan workroom, an annex behind the circulation area. The room has two desks for scanning, as well as shelves for incoming and outgoing books, plus worktables where mail gets opened and sorted. She checks to see if any scanning needs to be finished, and then compares the items on the shelves to records in ILLiad, an interlibrary loan management system.
With last night’s problems addressed—they took about an hour to complete—Persico gets to work on the day’s tasks. She begins by filling requests in ILLiad. Articles prove the easiest to secure, as she can often upload them to patrons directly through the Libraries’ databases. The turnaround time for these requests have been praised by the campus community. “If I see a request as it comes in,” she says with a grin, “I can get it done in under a minute.”
Before she has a chance to make a dent in her work, she gets her first drop-in question of the morning. It’s 9:02 AM. A staff member has a confusing citation, with the volume number in the wrong field and the pages listed as 295-236. Persico quickly identifies the problem, realizing that the page numbers should actually read 295-326. “I definitely do a lot of interpreting,” she says.
Persico then gets in an hour and a half of uninterrupted work, a rarity for the interlibrary loan department. She updates addresses for different libraries in ILLiad, makes purchase recommendations, and does documentation work. By 10:35 AM, however, she’s back to fielding questions—including those not specifically related to interlibrary loan.
“While I specialize in resource sharing, and my days are consumed by that, I need to have a working knowledge of all of Access Services,” she notes. “I have to be able to jump in whenever needed.”
The problems keep pouring in through the 11 AM hour. First, a library submitted a request for audiocassettes held at the Dewey Graduate Library. The staff downtown reported that they weren’t on the shelves, so Persico had to coordinate with technical services to find their correct location. Then came troubleshooting with the Libraries’ new storage software, followed by searching for a missing reserve book.
At 11:24 AM, a cancelation request came in from the Capital District Library Council (CDLC). Normally this wouldn’t present any challenge; cancellations happen routinely enough. This time, however, the book requested was located at the Science Library, and their staff already checked it out and placed it in the mail bin. Thankfully the bin would briefly arrive at the University Library before going out for delivery, giving Persico a small window before noon to retrieve the canceled book. If she missed it, though, that library would get a package they didn’t want anymore.
While Persico kept her eye out for the mail delivery, she had an 11:45 AM meeting with a student volunteer. She walked him through some of the routines, including scanning, printing, and book retrieval. The student said he was eager to learn and hoped to start later that week, so that meant adding paperwork to the day’s agenda.
As the two of them worked on the different forms, the mail finally arrived. Persico made a dash towards the back room to intercept the delivery from Science. Having secured the book, she thanked the student for stopping by, then attended to the next important issue at hand: lunch.
Everything is problem solving
From 1-2 PM, Persico attended a webinar hosted by SUNY Central. This made for a rare occasion where her office door was closed. Once the session wrapped up, she went back to the interlibrary loan workroom to make sure everything was going smoothly, then sat back down to get ahead on different projects, a luxury reserved only for slower afternoons.
After doing some application maintenance, she checked the request queue in ILLiad. A few journal articles had yet to be found, so she decided to take a look at why. In one instance, a citation had no real, useable information. Not deterred, she tried to reverse engineer the search, going into the database to try to find what the patron entered. While this particular hunt came up empty, the process has worked in the past. “Everything is problem solving,” she explains. If she can find a way to get a patron their request, she will.
At 2:37 PM, Persico heads up to the stacks to find requested books that the staff had trouble locating. She scans the shelves looking for a book in the LB section; it isn’t where the call number indicates. That doesn’t stop her, though, as she then checks the shelves above and below, to the left and to the right. She even checks the truck audit to find what book was shelved before the missing item. As it turns out, this was the key—the lost book was in an entirely different part of the shelf, next to the book returned ahead of it.
After a long day of processing ILL requests and troubleshooting problems, Persico is happy that the Libraries have been able to get important research materials into the hands of the faculty and students who need them. She expresses her thanks for the colleagues in all three of the University Libraries who help make the ILL process run so smoothly by pulling books and journals, scanning articles and chapters, and processing the ILL mail deliveries. Like many of the Libraries’ services, it’s the team effort that ensures success!