Posted by: ayounglove | July 19, 2008

Greening up ILL

What could be more ecologically friendly than a library, which at its very heart, is premised on the idea of sharing and re-using? These days libraries are becoming even more hip to saving the planet. This year SLA announced its new campaign “Knowledge to Go Green,” and recently on the listserv ILL-L librarian Chris Sweet asked Interlibrary Loan Librarians to share tips about how to expand our natural thriftiness into environmental friendliness.

Often working on shoestring budgets in a department that is sometimes seen as expendable, Interlibrary Loan Librarians have long learned to make due. It is not unusual to receive book loans from other libraries in bubble-wrap mailers that have been re-stapled, patched with masking tape and re-used at least three times. However, although libraries are all about re-using, interlibrary loan is also about transferring materials either physically or digitally from one place to another, which can also have some unintentionally negative environmental impacts.

One way to combat wasted resources is to take distance into account when borrowing physical objects. Set your lending strings to favor local networks for book borrowing and you are saving fuel. For those that have courier services, always use the courier to deliver ILL items that have been requested by a library in your consortium. Couriers typically use zippable bags with clear plastic windows for inserting reusable from/to tags. If your courier doesn’t use cloth zippable courier bags, encourage your consortium to buy some. If you don’t have a courier service in your local area, consider campaigning to start one. The story, ILL Goes Green in an Iowa University Town, is a great example of the benefits a courier system can bring to both libraries and the planet.

Another thing to consider: all library processes are inter-related. ILL is not an island. Pictures of book covers and in-text searching in the library catalog that the patron is ordering from can make it less likely that patrons will order a book that they don’t actually want. It is far too often that a patron receives a book from halfway across the country and immediately, after glancing at the cover, realizes that it is too old/not age appropriate/too skinny/or too fat to meet their needs, and then sends it right back. So, encourage your vendors and tech gurus to provide these services for you. Pictures of book covers in catalog records aren’t just for looks, they improve your ability to get your patrons what they want!

The elephant in the ILL room of wastefulness, however, is paper. ILL requires a lot of record keeping to ensure that everything is where it should be when it should be, and record keeping can generate a lot of paper. Before I give you a list of my suggestions, I would like to state that they are goals or ideas of mine and that I am not perfect and do not currently put them all into practice. In addition, these ideas are mine only and are not recommendations or endorsements directly from my employing institution. Here are some of my suggestions for cutting down on paper use in ILL:

  • buy recycled paper, envelopes etc.
  • retrofit your printer with a duplexer if it currently doesn’t do double sided pages
  • print in draft mode when printing morning requests
  • don’t print out emails
  • don’t double-scan: that is, don’t photocopy on one machine and then scan the photocopied pages on another machine (this may sound silly, but I have seen it done)
  • send filled article requests directly to patrons by forwarding PDFs
  • recycle the paper you do generate
  • try to stop receiving requests in paper form, encourage online forms
  • use Ariel or another scanning program to crop out the dark shadows around the edges of scanned pages — this saves ink for borrower if they decide to print, and enlarges the text for the patron
  • analyze whether or not you really need to keep paper versions of records that you retain electronically
  • using a rubber stamp or a pen to say thanks on existing bookbands rather than stapling on another sheet of thank you paper (this suggestion came from the ILL-L listserv)
  • email overdue notices rather than mailing them if you can

Unfortunately for ILL Librarians, they rarely occupy a place of power on the library staff totem pole and frequently are not able to make even small changes without big committee meetings. There are some ways for ILL employees to enact change in a positive way though. For academic libraries, try to get students on board with recycling. Student energy, enthusiasm, and engagement can be a great justification for going greener. The website Green Living Ideas suggests the following, which applies just as much to librarians as to other types of employees:

“A win-win tactic to encourage the company you work for to stand up and take notice of a great “green” idea is to highlight the benefits that affect their operations and bottom line, such as reduced expenses and improved worker productivity. New and innovative strategies, technologies, products, and services help to both protect the environment and reduce business costs—a nice side-benefit for companies that are continually feeling the squeeze of rising costs and a strained economy.”

Admittedly, there are challenges to going greener. Often there is a lack of time and money. Items such as call slips and some types of sending and receiving paperwork cannot be eliminated for practical reasons. Ariel software users must leave computers on overnight in order to constantly send and receive, even though this is a huge power drain. Re-using the other side of papers often isn’t a good idea because of patron privacy concerns. And digital books, which could be a great environmentally friendly solution for ILL are usually licensed in a way that prevents lending.

On a related note, I receive a ton of library vendor junk mail after coming back from SLA and ALA. Does anybody know how to get these companies to switch to sending me junk emails instead of slick multi-page glossys in my mailbox? It seems so wasteful throwing out all those publications!



  1. […] – bookmarked by 6 members originally found by mdoeff on 2008-08-06 Greening up ILL – bookmarked by 2 members originally […]

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