Nordic Study of Performance Measurement of Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Services

Nordic University and Research Libraries, 2001

Pentti Vattulainen, National Repository Library, Project leader; in co-operation with NORDINFO.

Steering group


The purpose of the study is to measure some features of Interlibrary Loan activities in Nordic research libraries. The general aim of the study is to produce information which can be used to improve the performance of ILL service capabilities of Nordic research libraries; to improve the status of ILL as a service-form by integrating it into other library functions, such as general circulation services, acquisition and reference; to advance resource sharing on the national and Nordic level; and to assist ILL departments to adopt new and effective work practices. Information about real costs makes it, furthermore, possible for the respective libraries to charge for the services on an appropriate level. As resource sharing is becoming increasingly essential for libraries for them to maintain a high service level all barriers in this process should be identified with the goal to eliminate them.

Related research

Performance measurement studies of interlending and document delivery activities originate from USA, where ILL and DD is a large scale activity. Many surveys have been made there over the years. The most important is Mary Jackson’s study Measuring the Performance of Interlibrary Loan Operations in North American Research and College Libraries. (Mary E. Jackson. May 1998 * ISBN 0-918006-33-3 * 122 pp).

The aim of the above-mentioned study formed a part of long-term effort by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) to increase the sharing of library resources among libraries while reducing costs at the same time. In recent years resource sharing has grown in importance because libraries are no longer able to collect comprehensively. Thus, libraries have developed new ways of sharing resources and are working on improving the old, traditional way, i.e., interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan has become a critical success factor for libraries of all types. Its increasing importance has led to careful examination of how it is carried out.

The USA study examined four items: costs, fill rate, time and user satisfaction. Direct costs mean costs that a library incurs to fill an ILL borrowing or lending request. Fill rate refers to the percentage of borrowing or lending requests successfully filled. The factor of time was measured in the number of calendar days it took to complete a borrowing request. Level of user satisfaction is measured by the speed of the borrowing service, quality and completeness of material as well as the interaction with ILL staff.

The results indicated that average unit cost for borrowing was 18 USD and for lending almost 10 USD. Staff costs were 66 % of total costs. Fill rate for returnables (documents) was 83 % and non-returnables (copies) was 86 %. Slightly more than half of lending requests were filled. Turnaround time indicated that ILL and DD are slow service forms. To borrow a book took on the average 16,9 days and to get a copy of a document on ILL 14.9 days.

The study also aimed at identifying high-performing ILL/DD libraries and see what could be learned from those, i.e., libraries that had low unit costs, fast turnaround time and high fill rate. The high-performing libraries were studied in particular and some recommendations were made based on the study:

A test survey of two university libraries in Finland has been carried out and showed following results: Costs for borrowing were 9-15 USD and for lending 2-5 USD. Fill rate showed that borrowing may be slightly less efficient in Finland than in the USA but lending is much more efficient. Finnish libraries seem to be very interested in sharing. Compared with the situation ten years ago, it looks as if there is a clear improvement in lending whereas in USA there seem to be no measurable development.

Turnaround time in Finland gives a different picture of the performance in interlending. One quarter of borrowing requests were filled within three days and 65 % within a week and more than 90 % within two weeks. Generally the turnaround time seems to be much shorter in Finland than on average in the USA.

The Nordic Study

The comparisons between the performance in the USA and in Finland have raised questions on Nordic performance within this area, and we believe that a Nordic study is very desirable and could be of great use. The need for the study was identified long ago and it became topical during the previous ILL study tour of NVBF to USA in 2000. The possibility to compare Nordic information with the study from USA gives also an international perspective that can be useful.

The study was planned at meetings of the national ILL-group and the following framework was developed:


The study is a survey in two parts. The first part is a questionnaire concerning general characteristics of the library and on the costs of ILL activities. The general characteristics include questions on organisation and administration, staff structure, about level and type of activity, about equipment and software and about any local specialities in borrowing and lending. Information about costs is collected on staff, networks/communication, delivery, photocopy costs, equipment and software, borrower fees and library’s income from the service.

Second part of the study is the monitoring of the turnaround time during a fixed period of 5-6 weeks for approximately 150 randomly selected borrowing requests.

Steering Group

The steering group has been nominated by the national ILL-groups. The members are Agneta Lindh (Sweden), Poul Erlandsen (Denmark), Thorny Hlynsdottir (Iceland), Hans-Martin Fagerli (Norway) and Pentti Vattulainen (Finland). The duties of the group include developing the questionnaire, translation of the questionnaire into own language and collecting of data from each country. Three meetings will be necessary for the Steering Group: a planning meeting in December 2000, a meeting to analyse the results in April 2001 and evaluation meeting in June 2001. The steering group works without other costs to the research project than travel costs.

Participating Libraries

The members of the steering group choose the participating libraries in their countries. The libraries should be university libraries or other research libraries. They are supposed to be representative and different from each other. The participating institutions provide the information without cost to the research project.

Invitation letter
Libraries asked to participate

The timetable

Pentti Vattulainen
National Repository Library
POB 1710
70421 KUOPIO


1. General characteristics

2. Costs
2.1. Staff costs
2.2. Other costs

3. Turnaround time




Report - draft as of 24.4.2003 / PDF / Word

Reykjavik - PPT
- Nordic
- Internat.