Interlibrary loan program out of circulation

Mon, 06/10/2024 - 1:45pm

Readers with certain tastes may have to wait a while longer to get their next library book after statewide changes to a widely used lending program. Due to a complication with the company that provides transportation for sharing books and other media between libraries, the interlibrary loan (ILL) system is now on indefinite hold. 

Maine Infonet, which manages the ILL system, sent a notice that requests were turned off for most libraries effective June 4; the move came after a meeting with the ILL courier and another with the Attorney General liaison amidst discussions on the service provider’s contract. 

“This action has caused a lot of angst, and concerns,” a notice sent to Wiscasset Public Library read. “Patrons are accustomed to being able to borrow from millions of items statewide. For the next several weeks they will be restricted to their local library's holdings.” 

The shutdown wasn't a total surprise for local libraries, but it was sudden. Joanna Breen, executive director at Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, said they knew the contract was under renegotiation. However, she added, “we definitely never imagined a full stop so abruptly.” 

According to Breen, the length of the shutdown is unclear. She said the Maine State Library notified them the shutdown will be lifted no sooner than July, but she is not anticipating a return to operations before September. Although ILL requests have stopped, Breen added the van service will be operational through the month, which should allow books and other media out on loan to be returned to their home libraries.  

Interlibrary loans are a way to expand collections, and are especially beneficial for smaller libraries. Breen said the Boothbay Harbor library has over 22,000 items, but ILL gives patrons access to hundreds of thousands. Digital lending, through third-party services such as Hoopla or Libby, has become a staple for many libraries. However, many readers prefer a physical copy. 

“Having access to the statewide collections is a huge benefit for library users,” said Pamela Dunning, director of the Wiscasset library.   She said the library receives around 2,100 ILLs a year and sends out around 1,100. According to Breen, Boothbay Harbor received around 8,400 items and sent out around 5,700 in 2023. 

Breen said the impact will also depend on a person’s interests. For example, she said the Boothbay Harbor library has an extensive mystery collection, but patrons with research interests often receive their literature through ILL requests. “Folks that are reading a lot of academic materials are going to be more heavily impacted than folks that are happy to just walk in and do pleasure reading,” she said. 

Breen added that local schools purchase and loan books for the children’s summer reading program, which will not be as impacted.  

Not all libraries will feel the same sting. Southport Public Library, with a collection of over 30,000 books and other media, is not part of the van courier system at the center of the issue. Southport librarian Jen Britton said they don’t use the ILL system because there isn't much demand, only getting around 30-40 ILL requests a year. She said they mail items when needed and, in some cases, simply purchase them.  

Breen said the Boothbay Harbor library’s plan going forward is to rely more heavily on patron-driven collection development, and they will make purchases as need and budget allow. She said the library staff is working to inform patrons of the change and encourages people to make suggestions.  

“We are surprised and also bummed out,” she said. “But at the same time, we'll just keep reading and keep lending books, and we'll be happy when ILL gets back. We still have a whole robust library in-house. So just communicate with us about what (you) want to see and read and we’ll be responsive to that ... we'll just bump that up, and thanks everyone for their patience.” 

The Maine State Library has more information on the ILL shutdown and van delivery service, at https://maine-msl.libguides.com/c.php?g=1393867