Interlibrary loan and document delivery in North American health sciences libraries during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic




Access services, COVID-19, document delivery, health sciences libraries, hospital libraries, interlibrary loan, print collections.


Objective: The study purpose was to understand how early months of the COVID-19 pandemic altered interlibrary loan (ILL) and document delivery (DD) in North American health science libraries (HSLs), specifically the decision-making and workflow adjustments associated with accessing their own collections and obtaining content not available via ILL.

Methods: Researchers distributed an online 26-question survey through 24 health science library email lists from January 6-February 7, 2021. Respondents reported their library’s ILL and DD activities from March-August 2020, including ILL/DD usage and policies, collection access, decision-making, and workflow adjustments. In addition to calculating frequencies, cross-tabulation and statistical tests were performed to test a priori potential associations. Two researchers independently and thematically analyzed responses to the 2 open-ended questions and reached consensus on themes.

Results: Hospital libraries represented 52% (n=226/431) of respondents, along with 42% academic (n=179) and 6% (n=26) multi-type or other special. Only 1% (n=5) closed completely with no remote services, but many, 45% (n=194), ceased ILL of print materials. More than half (n=246/423; 58%) agreed that ILL requests likely to be filled from print remained unfilled more than is typical. Open-ended questions yielded 5 themes on ILL/DD staffing, setup, and systems; 6 on impacts for libraries and library users.

Conclusion: Lack of communication regarding collection availability and staffing resulted in delayed or unfilled requests. Hospital and academic libraries made similar decisions about continuing services but reported different experiences in areas such as purchasing digital content. Hybrid ILL/DD workflows may continue for managing these services.

Author Biography

Kristine M. Alpi, Associate Dean of Libraries & Information Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029

Associate Dean of Libraries & Information Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029

Previously: Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon


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Original Investigation