Happy Ending (to Collateral Damage)

In a previous post on Collateral Damage I refer to a happy ending to the damaging experience.  In accepting the only available position left in the reorganization (head of circulation), I was able to negotiate more money and a second unit into the deal.  Adding interlibrary loan to circulation created a new department that was dubbed access- an emerging trend in those days – and I became the access librarian.

I knew little about circulation, but I did know computing – which was the expertise needed.  After a few months of problem solving and demanding good service from the system vendor, my staff and I reduced system downtime from 32% to 2%!  And, over the course of a year, we managed to end the feud between the computer room and the desk staff.  But that is another story.

When I became access librarian, I knew even less about interlibrary loan than I did about circulation.  Granted, as a graduate student, I had gotten the occasional book through ILL.  And, I did know that the acknowledgements pages in scholarly books often featured effusive thanks to interlibrary staff. 

I was initially cowed by the experience of the staff.  The librarian who did the catalog searching for ILL was retiring after 50 years.  The supervisor of the support staff had been in her position for 35 years – longer than I had been alive.  And in those days, interlibrary loan staff worked in isolation from the rest of the library staff so I didn’t even know them casually.  

I got to know them and gained their confidence by happy accident.  Doing research for my first-ever conference presentation, I sat at an empty table in the department, capturing data from the various forms that documented turn-around time for requests – as business went on around me.  The research results, comparing the turn-around times for requests submitted by mail, by telex machine, and through OCLC and the Research Libraries Group, were embarrassing obvious.  However, my sitting there for weeks got the staff used to my presence; I got to know them and they were no longer afraid of me.  And I was able to use what I absorbed to to justify new equipment and more student assistants and to recommend a some  changes that reduced work backlogs.

And it turned out that I got involved in ILL at just the right moment.   I participated in the ten-year revision of the American Library Association’s Interlibrary Loan Code and witnessed the loosening of the tight regulations on who had the right to borrow through interlibrary loan and what could be lent.  The code changed from ILL service being restricted to faculty and graduate students writing dissertations to include the entire university community – even undergraduates!  And restrictions on what could be lent (no geneology materials, please) also were relaxed.

A number of groundbreaking events were making transformational change possible. I was able to play a part in transforming interlibrary loan from a cottage industry to a high-volume operation, surviving the explosion of demand for ILL by retraining rather than increasing staff. 

The changes ground-breaking in interlibrary loan are another story.  But riding that wave of transformation made my career, first propelling me to national attention and ultimately to regional and North American leadership positions.  So, the collateral damage I incurred earlier led to unexpected opportunities.