Thursday, September 3, 2015

Quantifying the impact of ILL

Guest Post written by Mitchell Scott, UW-Milwaukee

As Resource sharing/ILL professionals, most of us are undoubtedly quite vocal about the importance of RS/ILL as an impactful and necessary library service. Within academic libraries and academia, we are fortunate to have a metric, student GPA, that gives us the ability to actually attempt to chart the correlational impact, (and maybe a little causational?), of ILL upon the academic success of the students that use the ILL service. At UW-Green Bay, I did just this and conducted a study that looked at two years of student ILL data, the GPA of the students that used the ILL service over this two year period and compared this to the GPA of the students that did not use the ILL service. The result allowed UW-Green Bay to turn anecdotal arguments for the importance of ILL into quantitative evidence that ILL plays an important role in the information-seeking behaviors of our highest academically achieving students.

I found the greatest quantifiable impact to exist in a subset of ILL users, ILL journal article users. The initial analysis of ILL users’ GPA compared to non-users’ GPA showed only a marginal difference.  But in focusing strictly on the students that used ILL for articles and, more importantly, the number of article requests that they place over the two year period, this study uncovered valuable data on the quantifiable impact of ILL for articles at UW-Green Bay.

The quantity of article requests were coded in one of three groups, low volume article use (1-9 articles), medium volume (10-19) and high volume ILL article use (20-142). This chart shows the GPA of ILL article users based on their year in school at the end of the two-year reporting period and the number of article requests that they placed during this time frame.
Mitchell Scott - Graph of GPA & ILL findings
The GPA of ILL article users, especially high volume users, takes on even greater weight when compared to non-users. Freshman high volume ILL users had a mean GPA 1.43 higher than non-ILL users and freshman medium volume ILL users a GPA 1.06 higher. As students progressed through the university, these gaps lessened but ILL high volume users consistently showed a significant GPA gap compared to non-ILL users or even low volume ILL users.

What does all of this mean? Many academic libraries are currently wrestling with an unwinnable situation involving shrinking or flat collection budgets and the increasing cost of electronic journal subscriptions. Within academic libraries, our users can only immediately access the materials to which we have subscriptions. The high cost of electronic journal subscriptions means that our ability to provide the depth of coverage that our users expect is stunted.  ILL then becomes our users only bridge to previously subscribed content or new content deemed too expensive to subscribe. While this makes ILL an important service,  this data shows it is a necessary service and one that has been incorporated into the information-seeking behaviors of our highest academically achieving users.

Want to take a look at the complete study? If your institution does not have a subscription, you’ll have to ILL it (something I think everyone is comfortable with). It can be found in the Journal of Access Services: Interlibrary Loan Article Use and User GPA: Findings and Implications for Library Services

Written by: Mitchell Scott
Collection Assessment and Analysis Librarian