Document delivery systems


What is document delivery?

Why use document delivery?

What is interlibrary loan?

What are the developments in document delivery systems?

British Library Document Supply Centre

What is ARIEL?

Document delivery systems at Thames Valley University

Document delivery systems in other academic libraries

Possible improvements in TVU document delivery systems



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What is document delivery?

Document delivery refers to all aspects of the process of providing documents to end-users regardless of whether the request is made directly by the user or is intermediated by a library, or where or what type of source provides the document.

Why use document delivery?

In the case of libraries which aim is to give the better possible service to its users by providing efficient access to information, a document delivery service becomes a necessity. Users' expectations and demands grow constantly. The library has to be able to provide them with as wide an array of information as possible. Because of the inability of being self-sufficient, libraries have to co-operate between them via interlibrary loan, with document supply centres or commercial document supply centres.

What is interlibrary loan?

Interlibrary loan (ILL), which involves the mutual lending and borrowing of materials, was the primary mechanism for sharing resources.

In the last 40 years the use of this service has increased notably. This is due in part to the improvement of requesting procedures or to the increased access of users to bibliographic information.

According to Kennedy, "the ability to deliver a primary document to a user in the form of a photocopy expanded the traditional domain of interlibrary loan from a simple book lending to include document delivery systems"1.

Nowadays interlibrary loan is no longer library to library only but library to commercial source and vice versa as well.

What are the developments in document delivery systems?

Traditionally, librarians have acted as intermediaries on behalf of the end-users requesting documents that are not held locally. The professional is in charge of requesting the material by post or electronically, faxing or photocopying it when received and dispatching the copy to the users.

This traditional document delivery and request business presents a number of weaknesses that raise concern. Delivery time is less than satisfactory and photocopies and faxes do not always produce material of the expected quality. Fax reproduction has specially been criticised.

Developments in document delivery systems are overcoming these weaknesses by "allowing end-users to identify material themselves, on their own personal computer, without the need of an intermediary in a form that will allow a high quality print to be produced locally"2.

This is already provided by the British Library Document Delivery Centre via Inside, recently launched in December 1997, or other document delivery suppliers.

The British Library Document Supply Centre

The British Library Document Supply Centre provides a worldwide document delivery service to individuals or organisations. It is a clearly efficient service that satisfies 90% of all requests from its own stock and deal with them in 24-48 hours of receipt (first class mail is used to dispatch copies).

It provides a wide range of requesting methods such as:

 Since December 1997, Inside, a document delivery project of the British Library, has been launched. Initially called DISCovery this system had the objective of changing the way users accessed and received information from the British Library.

Now, Inside allows end-users sitting at their personal computers to identify information of interest, order documents and have them delivered to their desk tops.

As a first step document delivery is being offered via ARIEL. "A further development will integrate requests for material from paper and electronic stores and send them in any desired format. For customers this will introduce both greater flexibility and faster delivery"3.

As Frank B. Oliver, who worked for Inside Project for 18 months, said "we have entered the age of home or desktop shopping. Commodities can be ordered from the home or office and the concept of direct selling to an end-user is with us and is set to expand"4.

The British Library has other document supply services such as the Patent Express, the Picture Library and the reprographic units from the Humanities and Social Sciences directorate in London.

What is ARIEL?

ARIEL is a document delivery system run on the Internet, that has been qualified as high-speed, high-quality and cost-effective. It was developed in 1990 by the Research Libraries Group (RLG) of the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN). By scanning an article directly from a journal it can be sent from one place to another. Text and graphics are digested into the computer, transmitted over the Internet, and printed on a laser printer at the receiving end.

ARIEL has been said to be "a cost-effective alternative to fax"5 by Sonja Landes, a reference Librarian at Milne Library in New York. Some of the key advantages that ARIEL has over the fax are: "no long-distance phone charges; high image resolution; original source can be scanned; can send and receive documents at the same time; does not require dedicated equipment; and documents can be stored and forwarded at a later time"6.

In February 1997, ARIEL version 2 was released. It gives the choice of sending and receiving documents through MIME (multipurpose Internet mail extensions).

Document delivery systems at Thames Valley University

The Learning Resource Centre based in Ealing provides an interlibrary loan service both to staff and students. This service is run through Talis that allows the librarians to contact the BLDSC electronically. This is done via a type of e-mail that is built into the system.

The request is then delivered by courier van in two or three days time and the librarian is in charge of passing it to the customer. The materials provided are generally books, photocopied articles (that can be kept by the requester), Thesis, Government papers, reports and grey literature.

Even if each of the items has a delivery cost of £5.00 (or more for materials such as Thesis), the students, who are allowed up to 30 requests per academic year only have to pay £1.00 per request. Members of the staff are allowed to order up to 20 items per academic year without being charged for them, since the goal of their demands is education.

The possibility of using facsimile is not considered due to the poor quality of the copies and the expense that it would carry.

At the moment the only two systems that provide the full text of an article requested by a student directly to the computer he is using in TVU are:

- Business periodical on disc

- Profile

Document delivery systems in other academic libraries

FIDDO, the Focused Investigation of Document Delivery Options, is a project that tests "live" situations of document need and supply in libraries. It has conducted a survey of current practice in UK academic library ILL Departments.

A detailed questionnaire returned from 165 libraries revealed that:

As a conclusion the BLDSC is said to be the better service when talking of reliability, satisfaction of requests and print quality. It is significant that in the near future, 40% of the libraries are considering using Electronic Document Delivery (EDD) services.

Possible improvements in TVU document delivery systems

The possibility of implementing an EDD system available directly to the end-user in TVU can not be afforded economically at the moment. This does not mean that in two or three years this possibility could become a project or even a reality.

The age of the comfort is here and the expectations of the users increase constantly.

Students and staff would be able, via the computers available in the LRC, to search for the documents required, order them and receive them directly to the terminal they use, without intermediaries.

The implementation of Inside (the BLDSC project) in the LRC would bring this service to the users via ARIEL. It would improve both information and knowledge management by facilitating the access to information and speeding up the whole process.

TVU services will gain in quality and efficiency by providing the best possible service.

What is more, providing this document delivery system will facilitate the running of other possible innovations such as videoconferencing. Access to the documents required for these sessions would be prompt.

Another possibility would be the one treated by Tony Barry in his article "Document delivery from the library catalogue"7. It explains how the Web enabled library catalogue makes possible to enhance online access to the content of journals by linking a catalogue entry to a document delivery service for that journal. The required article could then be located and transferred either direct to the browser, via e-mail or through some other means.

The LRC could then provide access to journals it did not held. The only point that raises concern would be the payment of the service. The two possible solutions would be either the user paying or the library having arranged some form of subsidy.

Uncover already provides a service where a library can subsidise access for users from their domain, so precedents exist for such a service.

This service could be implemented in the LRC by following some steps: elaboration of a list of the journals held by the LRC; supply the vendor with a copy of it; elaboration of a list of possible relevant journals for the LRC; selection of the titles of interest; supply of the records of the chosen journals (with URLs to the document delivery service) that the LRC would load to its Web enabled OPAC.


Even if it is not the purpose of this paper to analyse the problem of Copyright at least it has to be mentioned the importance of it. Electronic information exists in a form that can be reproduced with even greater speed and ease than paper-based using photocopy machines. It can also be transferred from user to user, computer to computer, without anybody else knowing about it.

Solutions such as subscriptions to cover the charges established by publishers in order to cover copyright costs are used in some systems. But at the moment publishers seem to be happier using fax reproduction.

It is thought that in the future the Copyright issue would be solved and the problems it produces would hopefully vanished. This would be a very positive improvement even if it is expected that it would take quite a long time to be achieved.


1 Kennedy, S. The role of commercial document delivery services in interlibrary loan. IN Interlibrary and Document Supply. Vol. 15, No.3, 1987, p.67-73.

2 Oliver, F.B. End-user document access, retrieval and delivery systems - a developer's tale. IN Interlibrary and Document Supply. Vol.24, No. 3, 1996, p.18.

3 Director's Christmas Message. IN The British Library Document Supply News. No. 56, December 1997, p.2-3.

4 Oliver, F.B. End-user document access, retrieval and delivery systems - a developer's tale. IN Interlending and Document Supply. Vol. 24, No. 3, 1996, p 21.

5 Landes, S. ARIEL document delivery: a cost-effective alternative to fax. IN Interlending and document supply. Vol. 25, No. 3, 1997, p.113.

6 Ibid. p.113

7 Barry, T. Document delivery from the library catalogue. August 1997. Available on :