The Library of Congress is now filling interlibrary loan requests for small, fragile items by scanning the material and making the images available over the Internet.
Under the new service, still in its early stages, the requesting library is alerted that, although the item is noncirculating, it will be available at a specific time as a digital image. These images can be viewed and copied from the Library's interlibrary loan Web site and from the online cataloging record.
The service is intended to explore the practicality of scanning, storing and delivering materials as digital images within the time requirements of interlibrary loan clients. In its initial stage, the service will scan titles that are:
- in the public domain,
- noncirculating because of physical condition or age,
- able to be captured in a relatively small digital file and
- have a cataloging record on the Web in which to place a link.
The motto of the service is "Copy Once, Access Always." Items scanned so far include eyewitness accounts from the Civil War, a small volume of African American dialect poems and photographs and a farcical account of a marriage ceremony at a racetrack. These and other examples of items requested by interlibrary loan clients can be seen at: www.loc.gov/rr/loan/illscanhome.html.
In the past, small items that were too fragile to circulate on interlibrary loan had to be photocopied. If the item was requested again, the same procedure had to be repeated. By scanning this material and linking the images to the cataloging record, the Library responds to the initial interlibrary loan request, helps to conserve the original item by eliminating the need for further photocopying and makes the digital copy widely accessible.
In preparation for digital delivery, each item is reviewed and treated by conservation staff as necessary, then scanned and archived as a 300 dpi TIFF image by staff from the Library's Information Technology Services. The archived images are then converted to PDF format and stored as single-item files on a publicly accessible server. PDF was chosen as the format because of its ease of access and the ability to download and print the entire work as one file. A link to the PDF file is also added to the catalog record on the Web, substituting a mouse click for a loan request in the future and increasing the accessibility of the Library's collections to remote users everywhere.
The new service began in earnest in mid-October with the delivery of a Revolutionary War broadside, a 19th century pamphlet on the Hawaiian reciprocity treaty, and an item on freemasonry -- all with deadlines. As the service matures, administrators will evaluate the acceptability of digital images in lieu of photocopies and exploring how to integrate a digital scanning operation into routine document delivery services.
Small items in the public domain currently make up less than 1 percent of items requested from the Library of Congress, or approximately 350 items per year at the current level of use. However, the service has already proved popular as an alternative to photocopying for rare material and may actually increase the number of items "circulated" from previously off-limits collections.