Electronic Journals Appear to Reduce Interlibrary Lending in Academic Libraries

John Loy

Abstract


Objective – To determine the impact of electronic journals on interlibrary loan (ILL) activity. The hypothesis predicted that ILL requests would fall by approximately 10% during a four-year period, that e-journal use would increase by 10% per year and that there would be a correlation between the two.

Design – Longitudinal data analysis of interlibrary loans over an eight year period from 1995 to 2003. The second part of the study is a retrospective data analysis of e-journal use from 2001-2005.

Setting – The 26 largest libraries in the state of Illinois, USA; all but the Chicago Public Library are academic institutions.

Subjects –
1. Journal article photocopy requests originating in the 26 libraries divided into three data sets: 1995/96, 1999/00 and 2002/03.
2. Electronic journal usage statistics from 25 libraries subscribing to packages within the EBSCOhost database for the fiscal years 2001-2005.

Methods –A retrospective analysis was conducted using interlibrary loan data for journal article photocopy requests either originating from or being satisfied by the 26 libraries in the study. It examined the data in three ways: the 26 libraries together, requests sent to libraries in the state of Illinois excluding the 26, and requests using libraries outside the state. The second part of the study examines usage data of electronic journals available in 25 of the 26 libraries.

Main results – In the period from 1999 to 2003 a reduction in ILL requests of nearly 26% was observed within the participating 26 libraries.

Analysis by broad subject discipline demonstrates that social sciences and sciences show the largest drop in requests – a 25% decrease from 1995-2003. The number of requests from an individual journal title drops significantly in science by 34% within the state and by 37% for out-of-state requests.

While the humanities actually showed an increase in the number of requests, the large increase in out-of-state requests (20.6% overall between 1995 and 2003) slowed significantly with an increase of only 2.6% from 1999-2003 indicating that sources other than ILL are providing articles to this field.

Nearly identical peaks and troughs in ILL requests over the three study periods demonstrate predictably consistent high and low use subject areas.

Use of the e-journals collection was shown to increase at well over 10% per year.

Of the most highly requested ILL titles, 46% were available as e-journals, indicating a significant lack of awareness or inability to access electronic resources among some library users.

Conclusion – The hypothesis that state-wide ILL requests would decline by 10% was far surpassed. Libraries most frequently borrowed titles that were low-use and outside the scope of their collections. Titles requested more than 20 times in each study period were those least frequently borrowed, as well as least requested from outside the state, which demonstrates a cost-effective use of library resources. This indicates that libraries are judiciously providing access to high-use titles locally. All three data sets included in-state titles requested more than 20 times, as well as 18 titles requested from out of state, suggesting that they should be considered for purchase within Illinois. While access to e-journals appears to have reduced the number of ILLs, there is clearly a need for some libraries to improve the way in which they help their users access the collection.

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