In an address to the 8th International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Interlending and Document Supply Conference in 2003, interlibrary loan expert Mary E. Jackson identified several trends in interlibrary loan (ILL). Among them were user-initiated requests, increased access to electronic resources, increased globalization, and rising user expectations in terms of speed, convenience, and personalization. 1 Indeed, the ILL workflow has become more streamlined and cost-efficient than ever. OCLC is integrating ILL functions into one database, WorldCat Resource sharing, so that ILL staff can perform dozens of tasks in one module instead of three or four. "Deep-linking" in the WorldCat Resource Sharing Staff View allows staff to check libraries' catalogs for availability of items with one click. Patron-initiated ILL requests are on the rise. Advances in digitization and electronic transmission have increased efficiency and decreased delivery time for resource sharing. In tight budget times, interlibrary loan is more important than ever.

Why, then, do so many libraries still refuse to share audiovisual resources?

Section 5.2 of the "Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States," revised in 2001 by the Reference and User Services Association, states that "The supplying library should consider filling all requests for material regardless of format, but has the right to determine what material will be supplied on a request by request basis." 2 The Explanatory Supplement for the ILL Code clarifies: "Supplying libraries are encouraged to lend audiovisual material, newspapers, and other categories of material that have traditionally been noncirculating." 3 The "ALA Guidelines

Why, then, do so
many libraries still
refuse to share
audiovisual resources?

for the Interlibrary Loan of Audiovisual Formats," developed by the Video Round Table and drafted in its final form in 1998, reads: "Audiovisual materials should be lent to other libraries and agencies as freely as possible and in a manner that insures that they are protected from loss and damage ... the library or agency that lends the material can decide whether to loan the requested item, but the decision should be based on an item by item basis and not restricted by broad categories (e.g. time in the collection, format, date of the production, price, etc.)." 4 Section 5.1 of the Association of College and Research Libraries' "Guidelines for Media Resources in Academic Libraries" puts it most bluntly: "Media resources should be accessible through resource sharing." 5 Forceful commentary in this section reads:

Many libraries treat media collections as special collections and prohibit their interlibrary loan. However, library users benefit when media collections are included in resourcesharing programs. No library can meet all of its users' needs for media resources, but libraries are reluctant to lend to our users if we do not lend to their users. The guidelines recognize that some materials may be excluded, but in general, there is no reason to exclude entire formats from interlibrary lending. 6

In their article addressing barriers to audiovisual ILL, Albitz and Bolger cite surveys indicating that, despite the ALA's recommendations, resistance to the sharing of audiovisual material persists among academic libraries. 7 And in her 2000 article entitled "Creating an Ideal Interlibrary Loan Operation," Sarah Simpson states:

There are still a lot of libraries with very restrictive ILL lending policies. Audio-visual material, genealogy, theses, microforms, and periodicals are among the types of materials that many libraries will not lend. These limitations do slow down the process of borrowing Interlibrary Loan materials, and in some cases, make it impossible to do so. Libraries should look at the reasons behind the refusal to lend certain materials, reconsider the rationale, and make any changes possible to liberalize their lending policies. The result — it will take less time to borrow material, such as non-print media, that previously took a long time to borrow or could not be borrowed at all. 8

This was not a completely radical philosophy. Kristine Brancolini and Steven Egyhazi, in preparation for a draft resolution of the "ALA Guidelines for the Interlibrary Loan of Audiovisual Formats," conducted a 1994 Internet survey of libraries that did lend out videorecordings. Libraries were asked about their experiences with specific situations that were traditionally cited as reasons not to share videorecordings via ILL: non-returns, damage, slow shipments, and others. The authors concluded that:

The interlibrary loan of video does not appear to present the serious problems feared by libraries that do not offer their videos for interlibrary loan. Real problems exist in the interlibrary lending [of] all materials, but that should not exclude video from this practice. We do not refuse to lend books for these reasons. Libraries have found ways to minimize the difficulties encountered in lending videos. 9

Ten years later, I came to the same conclusion as a result of two informal email surveys I conducted on the ILL of audiovisual (A/V) materials. The first query, posted on the Pub-Lib and Audiobooks listservs in January 2004, was intended to address a specific situation at my library. The Williamsburg Regional Library (WRL) was considering the question of lending audiobooks through ILL. A longstanding policy prohibited the practice, and we could only speculate on the reasons for the prohibition: damage or increased costs for special shipping. As ALA Guidelines encourage the lending of audiovisual formats, I wanted feedback from other libraries on the validity of our concerns. I queried public libraries that send out their audiobooks through ILL, asking them to share what they considered to be the advantages and disadvantages of the practice.

Ten years later, I came to
the same conclusion as
a result of two informal
email surveys ...

Nineteen libraries responded, eighteen of which do lend audiobooks through ILL. The libraries reported little or no loss or damage to audiobooks in the process. Comments on the practice were positive. Based on this feedback, along with the ALA guidelines, WRL implemented a trial period of lending audiobooks through interlibrary loan that ultimately turned into a successful policy.

The second query I posed to my colleagues was more general and designed to encompass all A/V formats, all types of libraries, and libraries that do not lend A/V materials as well as those that do. The query was posted to the Virginia Library Association Listserv in October 2004. Libraries were asked whether their policies allowed the loan of A/V materials. If so, what were their experiences with the practice? If not, why not?

Seventeen libraries responded: ten public libraries, six academic libraries, and one school library. Eight libraries lend all audiovisual materials (five public, two academic, one school). Two academic libraries lend all A/V materials except for titles on reserve, and one public library lends all A/V formats except for DVDs. Six libraries lent no A/V materials at all (four public, two academic). The fact that a majority of the small sample does lend audiovisual materials through ILL is encouraging. The non-lending libraries gave a variety of reasons for their restrictions, which are summarized here. Some of the responses reflect the research done by Albitz and Bolger, who discussed three major barriers to A/V ILL in an academic setting: cost, damage, and the "original acquisition motive." 10 Where these reasons (and others) were cited by the non-lending libraries, most can be challenged by positive solutions on the part of libraries that do lend A/V materials.

Cost . Cost of educational and training videorecordings is one reason libraries do not ILL them. These materials can cost hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of dollars. Some academic libraries deal with this problem by lending the materials but specially packaging and insuring them. Others treat specific titles as reserve materials and thus make them unavailable for ILL, yet do not completely restrict the ILL of A/V materials altogether.

Feature videorecordings in VHS and DVD formats have gotten less expensive to replace and are lent more now than in years past. Non-feature documentaries and unabridged audiobooks can be quite expensive, but libraries that ship these materials via UPS can insure the materials so that replacement costs will be covered for items lost in the mail. It's also worth noting that, according to section 4.9 of the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, the borrowing library is responsible for the item from the time it leaves the lending library until the time it returns to the lending library. 11

Some libraries that do not lend A/V materials cited extra costs for special packaging, shipping, and insuring as a disadvantage of loaning A/V resources through ILL; yet the libraries that do lend A/V titles indicated that shipping the materials incurred little or no extra cost beyond ILL handling expenses in general.

Popularity . An oft-cited reason for not loaning A/V materials is high demand. Respondents felt that it's not fair to a library's own patrons to allow high-demand titles to be tied up in ILL, especially when budgets for these materials are tight and collections limited. One respondent pointed out that in the time it takes to get one use out of a videorecording through ILL, that item could get three to four in-house circulations. In academic libraries, videos and other educational/training media are often selected by faculty to support a specific curriculum (Albitz refers to this as the "original acquisition motive"). Faculty thus expect the materials to be available to them on-demand, which is not possible if the item is out filling an ILL request. One respondent from a public library said she considers audiovisual materials to be special collections like rare and reference materials, and as such, other libraries should not expect to be able to borrow them. It may not be necessary, however, to apply a blanket restriction on all A/V loaning to deal with this issue. Libraries may choose to restrict specific titles from ILL based on faculty need, yet allow the loan of other media titles which do not necessarily warrant such restriction. This would be an example of restricting ILL on a case-by-case basis, as is recommended by the ALA Guidelines, rather than restricting an entire format out of hand.

Loan Periods . Another reason libraries do not lend A/V materials is that their in-house loan period for these items is considerably shorter than for printed material (this generally applies to feature films on VHS and DVD). It's often difficult to ship out ILLs and have them returned within this time period, and some libraries are reluctant to impose the shortened loan period on items for in-house patrons but grant a longer loan period for ILL use. However, two libraries responding do exactly this. The respondent from one of these libraries stated that A/V material is generally returned much sooner than the due date, as compared to books. In addition, if a library ships these materials via UPS, turnaround time decreases considerably.

I believe that
non-reciprocity may
be the biggest barrier
to the free sharing of
audiovisual materials.

Resources . The special shipping and handling needed to lend A/V materials through ILL does require some extra staff time and effort. The more items lent, the more resources and staff may be needed for verifying, locating, shipping, and handling the extra volume. Of the libraries responding that lend A/V titles through ILL, none reported a significantly burdensome addition to staff workload in performing these operations (though one library that no longer loans A/V materials on ILL did cite this as one of the reasons the practice was discontinued).

Damage . Though none of the nonlenders mentioned fear of damage to A/V materials as a reason not to lend them, some did express concern that to prevent damage, special packaging and shipping would have to be used, which would be too expensive. None of the libraries that lend A/V materials reported any significant problems with damage or loss. The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) provides detailed guidelines for the packaging and shipping of audiovisual materials. 12

Reciprocity . Though libraries may be willing to share their A/V collections with other libraries, the policy of non-reciprocity actually limits sharing because these libraries will only lend A/V materials to libraries who in turn lend A/V materials to them. One public library discontinued a successful trial of loaning audiobooks through ILL because its most frequent borrowers did not lend audiobooks in return. Also, libraries that lend A/V resources regardless of reciprocity end up shouldering the burden of A/V loaning. A respondent from an academic library noted that it seems unfair that her library lends A/V titles on interlibrary loan while other academic libraries in the area do not.

I believe that non-reciprocity may be the biggest barrier to the free sharing of audiovisual materials. For a library that chooses to restrict all A/V loaning, the biggest losers may actually be its own patrons. By restricting access to its collections by other libraries, a nonlending library deprives its own patrons of access to such materials in the collections of other libraries. My research has led me to the same conclusion that Brancolini and Egyhazi reached after doing their Internet survey:

No one wants to lend videorecordings if no one will lend to their users. It is important that we reciprocate. One suggestion: start small. Begin lending within your metropolitan area, to other academic libraries in your state, or to other school or public libraries within your region. If we work through problems on a small scale, perhaps we will find that we can expand our group of borrowing partners. Your users will benefit. By making the interlibrary loan of video more widely acceptable, your users will have access to titles that your library does not own. To serve our users we must be willing to share video resources with others. 13

A program at the 2004 North Carolina Library Association/ Southeastern Library Association Conference entitled "Is It Time to Turn This Battleship Around? Lending Audiovisuals through ILL" was well-attended and brought much-deserved attention to this issue. I am proposing a similar program at the 2005 Virginia Library Association Conference and hope to generate the same level of interest in this topic.

No one is saying that libraries must lend all A/V titles all the time. However, instead of applying an automatic blanket restriction on audiovisual formats, each request should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Consider the benefits, and be aware that many of the traditional fears associated with lending audiovisual materials through Interlibrary Loan have been replaced by practical and satisfying solutions.


1 Mary E. Jackson, "The Future of Interlending" (keynote address, 8th IFLA Interlending and Document Supply Conference, Canberra, Australia, October 28-31, 2003).

2 American Library Association, "Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States," in RUSA: Reference and User Services Association [website] 10 January 2005 [cited 25 February 2005]; available from .

3 American Library Association, "Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States Explanatory Supplement," in RUSA: Reference and User Services Association [website] 10 January 2005 [cited 21 March 2005]; available from .

4 American Library Association, "Guidelines for the Interlibrary Loan of Audiovisual Formats," in ALA: American Library Association [website] 2005 [cited 21 March 2005]; available from .

5 Association of College and Research Libraries, "Guidelines for Media Resources in Academic Libraries," in ALA: American Library Association [website] 8 March 2005 [cited 21 March 2005]; available from .

6 Ibid.

7 Rebecca S. Albitz and Dorita F. Bolger, "Video Interlibrary Loan: Challenges Facing the Small College Library." Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply 11 (2000): 80.

8 Sarah Simpson, "Creating an Ideal Interlibrary Loan Operation." Current Studies in Librarianship 24 (2000): 45.

9 Kristine Brancolini and Steven Egyhazi, "Internet Survey on Interlibrary Loan and Video," [online article] 2004 [cited 9 December 2004]; available from .

10 Albitz and Bolger, 81.

11 American Library Association, "Interlibrary."

12 Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, "Guidelines for Packaging and Shipping Magnetic Tape Recording and Discs (CD-ROM and CDR) Carrying Audio, Video, and/or Data," in ALA: American Library Association [website] 12 May 2004 [cited 25 February 2005]; available from

13 Brancolini and Egyhazi. VL


Avery Hicks serves as Reference Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Williamsburg, Virginia. Hicks has selected audiobooks for the collection since 2001 and worked in Interlibrary Loans since 1997, initiating a successful effort last year to make the audiobook collection accessible through interlibrary loan.