Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator

OCLC Research, in collaboration with staff from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions, is creating a web-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 Such benchmarks that exist are woefully out of date; the last comprehensive ILL cost study was conducted in 2004 by Mary Jackson of the Association of Research Libraries.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 ILL Cost Calculator tool that we are building will provide both a mechanism for libraries to gather and process their own data, and benchmarks against which to measure their own unit's performance.

Anticipated Outputs (2018)

  • Web-based ILL Cost Calculator that will allow 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
    • compare those costs with averages of co-members of up to five consortia
    • track changes over time
    • simulate the cost impact of automating a particular process, or adopting a particular sharing model, or acquiring a particular piece of equipment
    • estimate their own costs for data points that they were unable to report.
  • Roll-out campaign when the tool is ready to receive data
  • Presentations
  • Reports analyzing the aggregated data

ILL Cost Calculator Early Adopter Program

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

Being an early adopter is a significant responsibility, but it will allow you to learn your ILL unit costs and be in a position to influence the functionality of the calculator.

As an early adopter, you should be prepared to:

  • Register your institution via the ILL Cost Calculator Web 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

Important note: the database and reporting functions of the ILL Cost Calculator are in the final design phases and will be coded in parallel with the activity of the early adopters. We anticipate that the reporting functions will be available to the early adopters by June.

Once that happens early adopters will also be able to:

  • Compare your unit costs with those of anonymized peers.
  • Compare your unit costs with co-members of up to five consortia to which they belong.
  • 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.

ILL Cost Calculator Working Group

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

Most recent updates: Page content: 2018-03-15


Dennis Massie

Team Members

Ralph Levan

Megan Gaffney, University of Delaware

Justin Hill, Temple University

Margarita Moreno, National Library of Australia