U Libraries without borders

Just how big is the Libraries’ collection?

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Anatoly Liberman
Anatoly Liberman

Anatoly Liberman is a linguist and professor in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic, and Dutch. “In my area of research, I constantly depend on articles in fugitive journals, rare old books, and even provincial newspapers from abroad,” he writes.

Fortunately, he has a decades-long relationship with Interlibrary Loan.

“Tons of such materials have come to me thanks to the invariable friendliness of the ILL group.”

Their friendliness is wonderful and most welcome. Yet any University student, faculty, or staff member who pursues a search in the University Libraries may find ours is an expansive library.

Searching widely

Melissa Eighmy Brown
Melissa Eighmy Brown

The Libraries’ collection is bigger than you think it is. “That’s one thing I love about Interlibrary Loan,” says Melissa Eighmy Brown, Manager of Interlibrary Loan and Digital Delivery. “When we look for content, we’re looking everywhere.”

If a resource is not available within the University of Minnesota’s collections, the request is automatically searched within the Big Ten Academic Alliance, a consortia of large, academic libraries in the Big Ten Conference, plus the University of Chicago. If the University of Wisconsin or University of Michigan, or other members have a copy, Eighmy Brown says, “then it’s delivered to us and it’s very fast and efficient.”

Still not located? Then staff search among other national, and even international libraries. There are 17,983 members in the network of OCLC libraries, which span 123 countries. They all share print and digital content with the University of Minnesota — without a contract and within the collaborative, cooperative spirit of libraries.

“There’s no way one library could fulfill all the needs,” Eighmy Brown says. “You need that community of libraries.”

Phil Dudas, Information Services Manager, quotes the Libraries’ website: “We don’t have everything, but we can get you a copy of almost anything.”

Delivery options

Patrons can pick up at one of the libraries, or Interlibrary Loan will mail items to people’s homes. A less well-known option is Digital Delivery, an additional service that uses the same request forms as interlibrary loan. Patrons can request a portion of a book that’s on the shelf and Libraries staff will scan it and email it to them.

“That’s one way we are providing access,” Eighmy Brown says, “especially for people working remotely who don’t want to come into the Libraries.

There’s an alternative specifically for those with a print disability — people with low vision, learning disabilities, dyslexia, or other issues who are registered with the U’s Disability Resource Center. They may use the Accessible Text Request Service of the digital repository HathiTrust.

“We can get them electronic access to anything in the HathiTrust collection, which is 17 million items, even the items normally protected by copyright,” Dudas says. “These are full text scans of books for something would normally be inaccessible, in print only, or copyright protected.”

Still, Dudas says that improving accessibility is a project in process.

Meeting needs during the pandemic

“It is a miracle how much work so few people could and can accomplish while working behind the scenes.”

—Anatoly Liberman

During the pandemic, Interlibrary Loan may be a little slower than usual — items have to quarantine and a few libraries, like the National Library of Medicine, are still closed. Yet patrons have been and continue to be supported.

Liberman calls Interlibrary Loan “the heart of the library.” Even with COVID, he writes, “the University continued its work, students went on with their research, and faculty members’ books and paper contracts remained in force. I depended crucially on the copies of articles in the closed stacks and on the books I could no longer check out myself.

“It is a miracle how much work so few people could and can accomplish while working behind the scenes. I was able to meet all the deadlines only thanks to their dedication and openness to every request, however vague and even obscure. No doubt, hundreds of people at the University will be able to echo my sentiments.”

That’s the benefit of a staff and a Libraries without borders.

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