Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age:
Missions, Collections, Staffing

California Academic & Research Libraries
Third Annual Conference

Pilot Document Retrieval Service
by Sharon Walters


Saint Mary's College Library's interest in and pursuit of document retrieval services was born of a need to provide timely access to periodical articles that we could not afford to purchase on a subscription basis. We had done much to increase the demand for articles by providing increased bibliographic access to periodical articles by the addition of several new CD-Roms, but we had not been able to provide the full-text of the articles other than through our traditional methods of using Interlibrary Borrowing services which was not fast enough for most of our users. We asked ourselves the following questions:

  1. How can we increase physical access to periodical articles not owned by SMCL?

  2. Can we find funds from our existing budget to finance a pilot project? Will we be able to fund the entire cost or only a partial subsidy?

  3. Will we offer this service to all user groups or to just faculty and students?

  4. Is access to articles an acceptable alternative to ownership, i.e. the question of "Just-in-Time" vs. "Just-in-Case."

  5. Since we are considering this service as a one-year pilot only, how can we alert our users to this service without permanently modifying all our holdings statements?
Our first Pilot Document Retrieval Service (P-DOR) was implemented in FY 1994/95, but planning began months earlier. In early February 1993, staff learned more about document retrieval by attending two workshops: BayNet's "Document Delivery Fair" held at Diablo Valley College and the National Document Delivery Conference in Philadelphia. From these conferences we learned that "Document Retrieval" is an umbrella term for a service, which encompasses a variety of access to materials in demand. It includes traditional Interlibrary borrowing, online access to full-text articles, document delivery (which we define as the photocopying and delivery of articles owned by SMCL), and purchasing articles from commercial suppliers. We also learned from other conference participants which vendors provide the best service in terms of fill-rate, cost, and speed of delivery.

We "tested" several document suppliers using our own data from Interlibrary Borrowing records, searching for titles that our staff found difficult to locate via traditional ILB sources. We continued our research by reading articles published in library journals and by following the issue on Internet discussion groups.

It was about this same time, in the Jan/Feb 1993 issue of "OCLC Reference News", that FirstSearch announced the debut of document ordering on their system. The UnCover Co. had been in the article delivery business since the Fall of 1992, but in July of 1993, Carl Systems, Inc. and Blackwell Ltd. announced they would merge. Since we already has access to these two systems, it became clear to us that document retrieval was an emerging, evolving technology that was offering a very viable solution to our access needs.

The Pilot

Based on findings from our research, we implemented a Pilot Document Retrieval Service in October of 1994 with $3,000, funds which were "borrowed" from our periodicals and electronic search budgets. We established deposit accounts with three vendors: UMI (University Microfilm International) and ISI (Institute for Scientific Information) which we accessed through FirstSearch, and with CarlUncover. We also used Dialog whenever full-text articles were available and graphics were not needed.

This new service was announced with a P-DOR Service Guide and Request Form. A listing of the 71 titles which we were offering free of charge was appended to our Periodicals Holdings Lists. For the pilot, we focused on offering only core titles in the sciences and publicity efforts were concentrated on the School of Science. We define core titles as those which are essential to support the research needs of SMC's faculty and students.

In promoting this new service, we were perhaps too cautious in our turn-around time predictions. Our original estimates of 5 to 7 business days were too high, and perhaps a deterrent to some in using the service. We soon learned that most of the articles were actually received within 24 hours of the date requested.

What we learned

In addition to partially achieving our number one goal of increasing access to articles we did not own, the pilot project also provided us with data to answer the following questions:

Demand for the service grew as word got out and as library staff felt more comfortable in promising a quicker turn-around time than was originally publicized. Our fill rate was 96% with Carl UnCover filling the vast majority of requests. The average turn around time for all requests was 2-3 days with an average cost of $13.00.

Next Steps

During the year of the pilot it has been our experience that document suppliers have continued to offer enhanced and new services. For example, OCLC has recently initiated a $2.50 per article full-text retrieval for some of their databases; more full-text databases have been added to Dialog/Knight-Ridder; and just recently, Knight-Ridder has acquired the Carl Corporation which, we are hopeful, will enhance the resources of both companies and help to keep retrieval costs low.

With the success of our pilot and with the same goal of increased access to core periodical titles, we are planning to expand and rename the service for 1995/96. The new service will be called Article Express: SMCL's Pilot Electronic Core Periodical Collection with a start date of November 1, 1995. The decision to offer this service as another pilot was necessary because on-going funding is uncertain. Funds for the second year pilot will again be borrowed from the electronic search budget. The number of journals offered will expand to 300+ core titles across all disciplines taught at Saint Mary's. To help subsidize the cost of the article delivery and staffing costs, there will be a standard fee of $3.00 per article. The titles will be interfiled in one alphabetical sequence in our Periodical Holdings Lists, rather than just appended as in our first pilot, and will be included in our electronic indexes which allow local holdings information.

As we begin a second pilot, a primary objective will be to document those titles which are heavily requested. Depending on the subscription costs, they may be our highest priority when considering which new titles to purchase. We will also want to carefully document the total cost of the new service, that is, not just the cost to purchase the articles, but also the cost to search the databases, cost to publicize the service and update holdings lists, as well as staffing costs.


Although there are an increasing number of user-friendly and convenient document retrieval services which allow patrons to place their own orders electronically and debit their personal accounts, for our purposes, we do not view these as viable alternatives to ownership because of the cost to the user. For titles which are essential to support the current curriculum, the library is committed to providing them either free, or substantially subsidizing the cost for our primary clientele. Other, non-core titles can be obtained through other channels, such as traditional Interlibrary Borrowing, ordering at cost, or going to another local library where the journal is available. We also concluded that our patrons would continue to view this as a viable alternative to ownership, only if the standard for turn-around time remains within 24-48 hours.


"Document ordering: easy, reliable, cost-effective," OCLC Reference News No. 14 (Jan/Feb 1993): 3-4.

Fuseler, Elizabeth A., "Providing access to journals--just in time or just in case?" C&RL News (March 1994): 130-148.

Jackson, Mary E., "Interlibrary loan, document delivery, and resource sharing," Wilson Library Bulletin (May 1995): 68-113.

Khalil, Mounir, "Document delivery: a better option?" Library Journal (Feb 1, 1993): 43-47.

Kohl, David F., "Revealing UnCover: Simple, easy article delivery," Online (May/June 1995): 52-60.

Quint, Barbara, "The document delivery business," Wilson Library Bulletin (September 1994): 70-71.

Rankin, Juliann, "The faculty electronic research center," C&RL News (March 1, 1994): 127-128.

Truesdell, Cheryl B., "Is access a viable alternative to ownership? A review of access performance," The Journal of Academic Librarianship, (September 1994): 200-206.

Van Der Werff, Jane, "Which document delivery service best serves your patron: UnCover2 or ILL?" Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document delivery & Information Supply, v.5, no.1 (1994): 23-31.

Walch, David B., "Inflation, budget cuts, and faculty needs," C&RL News (March 1993): 125.

Walters, Sheila, "Commercial document delivery: Vendor selection criteria," Computers in Libraries, v.14, no.9 (October 1994): 14-16.

Prepared by: Sharon Walters Date: October 20, 1995
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