Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Unlocking the Power of Interlibrary Loan: a Global and India perspective

Many libraries have materials that are not widely held. Which in turn leads to the need to have wide library participation to ensure broad coverage of the published record (in resource sharing, digitization, or other initiatives). It is obvious that no single library can afford to acquire all published material in the areas of their specialization due to constrained library budgets, high cost of procurement and other factors also. Sharing of resources among libraries to meet the needs of users is the way being used since many years back. 

Resource sharing involves Library Cooperation, Inter Library Loan, Consortia, Library Networks, etc. During olden days resource sharing existed mainly in the form of Inter Library Loan. After 1960s many other forms of resource sharing evolved involving sharing of personnel, services, equipment, facilities, etc. Now a days  digitization, or other initiatives have been taken for broader coverage of library materials across the boundaries.  

What is an Inter Library Loan (ILL)?

It is a system by which one library borrows the library material (both digitized or digital)  from another library to fulfill the user's demand for the particular material not available in its collection. Through ILL, libraries support each other in providing required materials in both physical and digital format and satisfying the users to the best they can.


As defined by the Inter library Loan Code for the United States, (2016) "Interlibrary loan is the process by which a library requests material from, or supplies material to, another library."

"In this code, “Interlibrary Loan” refers to transactions between two libraries. Transactions between libraries and commercial document suppliers or library fee-based services are contractual arrangements beyond the scope of these guidelines."[1]

Problems of Manual ILL system

1. Error-prone and inefficient
  • Manual process is error prone and inefficient in handling if demand increases.
2. Time-consuming 
  • As much time is spent on searching, documentation and updating of data.
3. Laborious and duplication of work 
  • Repeated task of filling the ILL loan form since the requester completes a separate form when requesting an ILL.
4. Scalability Issues
  • As library networks grow, manual ILL systems may face scalability issues, struggling to handle an increasing volume of requests and transactions effectively.

Problems of different types of electronic ILL systems

1. Interoperability issues

  • Many libraries have developed their own ILL systems for lending and borrowing materials. Here also problem of interoperability arises. Two different ILL systems will not be able to exchange information or data.

2. Need of uniformity in library policies

  • The difference in library policies among participating libraries makes it difficult to develop a generic system that would be acceptable to all. A standard ILL policies need to be accepted by all libraries participating in ILL.

3. Need for system uniformity

  • There is the need for each participating library to use the same system or software in order to carry out the ILL process efficiently. System that are cross operable and integrates with other library management system and ILL system will be able to handle this issue.

ILL across the world

Communities of libraries with related holdings and research interests have established Library networks or Library Consortia at regional or national levels. The participating libraries in consortia share their resources among each other. Resource sharing networks can provide an online union catalog of all items held by member libraries to facilitate inter library loan transactions. Following are the few examples of such networks  and services providing ILL.

  • The WorldShare ILL service: OCLC's Resource sharing network is the largest network in the world having participation of 10,000+ libraries. WorldShare Inter Library Loan is a cloud based service that automates lending and borrowing process. WorldShare ILL is built with the latest standards (such as NCIP, Z39.50, OpenURL, and ISO 18626) and is FedRAMP-compliant. It also integrates with your local system including your catalog and circulation. Article Exchange, a key feature in WorldShare ILL, provides a secure online location where library staff can upload a requested document (of up to 60 MB) and allow access only to the person who requested it, regardless of their geographical location. Its Smart Fulfillment capability weighs policy data, lending history, licensing agreements, format preferences, and more to present what’s available in just seconds. Then, it predicts which libraries will deliver the fastest.

  • ILL service by Boston Library Consortium (BLC): A database of collections across all the member libraries of Boston Library Consortium is maintained and updated regularly to provide ILL service. BLC utilizes the Ex Libris RapidILL as a primary infrastructure to maintain the workflow of ILL process. Rapid ILL also integrates with ILLiad that is being used by most BLC member libraries to streamline interlibrary loan workflows.

In India

  • DELNET (Developing Library Network), New Delhi: It is a major resource sharing Library network in India. It is a network of more than 8100 institutions in 33 states in India and few other countries comprising of Universities, Colleges, R&D organisations, medical hospitals, etc. DELNET is offering inter-Library loan & Document Delivery Services to its member libraries. It maintains a Union catalog of books, database of ebooks, database of theses and dissertations, Union list of current periodicals, Union list newspapers, etc. DELNET has also prepared ILL Guidelines for use by the member-libraries. Discovey portal of DELNET, provides access to the Major Digital Library Resources in South Asia.

  • JCCC@UGCINFONET Digital Library ConsortiumIndian universities coming under the purview of UGC (University Grants Commission) are the members of this consortium. INFLIBNET (Information Library Network) has identified 22 potential universities as ILL Centers in the country to fulfill ILL request from the users affiliated to universities covered under UGC- INFONET Digital Library Consortium. JCCC (J-Gate Custom Content for Consortium) has facility to trigger e-mail request for article to Inter Library Loan Centers as well as to INFLIBNET Centre. JCCC is a virtual library of journal literature created as a customized e-journals access gateway and database solution. It acts as a onepoint access to 7900+ journals subscribed currently under UGC INFONET Digital library consortium as well as university libraries designated as Inter Library Loan (ILL) Centers besides index to open access journals.

E-ShodhSindhu: Consortium for Higher Education Electronics (

  • Union Catalogs in India for finding documents for ILL: Successful inter library loan requires the capacity to look for a specific item's availability in other libraries. Before submitting a borrowing request to another institution, citations must be confirmed. Articles may be found in databases or online in full text. ILL employees must therefore be able to efficiently search and browse a variety of databases for publications and citations. Requests for conference proceedings, uncommon or obscure titles, or titles in foreign languages make this more challenging. Union Catalogs of libraries of similar interests are developed to search for the items collectively held in the libraries sharing same interests. WorldCat is the world’s largest collection of information about materials in libraries. In India also, there are major union catalogs for scientific serials, social science serials, books, theses, etc.

  1. National Union Catalogue of Scientific Serials in India (NUCSSI-INSDOC),
  2. Union Catalogue of Social Science Serials in India (NASSDOC),
  3. Union Catalogue of Books, Serials, Theses, Experts, Projects by INFLIBNET
  4. Union Catalogue of S&T Serials in Mysore city libraries by MYLIBNET

Examples of ILL transactions systems

1. VDX

  • A software solution supporting ILL operations. It is also known as NRE (Navigator Request Engine) the core of the OCLC product called Navigator. It manages the complete workflow from searching the catalogues of multiple libraries for requested item, placing a request, managing incoming requests to the delivery of document to the user.

2. Tipasa

  • A cloud-based software by OCLC that is suitable for workflow of ILL and simplifies the process of management and fulfilment of requests from your users and from other libraries. You can meet users’ needs without heavy IT support, server management or extensive configuration and training. one more feature is that it connects with your library management system and other ILL systems.

  • Through the easy-to-use interface of ILLiad software by OCLC, users can track the status of their requests at every step without the assistance of Librarian, Whether they are in the library, a remote library location or an office. Connects technical and public services, enhancing the ILL perspective. The software also integrates with local and external systems, such as library OPACs and other discovery tools and link resolvers, through its customizable add-ons. ILLiad supports a wide variety of authentication options, including EZproxy®, Shibboleth, CAS and LDAP for authentication.

4. RapidILL 

  • It is a fast and cost effective Interlibrary Loan System by ExLibris with a focus on saving staff time, RapidILL provides tools for automating ILL workflows and maximize resource sharing engagement between libraries. It seamlessly integrates into your existing library workflows and provides a myriad of ways to expose your collections to partner libraries.

Role of IFLA in International Inter Library Loan transactions

For cross-border Inter library transactions, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created the International Inter library Voucher Scheme. Even while a lot of libraries currently process Inter library loans electronically, there are still some libraries and nations where this is challenging. With the IFLA's vouchers all libraries are able to offer Inter library requests for the benefit of their patrons. When requesting Inter library loans, libraries can accept "IFLA vouchers" in place of hard currency or electronic payments.

New and advanced approaches of Inter Library Loan 

Libraries have shared their resources for many decades through formal and informal agreements using traditional means. During the last few years, things have drastically changed due to more and more digitization of materials, acquiring resources in electronic form, getting connected to one or the other network and other initiatives such Internet Archive, Controlled Digital Lending, etc.  This has resulted in easy accessing of the resources from the remote nodes adding a new dimension to the nature of library services. The pandemic Covid-19 also led to the evolution of new approaches of providing Inter Library Loan.

  • CDL (Controlled Digital Lending) as a mechanism of ILL: Controlled Digital Lending is one of the methods that evolved during pandemic Covid-19. The use of CDL in the practice of Inter Library Loan Service among libraries caught momentum due to a pandemic leading to remote learning across the world. Through CDL, the access to the digital material is provided to the user in a controlled digital environment, to prevent them copying and distributing the copyright-protected material. Even after controversy over the authors’ and publishers’ rights, CDL is being used by many libraries in the world.
  • What is CDL?: Controlled Digital Lending is the process through which the libraries legally lend the digital copies of books in a controlled environment to prevent users from redistributing or copying the digital versions. 
  • Boston Library Consortium (BLC), working to empower a coalition of libraries in the northeastern United States to share knowledge, infrastructure, and resources at scale. In August 2021, BLC (Boston Library Consortium) board of directors approved the recommendations of a working group convened almost one year before in September 2020, to implement CDL as a mechanism for interlibrary loan (ILL). A  report on “Consortial CDL for ILL” was published in September 2021. In September 2021 CDL Co-Op--a group of U.S.-based library professionals working on issues in resource sharing, ILL, and CDL, examined CDL as a mechanism for supporting inter library lending and produced a White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books  ( "to provide ILL practitioners, library leaders, and consortia with a set of clear statements and supporting rationale for the use of controlled digital lending in the context of inter library lending.”
  • The CDL mechanism is not a recent one. The  “Open Library: Digital Lending Library” project of Internet Archive has been using a CDL-like mechanism for the past 8 years. The Internet Archive and Hathi Trust have been proponents of both Controlled Digital Lending and Fair Use copyright laws in the sharing of full eBooks, and consortia and institutions across the world. Many other libraries are also working on the lines of Internet Archive and opting for the same CDL-like system. Ebsco and ProQuest are  also working on enabling the lending of books in libraries via CDL. This will allow users to borrow certain books from the library in a digital format, helping libraries serve their users within the limits of copyright. 

Resource Sharing during COVID-19 (RSCVD)

During Covid-19 pandemic the IFLA’ Document Delivery and Resource Sharing Section launched a special tool to help ILL professionals in not-for-profit libraries anywhere in the world.  The IFLA DDRS Professional Unit collaborated with Open Access Button, a non-profit committed to connecting users with free, legal, full-text content, to create an online request form for libraries. This successful project was launched in 2020 and it is run by and dependent upon 116 volunteers from 17 countries to keep this service continue at least during the pandemic. 

Over time, the Inter Library Loan service has changed the way things are done. From physically lending and borrowing print materials between the libraries to the electronic exchange of materials through various electronic systems, it is continuously evolving to meet the users' expectations according to their changing medium of accessing information. Organizations such as OCLC and IFLA have played a major role in changing the landscape of ILL. A new approach to controlled digital lending and its implementation in Inter library loans has been the point of discussion since COVID-19; however, mechanisms like CDL have been used by the Internet Archive for the past 8 years. In India, ILL services are being provided by the libraries in formal and informal ways. DELNET and UGC-INFONET Digital Library Consortium are offering inter-library loan and document delivery services to their member libraries. We look forward to the acceptance and implementation of efficient ILL methods across the globe so that users can get their required materials or information regarding material availability in just a few seconds.


  1. ILL Code with Supplement_11-20-17_updated-link.pdf (
  2. WorldShare Interlibrary Loan: Resource sharing that delivers resources fast | OCLC
  3. Resource Sharing (
  4. DOCLINE® System User Resources (
  5. DELNET - Delivery Services
  6. E-ShodhSindhu: Consortium for Higher Education Electronics (
  8. Microsoft Word - JCCC_tutorial.doc (
  9. Access NRE/VDX - OCLC Support
  10. Tipasa: Simplify resource sharing with a cloud-based ILL management system | OCLC
  11. ILLiad - Features | OCLC
  12. Interlibrary Loan Software : RapidILL - Ex Libris (
  13. International Interlibrary Voucher Scheme – IFLA
  14. Interlibrary loaning across the globe: a gap turned into a successful new global service by an IFLA Professional Unit – IFLA
  15. BLC Controlled Digital Lending Working Group  (2021). Consortial CDL: Implementing Controlled Digital Lending as a Mechanism for Interlibrary Loan. retrieved on April 19, 2022. BLC-ConsortialCDL_Sept2021.pdf
  16. ILL Statement – Controlled Digital Lending
  17. Bailey, Lila (September, 2018). Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending by Libraries. Retrieved November 7, 2021, from:

  18. Whitepaper – Controlled Digital Lending
  19. FINAL White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books2.pdf
  20. Welcome to Open Library | Open Library
  21. Resource Sharing during COVID-19 (RSCVD) | Interlibrary loan professionals in not-for-profit libraries can request access to materials from volunteering libraries.
  22. Interlibrary loaning across the globe: a gap turned into a successful new global service by an IFLA Professional Unit – IFLA

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