Harvard, MIT to join Borrow Direct system
By Leslie Ye
Published on Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have joined the Borrow Direct inter-library loan program, which will increase volumes available to students from 30 million titles to 50 million by the time both institutions are fully integrated into the program, Dean of Libraries and Librarian of the College Jeffrey Horrell said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Borrow Direct merges the libraries of Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Princeton University, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania with the offerings in Baker-Berry Library. The College joined the consortium in the fall of 2002.
“Joining Borrow Direct is a significant new step for Harvard,” Peter Kosewski, Director of Publications and Communications at Harvard University Library, said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth. “We are delighted to work with our peer institutions on this important initiative that, ultimately, will provide access to a combined catalog of more than 50 million titles.”
Harvard and MIT’s decision to join Borrow Direct resulted from a year-long series of talks, according to Horrell, who led the various other institutions through the process of sharing their catalogues.
“The seven library directors met in early November, and after considerable internal discussions, [Harvard and MIT] decided to join the program,” Horrell said.
Through Borrow Direct, students can request any books or musical scores not available in the College’s library system from any of the other participating institutions, according to the Dartmouth website. Books usually arrive within four working days.
Borrow Direct has only recently developed the capabilities to integrate Harvard and MIT’s libraries into its system, according to Robert Krall, director of departmental libraries and resource sharing and delivery services at Penn.
“One of the issues on our end was that we wanted to migrate to a new service platform that would be more robust and handle the additional load,” Krall said.
The new software will ensure that Harvard and MIT will be able to transfer their libraries seamlessly into the Borrow Direct system, according to Peter Collins, information technology project leader at Penn. Collins is a former College access services librarian.
“[The collections] are obviously very large and will add greatly to the service and material available, but the underlying structure should make it fairly easy to target their collections and build that into the availability logic,” Collins said.
The “availability logic” is a key part of the Borrow Direct program, which is designed to ensure that no one institution is overloaded with loans, according to Collins. When a request is sent through Borrow Direct, a database determines which institutions have the desired title and sends a request to whichever university has loaned out the least number of volumes.
Horrell, who last worked at Harvard as the associate librarian for collections, said that concerns over excessive use of Harvard’s library system may have delayed its participation in the Borrow Direct program.
Borrow Direct directors said that the implementation of the program would not hinder any of Harvard or MIT’s daily operations, and that collection size was not necessarily indicative of lending rates.
“We definitely talked about overuse of their collections,” Collins said. “From my experience, it’s the larger collections that use the service more. Columbia and Yale use the system more than Dartmouth and Brown do, for example, so the ratio of lending and borrowing is advantageous.”
Horrell said that the new partnership will open a new world of scholarship to Dartmouth students and faculty, particularly because of the ease of the system.
“It adds so many more sources to quickly draw upon, and I think that’s the real advantage,” Horrell said.
Directors at participating Borrow Direct institutions expressed enthusiasm for the potential that Harvard and MIT’s membership will offer.
“We’re all really excited about this partnership,” Collins said. “I remember when I used to work at Dartmouth, some of the tour guides would say, ‘Oh, we have this inter-library loaning system that includes everyone except Harvard.’ It’s just so nice to close that loop and bring in MIT as well, which should have a lot of technical resources that we might not be as strong on in our library collections.”
Invitations had been extended to both institutions at the program’s inception almost a decade ago, according to Horrell.
“Neither of the institutions were really in a position to consider it, partly because of the technology and the systems they had, and now that proves to be not as much of an obstacle as it was a decade ago,” Horrell said.
A Nov. 2009 report released by a Harvard task force studied the university’s library system and cited cost as the primary obstacle to Borrow Direct membership.
“Currently, participation in Borrow Direct is not feasible due to the anticipated overhead costs that would be incurred under the current financial model,” the report said. “However, if Harvard were to reconsider how the costs for the library were structured, it may become more feasible to consider membership.”
As Harvard and MIT work to implement the program this year, costs will remain relatively low, according to Collins.
“It shouldn’t require very many [new staff members] ,” Collins said. “Usually there is one focal person overseeing the operation, and after that, it’s maybe another staff person to pull and package books. The platform itself is streamlined so that it’s not too labor intensive as more inter-library operations are.”
Representatives from MIT did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The original article stated that the addition of Harvard and MIT's collections would increase Borrow Direct's available volumes from 50 million to 70 million. In fact, the system will have 50 million titles after the integration of Harvard and MIT. The original article also stated that the two libraries would be fully integrated into Borrow Direct by Summer 2011 when in fact they will begin service in 2011.