Changes for Equitable Interlibrary Loan Service

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This article is part of our Library Stories of Equity in Action series. These posts share how UMKC Libraries employees, departments, and teams are working toward change within our organization. See more of the Library Stories of Equity in Action series under News & Events on our Equity Initiatives page.

Many libraries, both public and academic, maintain policies that give privilege to some and leave others under-served. These policies can grant a higher level of service, or give more access, or provide more resources to some patrons than others, based on some social hierarchy.  For example, in colleges and universities faculty may receive a premium level of service or expanded access to resources, while the larger population of undergraduate students may not be able to access or use those same resources. The social hierarchy of colleges and universities is an example of an oppressive structure that creates and maintains systemic inequities. As part of the UMKC Libraries’ efforts to address systemic inequities, the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Department examined its policies to identify barriers to equitable service. The ILL Department identified areas in these policies where we prioritized and gave privilege to some who used our service, as well as areas where our policies created barriers to service for others. By re-thinking and making policy changes in these areas, we can improve the equity of ILL services. One such area is discussed below.

Changes to preferential treatment for purchase options

UMKC students, staff, and faculty can use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service to obtain research materials (articles, books, and more!) not available in UMKC Libraries’ print or electronic collections. However, occasionally the ILL Department cannot obtain certain research materials through an international network of over 10,000 libraries, or find the materials freely available online. In some of those cases, and as a last resort, the ILL Department can purchase a needed article, book chapter, or technical report in Adobe PDF format. 
Previously, when undergraduates or non-degree students made ILL requests, the ILL Department did not offer to purchase PDFs of materials when unable to obtain the materials through library networks. Instead, the ILL Department would cancel the patrons’ requests and recommend that they work directly with a librarian to find alternative materials. For all other patrons, including graduate students, professional students, staff, and faculty, the ILL Department would offer to purchase PDFs of the requested materials, after checking that the patron considered their need essential and verifying that the patron wished for the request to proceed.

So that undergraduates and non-degree students will receive the same service as all other patrons, the ILL Department modified its workflows and changed its policy. In reconsidering the policy, we dismissed the notion that a library patron’s academic standing has some measure of importance when it comes to their research. When considering a patron’s need to obtain research materials, whether for their first college term paper or for a million-dollar research grant application, the patron’s need is fundamentally the same from a library service perspective.  

Now, when a patron submits an ILL request and the only available option for the ILL Department is to purchase the article, chapter, thesis, or dissertation, every patron will receive the option to have the ILL Department purchase the material. We will still e-mail to ask them to consider if their need is essential to their research, but in the end the patron makes that judgment, not the ILL Department automatically.

Perform a reflective policy review

The ILL Department considered one way that their department policies are structured around, or reflect the hierarchy of academia. If other university or department policies create inequities or barriers to access or use for those who could benefit from resources and services, then these policies reinforce a status quo of privilege for some and systemic oppression for others. Reflective policy review not only can be a process of curiosity, questioning, and re-envisioning. It can also be a process that centers our work around UMKC’s values, and ensures that our work reflects those values.

By: Members of the UMKC Interlibrary Loan Department

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