Interview with Debra Lucas

Debra Lucas-Alfieri has been the Head of Reference and Interlibrary Loan at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY, since 2002. She has taught for Library Juice Academy a couple of times before, and next month she is going to be teaching a class called “How ILL Works.” ILL is more and more central to librarianship, yet many librarians only have vague knowledge of how the systems work, so I am very pleased that we are offering this class. Debra has agreed to do an interview, to talk about the class and her background for teaching it.

Debra, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I’d like to start by asking what your background is for teaching a class in ILL?

I have been the Head of the Interlibrary Loan program at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY for over 12 years. In this time, our team of librarians and support staff have redesigned and streamlined our services several times. Additionally, we have conducted surveys that assess the program so that we could improve and promote it across campus.

When I started in the position of Head ILL Librarian, I basically knew very little about ILL and certainly, I knew nothing about managing an ILL program. I studied and learned along the way. The knowledge and experiences I gained throughout the last 12 years brings me to the point where I have a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share with ILL librarians, support staff and general library staff, even those only peripherally involved with it.

I understand that ILL has been growing more important in certain ways, and libraries have started to depend more on resource sharing to meet user’s needs for books and other materials. How true is that, and how is affecting ILL services? And, do you think it creates a need for more people to understand how ILL works?

ILL will become increasingly more important as libraries continue to feel the financial pinch that accompanies resource allocation. For example, when libraries face shrinking budgets, librarians often order less books and online databases. As libraries clear the way for computers, bound journals and microforms also lose their position on our library shelves.

More importantly, as books and journals are weeded to make space for these computers and other technological devices, patrons have fewer resources to select from. It will become more common that librarians, and library directors, will rationalize that ILL is a means to justify the ends. Well, they say, if a patron wants it and we don’t have it, we will just use ILL.

In order for ILL to be a viable solution to an increasingly popular trend of reducing the physical collection, all library decision makers need to understand no only what ILL is, but how the actual daily work is performed.

So, why don’t you give us an outline of the class? What will students know by the end of it?

Thank you for the question.

The class will begin with a thoughtful review of key concepts and definitions. In the first week, we will also discuss both the history of and the current state of Interlibrary Loan. During the second week, we will learn about common and uncommon policies and procedures, including copyright restrictions and compliances. Understanding how to manage an ILL program is key for all attendees to learn. So during week three, we will discuss staffing needs, educational requirements, gathering statistics to assess the program, and obstacles that can affect the program’s success. We will wrap up the class by learning about the obstacles, risks, and program limitations regarding the future of ILL.

Students will learn not only what ILL is, but how it is done, why and by whom.

How much will you get into the nuts and bolts of ILL systems commonly in use?

Concepts surrounding ILL automation systems will be discussed throughout the program. However, an overview of the most commonly used management systems, such as ILLiad, DocLine, and home grown systems, will be covered in the management. Pros and cons will be discussed.

I think there might be a lot of people out there who would hear the title to this course and think, “What’s to know?” They might think that ILL is pretty basic and simple. I wonder if you can think of the main aspects of ILL that such people might not know about or might have mistaken ideas about? What subtopics will the course cover that is the least obvious and potentially the most interesting about ILL?

The future of ILL is a huge concern to me as an ILL librarian. Many librarians not in tune with the theory and philosophy might not understand how their decisions in collection development might affect the access to information that we now enjoy. For example, when purchasing or renewing online database subscriptions, librarians oftentimes overlook the need to use the databases to fill ILL requests, articles that other libraries use. If we continue to allow publishers to prohibit this use, then the access to information will begin to diminish. If I can’t lend articles obtained through the databases I pay for, and another library has the same restriction, how will the researcher obtain that article? The same holds true for ebooks. How do we lend them? If catalogers and acquisitions librarians do not understand these principles, then these lending restrictions have the power to stall the flow of information in ILL. To prevent this, librarians need to negotiate a contract allowing for circulation via ILL.

That gets to the topic of current trends. Another trend I can think of is the trend toward purchasing on demand as a substitute for ILL. What are your thoughts on that?

I’m not a fan of purchase on demand as a substitute for ILL. It allows patrons to request items that might be esoteric and rarely used after it is returned. ILL librarians are a great asset when it comes to collection development. We are certain of what our patrons use primarily because we can see each book (and journal) request that is placed. In many cases, the book can be requested from a free lender instead of purchasing the title outright. Purchase on demand also sets up the perception that patrons will build our collection for us, instead of having librarians research the best titles for the book collection. When we discover a title that we feel should be added, then we can purchase it.

What about the costs of ILL borrowing? Will that be a part of what you cover?

I will cover reciprocity as a topic. Costing models vary from library to library so I won’t cover anything specifically otherwise.

Okay, I think you’ve given us a good idea about the nature of the course and why ILL is an important topic. I’d like to close by asking you about some of your other interests. I know that you are interested in marketing in the academic library context, but what else floats your boat, professionally and extra-curricularly?

I truly enjoy the research part of librarianship. I like to seek out information, whether it is for my own personal or professional interests. Writing has been and will always be my first love, though. While on sabbatical, I will write my first textbook, “Marketing the 21st Century Academic Library.” I love to cook with my husband and entertain in my new home. It’s a cozy and heart-felt activity that I can share with friends and family.

Thank you for your interest in my work and my activities.

Thanks for interview. It has been interesting and should provide good information for those considering the class.

One thought on “Interview with Debra Lucas

  1. Pingback: Library Juice » Interview with Debra Lucas-Alfieri

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *