Interlibrary Lending Peer-to-Peer—RLG's ILL Manager
In the mid-1990s interlibrary loan practitioners in RLG's SHARES program realized how frustrated they were with the limitations of centralized ILL systems. Many were required to use several systems to serve their communities. What had been breakthroughs in interlending years before were becoming a workflow, data management, and training nightmare.
Planning in 1996 by SHARES leaders led to a SHARES Technical Advisory Group, whose members urged that RLG develop, a flexible, networked software solution. Emerging international standards enabled our staff and member advisors to envision and design software—RLG's ILL Manager—based on a new, peer-to-peer model. The goal:
- Software that would be fully standards-based for maximum interoperability.
- Automation of routine procedures.
- A unified workflow addressing all trading partners.
- Full integration with Ariel® document delivery software.
- Understanding and adoption of the new interlending model.
Through early and active participation in the ILL Protocol Implementors Group, RLG has helped shape the international standards as well as the practices necessary to ensure effective interworking of multiple standards-based systems. RLG's promulgation of the standards has prodded the ILL systems community to support universal peer-to-peer interlending.
SHARES Technical Advisory Group's role
In late 1996 the SHARES Executive Group held a two-day strategic planning session at the Library of Congress out of which several initiatives emerged. A SHARES Technical Advisory Group was appointed, as were two task forces, one on SHARES participation and one on international interlibrary loan.
The Technical Advisory Group (also known as STAG) took on the technical deficiencies of the long-running, centralized RLIN® ILL system, felt particularly by the large university library SHARES partners. Besides new distributed ILL management software, over the group's active life its members fostered:
- Implementation in RLIN ILL of support for ISO ILL protocols.
- Ariel® support for these protocols.
- Z39.50 client gateways with European databases to facilitate interlending.
- Integration into RLIN ILL of requests submitted by patrons through RLG's Eureka® interface.
- Interim enhancements in RLIN ILL pending the new peer-to-peer software.
- The "Borrow Direct" pilot project undertaken by SHARES participants Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University with RLG's support.
Implementation of 20 basic ISO ILL protocol messages in RLIN ILL allowed ILL requests to be sent between this centralized legacy system and other ISO 10161-compliant, both centralized and distributed.
Ariel support of the ISO ILL protocols made Ariel interoperable with ISO-10161-compliant systems and enabled greater integration of Ariel into ILL workflows for nonreturnables.
The RLG Z39.50 client gateway between the RLG Union Catalog and the union catalogs shared by RLG members in Europe and Australia enabled users to extend their searches to te CURL Union Catalog (Consortium of University Research Libraries), the Deutsche Bibliothek Database, and the National Library of Australia Catalogue.
Enhancing the Eureka Request feature enabled patrons to search the RLG Union Catalog and send ILL requests to be placed automatically into an RLIN ILL file for processing.
Among other changes in RLIN ILL before ILL Manager became available, SHARES participants welcomed the "favorite lenders" feature that enabled libraries to ensure that their requests went first to the institutions they knew were most likely to be able to fill them without delay.
The effort among Columbia, Penn, and Yale (originally dubbed the "CoPY Project"), created a "virtual catalog" of library holdings of the three institutions, providing student and faculty access simultaneously to all three. It was studied as a potential model for establishing "primary supplier institutions" within the SHARES partnership.
By 1999 the SHARES Technical Advisory Group concluded a particularly busy 18 months by "donating" its participants to two larger, successor working groups.
The ILL supervisors on the technical advisory group became part of an ILL Manager Advisory Group to help RLG solve functionality and interface issues in developing ILL Manager. Six institutions beta-tested the new software before its production release in March 2000. A year later RLG's ILL Manager had been licensed by over two dozen institutions and was being used to exchange requests with other ILL Manager users, with RLIN ILL users, and with OCLC ILL users.
The systems administrators became part of the just-formed RLG Systems Librarians and Administrators Discussion Group, which continues to share information and strategies with their colleagues and RLG staff on topics as diverse as Z39.50 clients, metadata, non-Roman alphabet support, authentication/authorization issues, and sharing holdings data.