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May 25, 2006



An interesting question. I would bet one reason there is not a universal document delivery as you describe is logistics, specifically costs and staffing. I know in our case, we can barely provide the delivery to the distance students. Without some serious funding, I don't think we would be able to just retrieve books at any time. Would be nice. I have had patrons requesting stuff now and then who call, say something along the lines of "I am driving in from (three counties over or something like that). I checked your catalog and it says you have (insert title here). Can you hold it for me?" Right now the answer is no. It's not out of meanness or out of being clingy to old methods. It's simply if a librarian is the only person at the desk, there is no one to send to the stacks to get it. If it is a really slow day, I'll put the "librarian will be back" sign up and do it myself, but on a busy semester with three or four students waiting for help, the person just has to come look for it when they get here. Pure and simple. As for the article copies, there are paper costs and so on. Who would pay for that? More tuition fees to students? I mean, the service may be "free" for the users, but it has to be paid somehow. Even the bookstores pay for those extras somehow. Not trying to be difficult, but in a place like mine where an underfunded library is pretty much the fact of life (and I mean REALLY underfunded), the vision, which I love, is just not happening anytime soon. Just asking. Best, and keep on blogging.

Steve Lawson

I used to work at a science library at a research university. There, the document delivery service for faculty (and perhaps grad students, I don't recall) was so expensive to run (mostly in terms of personnel) that departments who wanted the service had to pay the library for it; a yearly fee as I recall, rather than article-by-article.

And I'd prefer not to be Netflix or Blockbuster.


I know costs are prohibitive—and with people like Elsevier it’s hard to maintain access to current holdings. All I am saying is that a lot of librarians (including myself) are talking about finding ways to be relevant and that this is the type of service that patrons might (will?) expect down the road. What is the biggest expense? Personnel? Materials? Postage? Again, I am not saying that we should all start offering this in the Fall, but simply that we consider it and pave the way for the next gen of library users.

Mary Abdoney

I know that I have been guilty of the reactionary "NO" to services that seem time and/or cost prohibitive. However, Brian brings up an excellent point, and I don't think he is urging all libraries to drop everything and adopt this new practice.

I've been hearing a lot about librarians trying to be more flexible for a change, and being more accessible to patrons. As a user-centered profession, I think we can all admit that sometimes we lose sight of that goal.

One of the ways I started to change my habits was to stop using library jargon around students. Why should students learn library jargon? Well, they shouldn't. And we shouldn't make it so hard for them to do their research. It's hard enough to search for, evaluate, and synthesize information without having to go through hurdles to actually locate it. (Luckily, link resolvers have taken some of these hurdles away when a student finds an article that is not full-text.)

I can't imagine that my library would be adopting this practice anytime soon, but this is an interesting discussion to have. We must always re-evaluate our services to be sure that we are evolving right along with our patrons and technology. Bravo, Brian!

Amanda Myers

My argument for LC is browsing. Often my students want the book that has the good title, when the content may not be the right fit. I do encourage them to browse and it really is helpful if you are a comm major to learn to love P and PN.

Serials on the other hand should be document delivery. Our serials waste a huge amount of space for current issue browsing which the vast majority of our population does not do. Of course keep rolling stone and vouge out and open, but Comm Monographs? I'm all for some compact shelving and an extra scanner + Ariel station. I am biased though b/c I worked at GlaxoSmithKline briefly (before the closed their libraries) and it was really just a big document delivery department.

Paul R. Pival

RE: LC, I think students should know about it, but not have to be proficient in it. If only more systems could incorporate proximity help like this one: http://library.hud.ac.uk/catlink/bib/365051/ that Dave Pattern has built! (scroll down to the bottom to see the floor plan).

I agree with all the comments here about staffing and logistics and space etc. Calgary Public Library puts a book on hold from their collection for me and it saves me tons of time. I've often thought that providing docdel to the door of all our patrons would be a great service, but never had the guts to suggest it, knowing that it would be shot down for all the reasons mentioned above. But I've never actually asked! And now I'm going to.

Jennie D

I work at a university where students tell me that browsing is a luxury they don't have a time for. They want to be able to find a book, click on "Request" and pick it up, which is something we don't offer (Too costly in our current staffing models).

I would say that it's not just the LC system that is a problem: university library systems in general are difficult to learn to navigate. What library should they go to? What's the difference between "Current" and "Bound" journals (and why aren't they together?)? What are "Folio" books? All these things slow down students who don't have a lot of time (or paitence) for these processes. I think we need to look at ways to make ourselves much more relevant to today's customers and quit clinging to the way we've done business in the past.


I know you're talking about learning the number system(s) -- but I want to put in a plug for one specific boon that the LCSH offers us: the time-period divisions in some subject areas - for example, being able to find books ABOUT the 19th century. Wow, there are so few databases that let you do that. I think we need to supplement our seemingly old-fart structures. The old structures are still good for that old information because the information structures were complex. But as our info structures evolve (blogs, for one) then we need new methods and need to allow the new methods to begin to also retrieve the old info. Searching in the Times Digital Archive is best done with some historical knowledge of what the heck was published in that paper -- but of course you can do a full text search so there is an example of both methods side by side. Sorry if this was tangential : )

I love the "People who borrowed this item, also borrowed" at that http://library.hud.ac.uk/catlink/bib/365051/ site.


Wow. Hey, here's an idea, why don't the librarians just write the papers for the students? HTen they could get A's and graduate and move on to that real world where they don't have to do anywork and just get paid.


Rob, the point I was trying to make was that I’d rather students focus on identifying information. For me personally it’s more important that my mechanical engineering majors know how to search patents and standards and work with technical information, rather than find five peer-review articles about the ethics of cloning. The problem with Higher Ed is that we just make students jump through hoops and that’s what basic composition classes have turned into. I just think that instead of preaching the glory of Info Lit, that there might be other opportunities to provide more value to our students.

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