Results of Straw Poll on ILL

On July 13th, 1997, after an animated thread on LIBLICENSE-L re. ILL and whether librarians should accept licenses that do NOT permit it, we conducted a straw poll that 137 listmembers (just under 10% of the list’s readers at that time) responded to. The responses to the ILL question appear below, with a breakdown by category of respondent (we broke US out from non-US to see if there were any clearly US-centric views among librarians, but this proved not to be the case.).

Five librarians out of 123 thought that ILL is not an effective concept to carry into the electronic environment; 118 believed some provision needs to be made for electronic “ILL.” That’s over 95%.

More interesting are the reasons librarians advocated for this strongly held view. A number of respondents characterized this accommodation of electronic ILL as possibly an interim need (without speculating just how long an interim period might be) until the time when easy and affordable by-the-piece delivery from publishers might be an effective substitute.

We quantified to some extent a strong feeling on the part of librarians about ILL in e-contracts — and Bernie Sloan’s challenge to LIBLICENSE-L came to the fore: what can those who care about electronic licensing do to move forward on this difficult matter?

Ann Okerson, for the LIBLICENSE Project


I. QUESTION: If I were advising parties to an agreement between electronic copyright holders and users, I would recommend the following position:
CHECK ONLY ONE – a check or x or yes indicates you agree with that statement.

  • 1. ILL is not a concept that finds an analog in the electronic environment; it should not be permitted in electronic information contracts.
  • 2. ILL (libraries sending a copy of an article to another library for its users) should be permitted in electronic contracts subject either to the CONTU suggestion of five or some other agreed-upon limit.
  • 3. Not sure or undecided.
Respondents: Reply 1 Reply 2 Reply 3
Librarians, US 3 87 6
Librarians, other 2 19
Copyright Holder 6 3 1
Attorney 1
Vendor 2
Scholar/Reader 2
Other* 4 1
Totals 11 118 8

Grand total of answers: 137 *”Other” includes Lib.Adm.. Independent information broker, Staff- Head of Document Delivery Services, Research Officer for Charity devoted to ensuring health science literature is available in developing countries

II. Please offer other comments or qualifiers as you wish below.

NB: Comments from librarians unless otherwise noted. 55 Responses submitted.

  1. I believe that the term “lending” should be retained for items which the Library expects to be returned after a loan of a defined period and “document delivery/supply” be the term used for providing a copy of an item which is not expected to be returned. This will enable the debate to free itself of some of the old concepts, particularly that of lending which still has its place. We can then concentrate on terms and conditions for providing document delivery.
  2. I am prepared to turn down any contract for electronic subscription that does not allow for ILL.
  3. We have the same problems in Germany with the publishers not allowing us to send articles electronically to our customers; a consortium is just trying to find an agreement in Baden – Wuerttemberg (south Germany) to find an acceptable way to offer electronic journals with less money than asked from the publishers and with less restrictions, to make the use for librarians as well as our users possible and easy at the same time.
  4. I think ILL of electronic documents should be permitted using the same fair dealing guidelines as are used for print documents. We pay for both and fair dealing doesn’t change with format. Perhaps ‘fair dealing’ needs clearer definition for both print and electronic.
  5. The relative ease (or lack thereof) with which our users are now able to obtain subscription (contract-based) information leads me to believe that we have not yet reached a point where ILL/document delivery has become obsolete. I believe, however, that, with the help of discussions like this one, models for pricing and delivery are developing which will make this true in the near future.
  6. If publishers offered a clear, efficient, and economical method of supplying journal articles on demand, then ILL traffic in articles from those journals would dry up. The ILL network has developed at least partly because the publishers don’t offer that service. With ejournals, the service becomes more feasible. Of course, the logical extension of the idea is that libraries would cancel subscriptions in favor of supplying articles on demand – which has already happened with print publications in certain libraries.
  7. I look at this from the perspective of universities “taking back” their scholarship. In other words, ideally I believe universities should get into the role of publisher of electronic information. In that environment it could very well be that the academic library will take on the role of distributor of their respective university information to other libraries. “ILL” would be instantaneous in this environment and it could conceivably mean no middle man, no library role, but I believe there would be a role for the library, especially if they took on the responsibility of being the publisher. The bottom line, from my perspective, is that universities need to quit “paying or giving away” their intellectual property to the publishers who in turn sell it back at exorbiant rates.
  8. If a library is purchasing a subscription to a journal, format does not matter. All the regular ILL rules, copyright laws, etc. should apply. This will all go away when institutions realize that they are paying twice for the same information once when they pay the salary of the author and again when their library pays the subscription fee to get the journal he/she published in.
  9. Our social science research program publishes working papers on the web ( and our faculty are becoming increasingly edgy about putting their working papers online because they perceive pressure from academic journals to remove, or to never permit, online publication of articles submitted for paper publication. Right now the faculty is more concerned about paper publication than dissemination of research results among the broadest possible audience, because paper publication COUNTS when being evaluated for tenure, promotion, raises. Not to mention prestige in the field.
    –At the same time, our outside funding sources prefer broad dissemination, such as by our web site. And we’re developing online modules of social science resources about aging studies, such as economics of aging, family issues and aging, for use by gerontology teachers, journalists, researchers, students, etc. When I contacted about half a dozen journals to ask for permission to put specific articles on the web, I received half a dozen different answers, ranging from “since the author is with your program, it’s OK with us,” to “our board is meeting next month to discuss electronic publication issues.”
    –Through a newsletter about the economics of aging we’re encouraging other academic institutions to put their working papers online. That’s our main contribution to this melee.
  10. How about a software package that would (minimally) track e-ILL’s and report to the local library the number of ILL’s by title [and maybe transactions by borrowing library?], aand with the option to report electronically to some external agency with the task of monitoring this traffic and reporting on a regular basis to both the library and publishing communities on the nature of the traffic.
  11. I support the concept of ILL within reason in the electronic environment. However, I’ll make no secret of my belief that the ultimate solution is a well-stocked national digital library balancing the rights of the public and copyright holders. I’d hope that there would be much more discussion than there has been.
    ==>Copyright holder
  12. I firmly believe that the move by publishers to attempt to eliminate document delivery rights for electronic journals is simply another further attempt by publishers to increase their profit margins and get around copyright law.
  13. Adoption of a “modest” limit on numbers of copies that may be emailed as part of established ILL operations must somehow be informed by the apparent dissolution of the journal as the counting unit. Where the article is now the unit, some limit by the article would be far better than one based on the publisher. Another thought. Perhaps the rules for ILL of articles ought to be influenced by the availability, and perhaps even the cost, of a la carte options. If any library can go directly to a source and obtain an article inexpensively, maybe the copying guidelines for pass-along through ILL can/should be a bit less liberal. This would constitute a nice motivation to reducing prices. It also is probably grossly impractical at this time given the anxiety element among publishers.
  14. ILL serves an important need within the scholarly community and publishers should strive to ensure that this need can be met in some reasonable way.
    ==>Copyright holder
  15. Although I speak primarily as a librarian, I am also a User/Scholar/Researcher. I am quite sensitive to the rights and needs of publishers (and authors), and I believe these need to be protected. There are better ways to do this, however, than blanket prohibitions against electronic ILL.
  16. ILL is not inexpensive, so eventually I expect it will be replaced by electronic transfers. I’d like to see the model of licensing by simultaneous user applied.
  17. All of us are still feeling our way into the electronic future. None of us is really sure exactly what that future will look like. Until the picture becomes clearer, we should not be too quick to jettison concepts or sign away rights which have served us well in the past. It seems to me that the Project Muse solution represents a reasonable compromise between the interests of the publisher and those of the scholarly community. It may not be a permanent solution, but it would work well enough until we see what the future holds.
  18. Restrictions on electronically sharing journal articles via ILL are based on unreasonable fears on the part of publishers. This inflexibility and unreasonable attempt at control will simply contribute to the destruction of journal publishing as we have known it.
  19. Even with the “suggestion of five”, the price of a journal subscription is often prohibitive for libraries that have only an occasional need for articles from some journals. Interlibrary loan fills this need for small libraries, as well as large libraries that have focused collections. There are large libraries, library systems and library consortia that will want and need full coverage of many journals. There will also be a large number of libraries that will not be able to afford this wide coverage, nor would they be able to justify the expense. Until pricing models are devised to allow these libraries to “subscribe” to limited access or for individual articles, ILL is still a valid service that is not taking away from the publishers’ market.
  20. Copyright holders feel very negative about electronic use of ILL — it is like turning your property over to a giant copying machine and saying goodbye to control over it. It won’t matter with a strictly scholarly work but something like Umberto Eco’s essay that was circulated widely a couple of years ago there goes its value.
    ==>Copyright holder
  21. Having past experience in copyright, as student/researcher, and as vendor – I believe some sort of compromise should be met regarding the electronic availability of ILL. This type of service is invaluable to a researcher who in the past had to rely on poor photo-copies or wait for extended periods of time for a copy of the journal to become available or to receive one. I appreciate the publisher’s fears but aren’t there alternatives to forbidding electronic ILL entirely? Surely, we can come up with a compromise.
  22. Article identifiers would certainly help assure that copyright policies are not being violated. I wouldn’t say that the electronic format precludes ILL, but the technology may not be developed enough yet to provide safeguards to the publishers. Full steam ahead on that!!
  23. These are serious issues for all of us to contemplate. I’m not sure what the ultimate solution is but libraries have traditionally shared their resources and I think that philosophy applies for electronic information.
  24. “CONTU” suggestion of five is a very U.S.-centric point-of-view for an international issue.
  25. I’m leaning toward saying ILL is not a viable concept in the digital environment, but I’m not quite ready to do that. There still may be instances where our library has access to an electronic source that someone else may not be able to getsome sites may not have Internet access.
  26. Although my position on this is strong, I have signed some licenses which forbid lending. Where publishers are adamant, I would argue that they might at least put a time limit on their restrictions, such as after the highest use period – 5 years for biomedicine – has elapsed, normal fair use guidelines would apply. This would insure that libraries aren’t simply substituting ILL for current subscriptions.
  27. ILL discourages subscriptions, whether the format is print or electronic. Lower subscriptions obligates publishers to charge higher prices to recover costs. The burden of ILL falls on libraries which are net exporters; they are paying more for subscriptions than would otherwise be required if the net importers were obligated to subscribe to access information.But there are justifications for ILL smaller libraries which cannot readily afford subscriptions, or libraries where clients’ utilization of a particular journal is low, can obtain an agreed-upon number of ILL.I see no reason why electronic ILL should be treated differently from print ILL.
    ==>Publisher/Author (copyright holder)
  28. I believe it’s important for the information industry to understand that ILL is not in the “wholesale” reproduction business. ILL only satisfies our customers as a one-in-a-while solution, not as a systematic way to supply core materials. From my own observation, I believe that the ILL community has been very conscientious in the paper-based environment regarding this. We not only limit our “home” (or borrowing) institutions’ customers to only reasonable amounts of activity (usually defined by CONTU Guidelines), and “police” the activity (by declining to supply items to other libraries that are in conflict with CONTU Guidelines), we also are playing an increasing role in educating our patrons about copyright compliance, which I believe encourages the payment of copyright fees when appropriate. I believe that this system can and should be applied successfully in an electronic environment as well.
    –Most libraries have what I consider to be moderate activity in ILL photocopies (usually ILL represents less than 2% of a library’s overall circulation), and I believe this occasional access to an article from a journal not otherwise subscribed to keeps information accessible to scholars, stimulates interest in that title and encourages a pattern of lifelong remote access (from which future subscriptions may arise).
  29. ILL of electronic documents should be permitted using the same fair dealing guidelines as are used for print documents. We pay for both and fair dealing doesn’t change with format.
    –Perhaps ‘fair dealing’ needs clearer definition for print AND electronic — and for whatever comes next!
  30. My comments are personal, and may or may not reflect the “official position” of the American Institute of Physics. If one considers the historical origins of “fair use,” especially with respect to ILL, it does not seem reasonable that it should continue in an era where the copyright holder is positioned to deliver immediately, at a fair price, a copy of any article in electronic form to any requestor.
    ==>Copyright holder
  31. The ILL issue must be resolved to the mutual benefit of all parties. Since no library can afford to purchase all its informational needs, libraries must depend upon other libraries or reasonablely priced alternatives. Document delivery has not been fully developed yet to supply all our informational needs. Libraries employ collection development strategies that publishers or document delivery sources will never develop, nor should they. Everyone deserves to profit in the ILL/document delivery/electronic journal environment including authors, publishers, agregators and libraries, however not to the extent that the information itself is priced beyond its worth. We are rapidly reaching this point. These are interesting times!
  32. Theoretically, I voted for allowing ILL under guidelines; but, in practice, we do not not allow ILL on e journals as verifying the license policy re ILL on each title is too time consuming.
  33. I can forsee a time when electronic “journal” information is the norm, and we will need to operate under a new set of rules thus dispensing with ILL. That is not the case now. Because e-journals supplement rather than supplant, our library needs to use the “old” rules and definitions to fulfill our role. That role includes serving as a resource libraries for smaller hospital libraries that simply do not have the technological resources to provide their health care providers with a totally electronic information environment. Future speculation is important and invigorating, but daily operation is necessary and inescapable.
  34. I have been negotiating with publishers for over 12 months and my predecessor for 5 years before that on behalf of our users. We have had some success and we now have agreements with 9 publishers to use their material in electronic format for ILL. However, I should strongly qualify that as some publishers will only allow the recipient to print out a single paper copy and then delete the file. This is something that I have not seen mentioned on the list and it is relevant to the question of whether ILL exists in an all electronic world. I would say that it probably does not, but on the other hand an all electronic world does not, and probably never will exist either so the question can never arise!
  35. The term “Inter-Library” Loan has been a misnomer ever since the introduction of the photo-copier, but not surprisingly libraries have not described it more accurately as “Royalty-Free Document Delivery”. Whether it is fair (to all parties concerned including the supplying library) is debatable. While “ILL” was relatively inefficient, often costing more than commercial document delivery, it may have been damaging but not catastrophic to publishers. The efficiencies possible with automatic systems sending electronic articles rapidly, could dramatically accelerate the subscription loss/price rise spiral.
  36. The issue is not what should exist in the best of all possible worlds, but where lies the balance of power. Will libraries be permitted by their users to “strike” – or refuse to buy materials from vendors thatdon’t meet their contract requirements? If libraries do form a consortium and create a standard contract, etc., will this be a viewed as a trust? I think, unfortunately, we are moving toward a world where the rate per word will not only apply to authors but to readers.
  37. I fear that the technology and software upgrades required will make electronic journals very much less attractive to developing countries. The licensing arrangements seem to prevent ILL. Perhaps that would not matter provided that the price of single articles was reasonable or some other radical solution is found. Medicine is not just about publishing to retain or get tenure – medical research must somehow be made available to countries whose gross national product is incompatible with what we can afford. Research Officer for Charity devoted to ensuring health science literature is available in developing countries.
  39. I hadn’t thought too much about this until the discussion on this listserv and now will raise the question when our next agreement with an e journal comes.
  40. The question really is whether a clause denying the ability to provide interlibrary loans is a “deal breaker”. Would we decline to sign an agreement for electronic access which eliminates interlibrary loan?
  41. I think the statute is technologically neutral and ought to apply to electronic ILL. I would be willing to forgo the library exemption in some cases if there was a single good index (searchable for free) for electronic texts and the article was available at a reasonable cost. Then I would choose as my first option going directly to the source for the copy.
  42. One important detail to be notedacademic libraries usually need to own the physical medium of back volumes or have perpetual access to back volumes already paid for. This is just responsible handling of the public’s tax money at public institutions, and private money at private institutions. Smaller special or public libraries may only need to lease temporary access to information. Ownership implies traditional “fair use” rights of materials owned; leasing may or may not, depending on the lease.
  43. To the extent that individual vendors are unready to create contracts that honor the traditional role of libraries in disseminating and archiving information; those vendors are unprepared to provide services to their customers, and should not expect to flourish until they have completed their homework.
  44. Unfortunately, the issues are very complicated but I believe if CONTU is to be a baseline, then it should be included in any electronic contract arrangementotherwise, blow it off. There are just too many “what if’s”, and therefore many are too confused to know what to follow or abide by.
  45. Without ILL options, how can we say we support lifelong learning for all, regardless of their institutional affiliation?
  46. Until or unless the publishers or middlemen make available individual articles for purchase, there needs to be a way for libraries to get these individual articles. Minimally, libraries should be able to provide these articles and the requesting library should pay the appropriate copyright fees.
  47. I was prepared to check 2B above (yes, ILL) for budgetary reasons; but the discussion so far and the realities in my large public library have me still undecided.
  48. Trouble is, I don’t like the questions. I’d be happy to prohibit ILL from electronic journals *provided* that the publisher or some licensed vendor offered the single article at an economical cost. As long as the threshold investment is a subscription, ILL for single articles should be allowable.
  49. I think we might add that we have attempted, like Ann, to get restrictive language changed, generally without success. The basic fear of those publishers to whom I’ve spoken is not our potential abuse of ILL, but the fate of an electronic copy once it has left our control. This anxiety, however, doesn’t explain concerns over using electronic versions to produce a printed copy for ILL, which seems completely irrational.
  50. ILL in the electronic world is essential as a service – Our users now demand it, and as libraries become more customer-service driven, responding to their needs is paramount. I am all for collaborative efforts between librarians, publishers, lawyers, and authors to work on acceptable fair use practices in the electronic world.
  51. Checking IA indicates that it comes closest to what I think. I would prefer a choice that indicates that ILL is not necessary rather than it should not be permitted. To some extent there is now the ability for any library or library user to obtain a copy of a particular article at least in paper, and increasingly in electronic form. Full text, non-serials will also become more easily available as their numbers increase. To the extent this happens it will alter the basic structures of access that have been necessary in the past to achieve the same results.
  52. You asked for input from others. As you will see in a separate posting, this is not an easy area. I don’t think CONTU applies and maybe nothing applies — but that is still a “maybe”.
  53. Academic libraries have very limited resources and struggle constantly to insure that their primary clientele does not suffer from the demands placed on its collections by those marginally affiliated or unaffiliated with their parent institutions. Control of ILL lending costs is never ignored in that struggle; inappropriate requests are routinely denied. As custodians of unique materials, libraries are sometimes publishers and as concerned as their commercial colleagues with preventing unauthorized distribution and potential loss of income. Nonetheless, libraries are aware of their obligations as educational institutions and of the dependence of science and scholarship on the untrammeled, if not cost-free, exchange of information, much of which derives from university research supported by public funding. In the long run, academic libraries would welcome timely, cost-effective alternative delivery mechanisms that minimize the costs of their social “obligations” without effecting an overall reduction in funds available for education. To prohibit use of electronic journals in ILL before alternative mechanisms actually exist, however, would be a disservice to scholarship and the educational community. Existing law, conventions, and payment mechanisms are probably robust enough to suffice in the interim while alternatives evolve. Pay-to-view, however, as an alternative mechanism, raises some very serious questions of appropriateness for the academic environment and the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge, however suitable it may be for entertainment content.
  54. We think the CONTU guidelines, as far as they go, should be used as is or with a different pre-determined limit, for e-docs of all sorts, and that electronic transmittal is necessary, because e-docs may contain code that cannot be printed (i.e. sound files, javascript, etc.). We could say a lot more, but we’ll leave it there
  55. It seems that information access would be greatly restricted if ILL is not permitted in the electronic environment as it is in the print. Publishers seem to be so concerned about losing $$$ and they should not have total control over information free or fee.
Last updated: November 14, 2011

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