Special Collections/Interlibrary Loan Pilot Project Final Report and Recommendations


Executive Summary

RSC, RSC-IAG, and HOSC, responding to a request for improvements in sharing UC Specials Collections materials for teaching and research, put a process in place whereby faculty, staff and students may initiate an ILL for Special Collection materials by using the Request feature in Melvyl. A pilot program was developed for all nine campuses and procedures for handling the requests in ILL and special collections units was implemented. This report presents statistics and information from three surveys that were carried out during the pilot.
Highlights of the study include:

  • In general, users are confused by certain MELVYL records and are unable to easily find “use copies”,* as distinct from Special Collections copies, within MELVYL.
  • In general, either ILL staff or Special Collections staff must do time consuming searches to ensure that “use copies” are not available elsewhere.
  • Automated solutions to finding “use copies” would require refining cataloging practices on most campuses and record display on MELVYL.

Despite the difficulties for the staff, the pilot was successful for users. At least 60% of the requests were continued by the patron. The report concludes with
a recommendation to continue the loaning special collections materials via Request, with specific recommendations to improve the service.

* “Use copy” is defined as an available, circulating copy of an item.


In December 2000 the Resource Sharing Committee-Interlibrary Loan Advisory Group (RSC-IAG) presented a proposal (Appendix A) to Venita Jorgensen, chair of the Resource Sharing Committee RSC) to increase the sharing of special collections materials through interlibrary loan. The proposal was taken to the Systemwide Operations and Planning Advisory Group (SOPAG) for review. Below is a summary of the discussion and the action to be taken from the SOPAG action minutes of the meeting on 12/15/00.

Special Collections ILL Guidelines:

A. Bunting presented the RSC proposal to implement a pilot study for six months to enhance the sharing of Special Collections materials by employing ILL processes and infrastructure. The genesis of the proposal stemmed from faculty feedback about the necessity to increase and streamline the sharing of Special Collections materials for teaching and research. A. Bunting reported that the proposal was discussed at a recent HOSC meeting to give members the opportunity to provide suggestions and concerns. All ILL and Special Collections units tentatively agreed to participate in the pilot project with the exception of the UCB Bancroft Library. [UCB BANCROFT LATER AGREED TO PARTICIPATE.] As a result of the meeting RSC will revise a few areas of the ILL policy and procedures manual as appropriate and develop a form to accompany each request. SOPAG spent considerable time discussing the proposal to remove the block on requesting Special Collections items in the Request service. K. Butter raised concerns about making immediate system changes in Request and the workload impact on other Request plans and timelines. It was noted that a pilot could still be conducted without the Request component in place.

ACTION: SOPAG agreed to undertake a pilot project to study the lending of Special Collections items as an ILL process and gather statistics to inform future cost/process scenarios. K. Butter will investigate the level and scope of work involved in making system changes in Request per the proposal and report back to SOPAG by the January meeting. A. Bunting will inform RSC that a pilot using Request cannot begin until an assessment of the work needed to make changes is made. She will also ask RSC to document, in consultation with HOSC, the specific locations where loaned Special Collections materials will be placed for patron use.

Following the SOPAG meeting the Request Team defined the parameters to put a process in place. Tammy Dearie, a member of the Request Team and RSC, identified a list of special collection locations to be reviewed by HOSC members. The main special collections units were identified as appropriate collections to share. Unique items or those not under jurisdiction of HOSC were excluded (i.e., UCB Law Library Asia Rare, UCD Health Science Special Collections, UCLA Clark Library).

In March 2001 the Heads of Special Collections (HOSC) drafted a Needs Statement ( Appendix B) that was reviewed by RSC-IAG and HOSC members. As a result, procedures and forms were revised and agreed upon by both groups. The programming changes, originally slated to go in to effect on April 21, 2001, were implemented May 23, 2001. CDL Request statistics show some activity in May, although it may be staff testing. According to the SOPAG minutes of June 29, 2001 the Special Collections Request pilot officially began June 14, 2001.


Beginning in June 2001 the majority of special collections materials were unblocked in Melvyl. Users were given a special message alerting them that the item was owned by a special collections library and may not be available for loan. Users were given the option of skipping the item, continuing the process, or canceling the request. Below is the message:

The item listed below is owned by a UC Special Collections library and may not be available for loan. The owning Special Collections library will determine whether or not the loan is possible. If the item is available for loan, it must be used under supervision in the Special Collections reading room of your campus library. Any duplication of materials is at the discretion of the owning library

You may:

1. Skip this item and continue with any remaining items in your Request.
2. Continue your Request for this item and continue with any remaining items in your Request.
3. Cancel your Request for this and any remaining items.

Most campuses did not publicize the new service and since the service started at the end of spring term most campuses did not see an increase in activity until the fall term.

Incoming Requests were sent to the owning libraries ILL unit, bypassing the more traditional review at the user’s home campus. The decision to skip the traditional review was two-fold. First, taking the additional step to review the item was not a ILL “best practice,” as identified by Mary Jackson’s ARL ILL workshop. Second, ILL staff frequently do not forward requests for special collections materials with the belief that the request will be denied. In order to gauge user demand it was determined that all request should go forward for the special collections staff to review. This also gave the special collections staff the opportunity to measure demand for their collections.

At the owning library, each request was printed from the OCLC pending file, attached to a form, and sent to the designated special collections contact person. The contact person would determined if the item was available for loan or copy and notify the ILL staff person of the decision so that OCLC could be updated appropriately. The special collections contact person would prepared the item for processing and mailing. The form was to accompany the item to the borrowing library and then back again to the owning special collections library. The final annotated form was to be returned to a centralized location for statistical compilation.

Review of Activity

Activity grew at a steady rate. The chart below documents the number of times a user was notified the item was a special collections item and the number of times the user continued with the request. The number of special collections Requests received was small in comparison to overall book. Requests for special collections materials were only 3.5% of the overall all activity.

User alerted to Special Collections Item
User Continued
Percent Continued
All Books Requested
Percent Special Collections
Not recorded



Success after sending the request was harder to measure. Two samples were conducted during the 2001/2002 fiscal year. The first testing was conducted for all items sent to special collections staff for processing from April 20, 2001 – August 29, 2001. In the report (Appendix C) compiled from the data it showed that a total of 113 requests were received. Thirty-five of those were discarded as not being part of the pilot (non-Request items or not special collections requests). A total of seventy-eight requests were examined. Unfortunately, much of the data was incomplete so determining results was difficult. The incomplete data did, however, identify one of the major drawbacks to the process. The process was too complicated and went through too many hands to receive accurate data.

The study concluded that of the seventy-eight requests examined, twenty-six of the special collections items were loaned. Of those loaned, 13 were photocopies (50%) and 12 items were loaned requiring the borrower to use the item in the Special Collections Library reading room. One item was slated to be loaned, but not updated on OCLC causing the request to move automatically to the next location. The loan was eventually canceled. Of the 78 requests 49 were denied (62%). Of those denied, the majority, 22 requests or 44%, were denied because the items were available from other sources. Other sources could include a circulating UC copy, typically cataloged separately in Melvyl, or a copy available at another library on OCLC.

Berkeley Sub-sample

For various reasons, include alphabetical position in Melvyl, different cataloging practices, and plethora of unique materials, the Berkeley special collections staff received many requests for materials that were available as circulating copies, many times at the home campus. In April 2001, Charles Faulhaber and Susan Synder sent a sample of 16 items received between January 20, 2002 and February 7, 2002 to Tammy Dearie to illustrate the issue. Analysis of the items showed that 12 of the items were requests received from patrons using the Request feature. Four of the requests were not patron generated, but rather requests from UC ILL staff for special collections items using traditional methods. Of those twelve requests, half were valid, half-invalid. Invalid requests included items that had circulating copies, items owned at other libraries including the borrowers own campus, items available in microformat or a later edition. The valid requests were for items that were only owned at Berkeley or at other non-UC libraries. A full report of the items is attached in Appendix E.

It is important to note that from the users’ perspective, all were valid requests. The user identified an item they needed and placed a request. From the staff perspective, however, the sample identified several problematic areas.

  • First, multiple catalog records in Melvyl are confusing to users (they select the first record).
  • Second, items with variant formats are also confusing to users. Users often don’t look for a microformat record nor know how to look if the item isn’t part of an analyzed set. Without staff intervention to screen requests, either at the beginning or the end, items will be requested that could be supplied immediately from a local collection or faster using non-special collection interlibrary loans methods. User education may solve part of the problem, but reaching users is more difficult in the digital age. Refining search techniques and cataloging practices will also help solve part of the problem.
  • Terminology and definitions – Items owned by a UC special collections library may also be owned by other libraries on OCLC. However, these items are typically owned by another special collections library, some which would loan, many which would not. From the special collections staff perspective, if an item was available at another library on OCLC, an attempt to borrow the item should be made. From the ILL staff perspective, they questioned the validity of attempting to borrow a special collections item from a non-UC library when it was owned within the system, especially when the likelihood of borrowing the item was low and would incur a cost.
  • OCLC Review file: all incoming special collections requests are placed in the OCLC review file, along with duplicate requests, requests for items without OCLC numbers, requests for articles without full citations, and requests for items with no UC holdings. The review file for a campus could contain over 100 items per day making it more difficult to identify special collections requests for review. [Note: In March 2001 CDL created a new code to help ILL staff identify special collections materials within a separate review file.]

Sample 2 Summary

Due to the problems identified in the first sample, a second, more focused and streamlined sample was created for a two-week period to coincide with a high-use period. The sample (Appendix F) conducted from April 29,2002 through May 10, 2002 showed similar (inclusive) results.

Of the 37 items tracked during the samples, only 12 or 32%, of requests were loaned or copied for the patron.

Sample 3 Summary

Finally, a third sampling was conducted using OCLC data. OCLC supplied UC with a copy of each item requested via OCLC from April 1, 2002 to May 31, 2002 and that had been coded as a special collections item. Of the 254 requests sent from a UC patron for a UC owned special collections item, 143 were filled. Of that 143, seventy-three were filled by a UC library and seventy were filled by a non-UC library. A summary along with the full report is attached in Appendix G.


Users have high expectations of the ILL services, and UC users are accustomed to a high level of resource sharing among UC Libraries. The growing numbers of requests placed by users, despite little or no publicity, makes it clear that users want access to the material. Therefore, we propose that UC continue to provide these materials to users to the extent possible.

However, extending resource sharing by loaning Special Collections materials is time-consuming, especially if we wish to honor the requirements of the Special Collections staff that items not be loaned as long as there is a circulating copy available. The workload of confirming uniqueness needs to be acknowledged and assigned to either the ILL or Special Collections staff.

Access can also mean digitized copy, and this is the opportunity to look seriously at providing at digitizing for access. This pilot study has shown that the demand is there and that the staff has expertise to provide the materials. The recommendations below outline steps we can take to improve and enhance the service.


Given the success of the project in increasing user demand HOSC and RSC has agreed to the following recommendations:

1. Continue to allow patrons to place “Requests” on materials owned in special collections libraries.

2. Continue to mediate special collections requests by requiring all requests for special collections materials to be sent to the borrowing library’s ILL unit for verification before forwarding to a lending special collections library. ILL staff contend that this will allow for faster turn-around time than sending an unverified request to a lending library for verification (and potential rejection because a circulating copy was widely available. Keeping the verification process within the borrowing libraries, the workflow is more evenly spread among the UC ILL units and patron needs are met more quickly.

Addendum: RSC and HOSC will continue to review this process to ensure that the most efficient methods are employed. When the VDX software is fully implemented it may allow for a new process that incorporates standard best practices that will benefit both users and staff.

3. Discontinue the specialized tracking of requests using the pilot guidelines.

4. Review the statistical counting and reporting of special collections requests.

5. Explore alternative transportation options to ensure the safe, timely, and cost-efficient handling of special collections materials.

6. Develop packing guidelines that are required for use in the shipping of all special collections materials.

7. Continue to review collections to identify discrete collections that could be blocked from the Request option (i.e., separately cataloged collections of popular material or materials readily available in circulating collections such as the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopia).

8. Implement a survey, to be administered to HOSC and ILL staff, to provide an opportunity to learn how each campus has handled the pilot and/or made reasonable changes to accommodate different campus, departmental, or unit needs associated with it. Discuss the recommendations in this report and what operational procedures need to be changed.

9. Continue to monitor the impact of Request on ILL and special collections operations and continue to provide support, at the campus level, to ensure that adequate staffing and funding are available to fulfill the shared use of collections.

10. Begin a pilot project to determine the feasibility of scanning special collections materials requested by patrons. The pilot will examine user acceptance of digitized materials, possible staffing patterns, cost and workload for staff to produce the digitized materials, and the infrastructure needed to support access, cataloging, and storage of digitized materials.

11. Through support from SOPAG and the University Librarians, continue to encourage Special Collections staff to lend appropriate items held at UC Special Collections Libraries. Future success depends on recognition of the need to lend materials in support of the “one university, one library” concept.

12. Finally, both RSC and HOSC members asked that the University Librarians recognize that the Special Collections project and the workload it creates runs counter to the goals of UC-wide Interlibrary Loan best practices by overriding the direct request functionality, thereby increasing staff workload through the forced mediation, including individual verification of outgoing and incoming requests, of Special Collections requests.


A. RSC-IAG report: Increasing the Sharing of Special Collections Materials, 12/1/00

B. HOSC Needs Statement, 3/01

C. Special Collections ILL Procedures 3/01 and Form (pdf)

D. Report of UC Special Collections Request Pilot Study, October 2001 and Report Data

E. Berkeley Sample and Report

F. Report of 2-Week Sample, April 29-May 10, 2002 (pdf) and Form and Instructions

G. OCLC Report, April – May 2002 and Summary