Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator

OCLC Research, in collaboration with staff from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions, has created an internet-based tool that will allow library administrators and practitioners to better understand the costs of sharing collections. This work is part of a suite of OCLC Research activities aimed at Understanding the System-wide Library.


Libraries worldwide face serious funding challenges, and many library departments are being tasked with maintaining or even exceeding established service levels with less support. At the same time, user expectations are rising. In an age when information is abundantly available online, libraries must continuously demonstrate relevance both to users and to funders. Libraries can do this by showing that essential services are being provided to users, efficiently, at a reasonable cost.

Interlibrary loan (ILL) is notoriously labor-intensive, making it one of the more expensive services typically offered by libraries. In the past 20 years, ILL has become a core service, since no library can afford to buy everything its patrons might need. Much time, money, and effort has been expended to streamline and automate ILL processes, and to divert routine requests into less expensive means of fulfillment, such as consortial borrowing and purchase on demand.

If they are to evaluate ILL services properly, administrators and funders need access to current, detailed information on costs, as well as to current benchmarks against which to measure a particular library’s data. Such benchmarks that exist are woefully out of date; the last comprehensive ILL cost study was conducted in 2004 by Mary Jackson of the Association of Research Libraries. A 2011 study by academic librarians Lars Leon and Nancy Kress yielded interesting data but was drawn from an extremely small number of survey responses. Meanwhile, new technologies and methods of sharing collections have been introduced that surely have a significant impact on unit costs.


Access to fresh cost data and to updated benchmarks would allow library administrators to more accurately evaluate their own interlending unit costs and assist them in making strategic decisions about how to make ILL operations more cost effective.

The Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator tool provides both a mechanism for libraries to gather and process their own data, and benchmarks against which to measure their own unit's performance.

The internet-based Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator allows library administrators and practitioners to:

  • Enter data from their institution, year after year
  • Learn their own interlending unit costs
  • Compare those costs with averages of peer institutions
  • Track changes over time
  • Simulate the cost impact of automating a particular process
  • Estimate their own costs for data points that they were unable to report

Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator Early Adopter Program

After extensive beta testing, the Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator is ready for early adopters. To become an early adopter, email Project Lead Dennis Massie.

As an early adopter, you should be prepared to:

  • Register your institution via the Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator internet interface
  • Follow the checklist of “things to know and do” in preparation for using the calculator, outlined in the Quick Start Guide
  • Download the data gathering tool
  • Gather your library’s ILL cost data
  • Submit your library’s cost data
  • Provide feedback, through various means, on the instructions, tools, and process

Once that happens early adopters will also be able to:

  • Compare your unit costs with those of anonymized peers.
  • Receive estimates of what your costs would be for data points that you are unable to report yourself—based on data submitted by anonymized peers who were able to report those data points.

Interested in being an early adopter? Have questions? Email Project Lead Dennis Massie.

Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator Working Group

  • Megan Gaffney, University of Delaware
  • Justin Hill, Temple University
  • Margarita Moreno, National Library of Australia
  • Dennis Massie, OCLC Research

Beta testers who have been active since October 2015:

  • Margarita Moreno, National Library of Australia
  • Megan Gaffney, University of Delaware
  • Justin Hill, Temple University
  • Lars Leon, University of Kansas
  • Brian Miller, The Ohio State University
  • David Larsen, University of Chicago
  • Jenny Lee, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Ronald Figueroa, Syracuse University
  • Matthew Sheehy, Brandeis University
  • Mike Paxton, University of Chicago
  • Josh Steans, University of Wisconsin-Stout
  • Don Pawl, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs


Dennis Massie

Team Members

Megan Gaffney, University of Delaware

Justin Hill, Temple University

Margarita Moreno, National Library of Australia