A blog from the Ontario Library Service

ILL Communication

At the start of 2018, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library made a conscious decision to increase interlibrary loan (we refer to it as ILLO) usage. Over the past 10 months we’ve seen our stats jump in comparison to previous years’ figures.

Items we borrow from other library systems around Ontario and the rest of Canada have increased by 61 percent, an upsurge of 1,157 extra items coming in. The materials we send out also jumped up by 71 percent from last year, an increase of around 635 items sent out from our collection.

A number of quick fixes were applied at the beginning of the year to get the ball rolling. Some of these were internal procedures and not very interesting to talk about here, so I’ll get to the good stuff.

We started by re-writing our website information about ILLO to make the language clearer for our patrons and set out our policy in simple steps. We placed the SOLS- produced video guide in the centre of our home page so that patrons had a visual guide as well as written information.  We also placed a direct button on our website home page that linked patrons directly to the ILLO information page and got them started on requesting their own ILLOs.

We quickly began a series of social media posts and e-blast (email newsletter) items that informed our patrons of the service. As we hadn’t done this in previous years, many of our patrons assumed this was a newly introduced service and we saw over 150 patrons sign up for the patron-initiated ILLO service in the first six months of the year.


We also loosened up our own internal policies. In the past and because of logistics, we had not supplied requests if the item was in one of our 11 rural branches. We monitored this for a two-week period to see if the rejected rural requests made any impact on our stats. We were probably turning down about 30 to 40 requests per month, so fulfilling these was an instant win in making those stats jump up.

We also worked to change the perception of ILLO, both with our patrons and with our library staff. The perception for most was that the service provided highbrow materials. When I started with the library system in 2013, the view was that the service was used to obtain journal articles, microfilm, academic texts, and out-of-print books. This is obviously still the case, but for the most part the service is used by our patrons as a way to get hold of Nicolas Cage and Steven Seagal movies!  So aiming our communications towards a more general patronage was an early goal.

There were a number of initiatives we introduced to make the ILLO process more visible to staff working in the branches. A simple change was to attach a ‘Contains ILLO’ sticker for courier boxes, which makes it quicker for Branch Operations staff to identify ILLOs and contact patrons as soon as possible.

We also gave staff searching for requests via Z-Portal new search criteria listings. By signing in to their branch-specific locations, staff can now search an A-M, N-Z list and a special DVD Lenders listing instead of searching within the 10 geographical clusters. We’ve also attached a document to our “Ask a Librarian” responses with instructions for patrons on how to create their own customized search criteria. Though these Search Profiles do not affect the Rota building function in any way, they do save staff time on the desk by sllowing them to perform quicker searches in Zportal.

We introduced Branch Operations staff to VDX and created a tech challenge that gave staff the opportunity to create ILLO accounts for themselves and for patrons’ in-branch. This means that instead of contacting the ILLO Specialist and waiting for the account to be set up, patrons can leave the branch with their own Z-Portal sign-on and begin searching and placing requests immediately.

There are still some ongoing projects which we hope will make ILLO a more effective and well-used service. The introduction of an easy-to-use in-house “cheat” manual for interlibrary loan processes means the service isn’t disrupted during staff absence or holiday leave.

As a trial we’ve also recently increased our patron request allowances from 10 to 25 requests at a time for patrons with their own Z-Portal accounts and six requests for those who request with Branch Operations staff. All is going well and our patrons love the flexibility. This change will hopefully guide us towards losing all our restrictions and allowing patrons full reign of the service.

None of these actions was particularly hard to enact, and very possibly most library systems are way ahead of us in all of the above. But what is important is that we’ve communicated this service to our patrons in an effective way and increased our circulation statistics. Our future plan is to continue improving the service and making it more efficient for staff and patrons.