Thoughts on creating & retiring from the ILL SIG

Two years ago, I had a crazy idea to start a group by and for interlibrary loan folks. Why?

Because I was new to the area and needed some connections. Because I wanted to meet other interlibrary loan folks. Because I saw a need for community that wasn’t being met. Because there is great value in working together. That’s what prompted me to start this group, and that’s why this group works so well. The leaders, contributors, and participants all hold this value and uphold it as a core principle of doing interlibrary loan work.

The Interlibrary Loan Special Interest Group was founded:

  • to provide a free exchange of ideas and best practices
  • to encourage collegiality and mentorship
  • to provide free and local training opportunities
  • to provide professional development opportunities for library staff
  • to foster collaboration within the local community

Interlibrary loan work can be isolating. It is often done by one person or a small team at each library, and it is often not understood well by other library colleagues. Training and professional development opportunities are scarce, require travel, lack appropriate funding, and take you away from work that just piles up when you’re gone. That’s why establishing a community for interlibrary loan folks in the Kansas/Missouri geographic area was so important. It could break down those feelings of isolation and allow for easier access to (and greater distribution of) knowledge, mentorship, and expertise in the region.

We don’t all get funding to go to training or to conferences, but some of us do and we can bring that back to our friends and share the information. It doesn’t have to be “survival of the fittest” out there; we don’t have to feel bad about not knowing about the latest innovation or trying to figure out how to solve workflow problem all on our own. It doesn’t have to be that way. People are more likely to reach out to a group of people they actually know and like rather than to call tech support. It’s the same way we get recommendations for a good plumber from our neighbors. You want to source people you trust for information? Well, here we are, neighbor.

This group would be nothing without the people who helped make it what it is. Kari, a leader with impeccable grace and contagious enthusiasm. Ellie, a creator and a doer with utmost talent and natural wit. Jan, a brilliant innovator and warm heart with unmatched empathy, compassion, and understanding for library users and colleagues alike. Kari. Ellie. Jan. An amazing trio of women, whose dedication and passion to interlibrary loan (and the library profession) are without question. Karen, who was there early on and helped us shape our ideas into words. Kirsten, who offered valuable perspective. Kate, whose practicality, honesty, expertise, and determination made her a refreshing and welcome addition. Gabby, a champion for all this group holds dear and an example of what engagement among library staff can look like. This group. My colleagues. My friends.

Getting to know one another, not as OCLC symbols or stops on the same courier, but as people allows you to move mountains for your patrons. It’s the thing that allows you to say “yes” instead of “no” and put a smile on a patron’s face. When I have a student who is dying for a renewal on a book they’ve already renewed once, it’s an easy win to make a phone call to one of my colleagues and know they’ll do more than just consider my plea for two more weeks. When I have a faculty member with an obscure citation, it brings value to my position to be able to say, “I know someone there who will be willing to look through several volumes of this journal to find the right article.” I call in favors because it’s what I can do to bring more value to the already valued ILL service. And my colleagues call in favors to me as well, and I happily help them make it happen for their patrons too. Even in the age of technology, it’s the little neighborly things that make all the difference.  We need more “yes” in the world.

When I emceed the ILL SIG UnConference in August 2015, I knew I could crack jokes about ILL that everyone would get. There’s so much comfort found in a room full of people who laugh together at the struggle that is convincing partner libraries to update their address fields in OCLC constant data so that address labels print correctly. At the same time, we share some struggles, and that event, I hope, showed us that we don’t always know the answer and we’re all just doing the best we can with the information we have. I also hope that the magic of being in the same room with others who share your struggles is something this group will be able to re-create at least annually. There is so much to be learned from face-to-face interactions and small side conversations, from shaking hands with someone from the library who always loses your paperwork or removes the book bands you don’t want removed. Maybe they don’t know. Maybe it’s not them; maybe it’s the mail room staff. Learn about their workflow and have them learn yours. Empathize deeply. Then work together to resolve problems.

After the work I’ve put into building the SIG, I now step down to let some extremely capable leaders shape this group into what it needs to become for the present and future. I have three wishes for this group:

  1. To keep to its core mission.
  2. To sustain itself and become a solid, reliable, and integral entity for all ILL practitioners in the region.
  3. To continue to grow and gather followers who actively participate in events (virtual and in-person), interact with this blog, and post in the Facebook group.

If there is one thing I want others to learn from my experience, it’s that you can’t wait around for the thing you need to suddenly appear in your lap. You can’t wait for someone else to do the work to make it happen. It’s up to you. Find the motivation and do it. You don’t have to be a supervisor or a librarian with a degree to do something important. If there is something out there to improve the quality of your work life, and you’re not getting it, find it. Make it. Do it. Find like-minded people. Do it together. Don’t be a stick in the mud or a curmudgeon. You are as happy as you want to be at work. If you hate it, get out. It’s that simple. If you want to like it, but it’s lacking/stressful/gives you anxiety, find some friends and make it better for yourself.

There is great value in working together. Always remember that.

With ILL love,

Jen Salvo-Eaton
Head of Resource Sharing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries
Founder of the Interlibrary Loan Special Interest Group
Chair, 2013-2014
Chair Emeritus, 2014-2015


About Jen Salvo-Eaton

I'm the Head of Resource Sharing & Graduate Student Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I'm intent on being an ILLiad guru, but I have yet to unlock all of its secrets. I have a dangerous obsession with homemade ice cream.
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