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 twenty years, ILL has come to be seen by administrators and users alike as 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 purchase on demand. Demand for ILL services continues to grow.

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 Such benchmarks that exist are woefully out of date; the last comprehensive ILL cost study was conducted in 2004 by Mary Jackson of the Association of Research Libraries.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 (2017)

  • 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
    • track changes over time
    • simulate the cost impact of joining a particular consortium, adopting a particular sharing model, or acquiring a particular piece of equipment.
  • Roll-out campaign when the tool is ready to receive data
  • Presentations
  • Reports analyzing the aggregated data

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

Most recent updates: Page content: 2016-02-03


Dennis Massie

Team Members

Ralph Levan

Megan Gaffney, University of Delaware

Justin Hill, Temple University

Margarita Moreno, National Library of Australia