My name is Chloë. I am a bright eyed, bespectacled new professional working as a Learning Resources Assistant (LRA) at an academic University. Here, each LRA has their own task they are responsible for, which gets switched to a different person every two years. Last April I took over interlibrary loans and it is my favourite task yet!
For those who don’t know, interlibrary loans is a service most Universities provide. They borrow books or request copies of articles from either the British Library or other U.K. Universities. Some Universities are just borrowers, like ours, some are lenders as well. For staff and PhD students, the department tends to pay, as it contributes to the research for their faculty. For Masters and Undergraduate students there is a small fee (currently £2) towards the cost of the service, which is great for our students because we subsidise the cost by around 5x that amount for ordering a book!
Interlibrary loan processing is perplexingly complex; with our huge excel workbook, our many other spreadsheets, having to check over invoices, emailing back and forth to different Universities etc… overall though, this makes the role pretty interesting.
I first search British Library On Demand, if they don’t have the item I search U.K. Universities using a site called COPAC. The latter is a great resource in general as once you search for an item it tells you a lot about items and where you can find them, right down to the shelfmark of a particular library in a particular institution. The only issue with both of these is that the searches are not intuitive. It’s not like Google, where we are used to typing something in and internet fairies magically correct our spelling or search engine psychics take a stab in the dark about what we mean and generally get it right. No, these are down-to-the-semi-colon accurate searches. Which, when you have a book entitled Del otro lado del espejo : la sexualidad en la construcción de la nación cubana is not a simple task. Needless to say, searching for interlibrary loan titles is a job in itself and so far I’d say I was becoming a pro at Information Literacy Skills (very handy if you fancy progressing to an Assistant Librarian role). The other issue here is whether our patrons fill the forms out with the correct details in the first place. For journal articles, having an article title, author, published date and volume all incorrect in some way can be a frustrating use of half an hour to put it right (yes, that was a real-life scenario).
I say it’s frustrating, but let’s face it, we wouldn’t be working in a library if we didn’t get some sort of buzz from finding information right? The use of several spreadsheets (all colour coded and full of complicated formulas of course) makes our job structured and organised, and if there is one thing library staff enjoy, it’s organisation (and stationery… and organisational stationery). The items we search for are certainly varied from easily finding titles I definitely don’t want to read from the Journal of Human Lactation (we have nursing and midwifery here) to the ones I sadly can’t obtain and would love to read like A Dog’s History of the World: Canines and the Domestication of Humans (because who doesn’t love dogs?!). I’ve also ordered many oddly named items including the recent God’s gym: divine male bodies of the Bible and achingly beautiful ones like The Miscellaneous and Unpublished Writings of Charlotte and Patrick Branwell Brontë, which included pages of scanned, barely-readable-but-gorgeous original cursive script written by the Brontës themselves.
Overall the time, effort and frustration involved in undertaking interlibrary loans is so worth it for the skills you gain, the intriguing books you come across and of course, the satisfaction of a well laid-out colour coordinated spreadsheet.
Thanks for reading – Chloë.
Photo is a CC licensed image courtesy of: https://www.pexels.com/search/books/