ILL Research Experience Workshop summary report

On August 22, 2017, OCLC conducted the first ILL Research Experience Workshop at our headquarters in Dublin, Ohio. We spent the day listening to current ILLiad users from major research universities discuss how interlibrary loan works in their libraries and how their processes can and should be improved. We also led thought-provoking exercises to get a better understanding of unique library workflows, system customizations, and barriers to better service.

ILL workshop participants mapping their unique ILL workflows
“Over and over in our surveys, ILL and document delivery in general are the thing that people love about the library, like way more than any other factor.”

Listening and learning

Our exercises, facilitated by user experience designer and researcher Edward Stull, followed design-thinking techniques and allowed participants to work in small groups prior to a larger discussion. First, we built empathy maps to understand what participants were hearing, seeing, thinking, and doing about Tipasa® and its implementation. Then, we practiced the north star technique to dig into participants’ likes and dislikes about their current workflows and to search for solutions. We also conducted journey mapping to capture step-by-step procedures for each library. Finally, we reviewed information collected during the first part of the day and facilitated a large group discussion about some of the hot issues.

Front board of the ILL workshop with the goals for the session and empathy map

The libraries who participated in this ILL Research Experience Workshop represent those with the most complex ILL workflows. These libraries will move from ILLiad to Tipasa in the latter phases of our multi-year migration. Participant libraries (one representative from each institution) included:

“Each one of our universities is distinct. Therefore, what we're doing to serve them is distinct.”

Kurt Munson, Northwestern University, speaking during the ILL workshop

Mike Paxton, University of Chicago, during the ILL workshop

Hilary Thompson, University of Maryland, College Park, speaking during the ILL workshop

We learned a lot from this initial ILL Research Experience Workshop. The participants in this workshop were clear about how critical the role of ILL is for their institutions. They gave the OCLC team a rich understanding of the complexities of the resource sharing solutions they currently support and a detailed understanding of how we can work effectively to deliver the information they need for a successful migration.

We learned that libraries can have entirely different workflows, needs, and user expectations even though they might look similar from the outside. Much of the workshop was spent mapping and understanding libraries’ current workflows. This allowed libraries to share what they see as the most important aspects of functionality to consider as part of future development. They also expressed their desire to continue and even enhance the current level of customization and automation they enjoy with ILLiad.

“We're not all going to be able to use one system. One size is not going to fit all. One of the things we've been able to do is to explore different ways of handling things. But much of what we've been able to explore in the past, and we've been able to customize this, still has been somewhat restricted by what the other systems that we were working with did. We’re able to really rethink this from the ground up, and ask, ‘Okay, ultimately, what is our end goal here? And what's the most effective way of achieving that?’”

Participants also gave us information about the wide range of stakeholders on campus that must be engaged and communicated with as part of the future transition to Tipasa. We learned that ILLiad libraries require clear documentation of the plans for Tipasa, to share with their own staff and with other departments across campus, and we learned about the type of information they need.

Participants were eager to share their reservations and aspirations about the future of interlibrary loan. And they welcome the opportunity to engage in two-way communication with the OCLC team, especially regarding Tipasa’s roadmap and future capabilities.We’ll host additional workshops around the United States to learn from more interlibrary loan staff members. We’ll also share how that information changes and shapes our roadmap and implementation plans for all ILLiad libraries.


Kristin Walker, University of Texas, Austin, contributing to a north star board
“I think I can safely say that large research institutions are not the most nimble things on the planet. So we need longer planning time to figure out how X, Y, and Z is going to work.”

What do large libraries need for a successful migration?

Participants are beginning to think about what is needed for their Tipasa migration. They want to know about Tipasa's current and future capabilities, and planned timelines for migration in order to make plans for their budgets and staffing needs. In addition, they need information that will allow them to better communicate with their users, especially regarding real-time lending availability.

As a result of this feedback, we have added information about roadmaps, input from library visits, and detailed FAQs to the ILLiad to Tipasa Community Center space. We’re also working on adjusting implementation requirements and plans for larger libraries and will soon share that with libraries to ensure it meets their needs for internal planning, timing, and information sharing.   

Chisholm Allen, Texas Tech University, listening during the ILL workshop
“Interlibrary loan is connected to so many areas in the library. And in order for us to be able to do local development to improve our services, improve our discovery, improve how things are done, we really need to know how interlibrary loan fits into that puzzle. It's just one piece of the larger picture.”
Mapping unique ILL workflows

One of the requirements expressed by participants was the need for flexibility in the solution. They agreed that the library’s value is tied to maintaining high-level services to students and faculty. They want to be confident that Tipasa will be flexible enough to meet the library’s unique needs and ensure continued excellence in delivering library services.  

Participants shared what they value about ILLiad's flexibility and where there are opportunities for Tipasa to improve on ILLiad, specifically in the ability to interoperate with other ILL services.  

Throughout the development of Tipasa, we have focused on this area of flexibility: identifying solutions that are important to include as part of the standard functionality, prioritizing interoperability with other ILL services, and planning for robust APIs that provide libraries with the flexibility to adapt to their local needs and workflows.

“It’s not only a paradigm shift for us, the ones who are using that software day to day. It's also a paradigm shift for our libraries and our IT departments, because no longer are they maintaining that server. They're turning that over to somebody else to manage.”
Kurt Munson, Northwestern University, speaking in front of a north star board; Carol Nelson, Minitex, listens
“There's that whole group of customers who need to be informed, because they have expectations of what the system is going to be able to do. If it doesn't meet those needs, they're going to come back to us. The last thing that we want is them complaining to our deans.”

How can my workflows be improved and still meet my unique needs?

As we continue development of Tipasa, we will collaborate with member libraries to understand each set of workflows.  


One example of a set of workflows that we discussed during the workshop was billing. Current billing processes in the participating libraries offer a lot of opportunities to improve customization and automation through their ILL systems. Many libraries reported a highly manual process prone to error and reliant on duplicate work. They offered a lot of suggestions for specific steps in the billing process that they’d like to have automated. Participants who now do manual workarounds to adapt their ILL system to their institution’s workflows would save a lot of time and reduce errors if more steps were automated with options to customize as needed.

“We historically have billed for interlibrary loan stuff, but we don't look at how much it costs the campus to process a check, how much it costs us to create that invoice, to send it to a different office on campus, to do all of these things. They're so disjointed and disconnected. Honestly, at this point, if we're sending a PDF of something that we have electronically off to another library, it takes probably 100 times more staff time to do the invoice than it does to just send the PDF.”
A workflow step labelled as a hot-button issue

Third-party add-ons

Participants also emphasized the importance of third-party add-ons to ILLiad. These add-ons help them customize their unique workflows and offer specific services to library users. Beyond the functional benefits, many participants shared positive stories about customer service interactions with these third-party providers.

“The customization is important, because my library operates differently than everybody else’s in here, and everybody else in here can say the same thing. So I need to have the option of what I can turn on.”
Shane Burris, Pennsylvania State University, participating in the ILL workshop
Brian Miller, The Ohio State University, listening during the ILL workshop
Lan Yang, Texas A&M University, listening during the ILL workshop
“We should be able to make local customizations immediately to minimize the impact that perhaps difficult situations are having in our organization.”
Edward Stull, facilitator, leading discussion during the ILL workshop
“When thinking about customization and the desire to retain control, we want to be able to evolve and adapt to emerging needs—whether local needs or the larger information landscape—quickly. We don't want to have to wait, necessarily, on a vendor to come out with a new version of something. If we can adapt, quickly, easily, flexibly, locally, we want to be able to do that. Having the ability to customize extensively allows us to adapt and do that.”
Hilary Thompson, University of Maryland, College Park, and Ronald Figueroa, Syracuse University, working on their north star board

Library systems and consortia

We also explored how main libraries interact with branch libraries in the same system. The participants included institutions with multiple single-campus libraries, regional campus libraries, and/or off-site storage facilities with the same or different OCLC symbols. The organization of system libraries greatly affects ILL processes and expectations.

Heather Weltin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, listening during the ILL workshop
Caitlin Finlay, Cornell University, listening during the ILL workshop

Similarly, we found that our participants interact with their consortia in different ways. Many prioritize state consortia when processing lending requests, but beyond that, they vary prioritization. How a library interacts with its consortia also affects what capabilities it will need in its ILL system.

“I'm concerned about interlibrary loan operation because that's what I oversee. But if it has a major impact on the remote storage location, that's going to be huge. So we really need to be able to talk to everybody about this process, about getting materials into patron's hands whether they're local patrons or patrons who are at a different library or at one of our partners.”
Team Open's north star board
Another team's north star board
“When the request comes in that has metadata, it will automatically check against our catalog and the BTAA consortia catalog and see if it's available that way. If it's not, we'll then check the Ivy Plus consortia catalog to see if it's available there. If it's not available there, then we'll go to direct request. And only if it fails all through those steps does it go to human eyes.”
Participants, facilitator, and OCLC staff during the ILL workshop
“Libraries tend to be conservative organizations. We tend to be very good at setting up rules based on things that went wrong in 1974 and constantly guarding against them. We need to think about how the library fits into what the patron is doing and how our service fits into that.”

Thank you

We’re grateful for the workshop participants who took the time to visit Dublin to discuss their interlibrary loan processes with us. We captured a lot more information from this workshop, which will we continue to evaluate and use to inform our Tipasa plans. We look forward to continuing this valuable dialogue during additional workshops throughout the United States.

ILL workshop group photo

Workshop attendees and OCLC Staff - front row (L to R): Valerie Yazza, OCLC; Caitlin Finlay, Cornell University; Lan Yang, Texas A&M University; Kristin Walker, University of Texas, Austin; Merrie Fuller, University of Michigan; Mike Paxton, University of Chicago; Kurt Munson, Northwestern University; Carol Nelson, Minitex; Cherie Weible, University of Illinois; second row: Alena Miller, OCLC; Hilary Thompson, University of Maryland; Melissa Eighmy-Brown, University of Minnesota; Rita Rogers, Indiana University-Bloomington; Shane Burris, Pennsylvania State University; Heather Weltin, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Ronald Figueroa, Syracuse University; Chisholm Allen, Texas Tech University; Brian Miller, The Ohio State University; Erin Duncan, OCLC; Katie Birch, OCLC; Susan Musser, OCLC; back row: Amy Morrison, OCLC; Christa Starck, OCLC, Jennifer Corsi, OCLC; Tony Melvyn, OCLC.