Gone are the days of waiting weeks for an article or book. In the time it can take to drink a cup of coffee at Bookends Cafe, University Library may be able to fill an interlibrary loan request.
"We have agreements with other libraries where they have to fill requests in 72 hours at most," said head of access services Dawn Mick. "Most of it is very fast. I think there is this misconception people have that interlibrary loan is going to take weeks."
How fast is fast? The quickest response to a request filled at the library to date is 12 minutes. Most articles are sent electronically, dwindling wait times to just hours.
The importance of the internet in our daily lives means information in electronic form is readily available, making it easier for libraries to access files and send them off.
Over the last decade, cheap, quality scanning became more prevalent, and increased bandwidth allowed large files to be sent through email. Books usually take a few days to reach a destination, but even that has become more reliable with agreements between libraries.
Loans go beyond books and articles, to include items such as 3D-printed models, microfilm, DVDs and CDs.
"You don't know unless you ask," Mick said. "People are always surprised by what we can get, so it never hurts to try."
How it works
Interlibrary loan requests can be made and renewed online, where their progress is monitored.
The interlibrary loan request process has been streamlined over the years. Mick and the loan staff -- resource sharing supervisor Anders Runestad, borrowing coordinator Jason Carpenter and lending coordinator Miranda Cantrell -- use software called ILLiad to communicate with WorldCat, the world's largest network of library content that serves as a master catalog of library materials.
"Our software talks to that database. We can see who owns what, and from there we have an idea of where to borrow," said Runestad, who began working at the library as a student in the '90s when requests were still handwritten and faxed. "We can then make a decision on who to get it from based on time, distance or availability."
In Iowa, an informal cooperative of eight libraries at Iowa State, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, Grand View University, St. Ambrose University, Wartburg College and Hawkeye Community College form FastTRAC. Partner libraries are able to search one another's catalogs.
University Library lends more books than it borrows with a high concentration of requests coming in agriculture, engineering and veterinary medicine.
"There are not a lot of places that have a good veterinary medicine collection," Mick said.
Interlibrary loan may not be used as much as it was pre-internet, but it still is key for hard-to-find resources.
"A lot of libraries have been cutting down their collections and removing items. It is something we have done recently -- weeding stuff out that is not used very much," Runestad said. "That means if someone wants something few libraries have, they have to use interlibrary loan."
Space and technology have become as much an asset to libraries as the books, journals and articles they house. This is the case at Parks Library where a renovation on the main floor was completed last fall.
"Interlibrary loan has allowed libraries to make their collection the most active it can be for their patrons, and to use the most space for what people are using it for," Mick said.
Who can use it?
Graduate students and faculty use interlibrary loan the most, followed by undergraduates.
Interlibrary loan is available to all active ISUCard holders. Those without an ISUCard can get a library visitor card, but it may be easier to go through their local library. Ames Public Library utilizes interlibrary loan.
There is no cost to use interlibrary loan for faculty, staff or students unless the item comes from overseas, which has a $5 fee to offset shipping costs.
Items can be picked up at the Parks or veterinary medicine libraries or mailed within 25 miles of Ames for $5. Since 2015, distance learning students have used the service without charge.
"We ship them the book via FedEx, and we provide a prepaid shipping label, so all they have to do is ship it back," Mick said.