Interlibrary Loan has always been a crucial part of the academic library. It is a system designed to provide the researcher with materials his or her home library may not possess but are critical for their research. The research needs place a premium on getting the items in an efficient and effective manner. The evolution of interlibrary loan has centered on this concept of efficiency and effectiveness. Technology has provided a solution to many of the issues but as technology improves we must continue to find ways of providing efficient and effective service. We must look to other industries that can provide a model of how we can improve what we do. Improving and adapting to new patron expectations is how resource-sharing professionals can illustrate to patrons why resource sharing continues to be a valued and necessary service. Unfortunately, while technological innovation is the impetus, it is not enough we must begin to look elsewhere. The reason resource-sharing units must look elsewhere centers on the notion that while technology may change a great many things, the human element will remain, so it is necessary to learn how to match the human elements with the evolving needs of the patron. One concept that resource-sharing professionals and managers can look to is a type of management those of us in interlibrary loan may have been doing for some time and have never realized. These types of industry managers are called logisticians and they focus on supply-chain management and logistics. It is here where those of us in resource sharing can learn new models of delivery and service that can help keep us working to serve the patrons for years to come.

At first glance, some might ask: What does supply-chain management have to do with resource sharing/interlibrary loan? They may also ask: We are a library funded by public funds or student fees, what could we possibly learn from a for-profit business model? The answer to these questions is at the heart of how we can look to improve the interlibrary loan service in the years to come. Before we address these questions, though, we must first begin to try and understand supply-chain management. Jay Forrester (1958, p. 37) points out,

Management is on the verge of a major breakthrough in understanding how industrial company success depends on the interaction between the flows of information, materials, money, manpower, and capital equipment. The way these five flow systems interlock to amplify one another and to cause change and fluctuation will form a basis for anticipating the effects of decisions, policies, organizational forms, and investment choices.

His quote marks the beginning of a theory in a new type of business model, one that begins to argue that the success of a company depends on the interaction between a variety of systems and processes. He further argues that for the future executive to be successful he must begin to understand the conceptual models of his/her business. Forrester (1958, p. 38) continues further:

The task of management is to interrelate the flows of information, materials, manpower, money, and capital equipment so as to achieve a higher standard of living, stability of employment, profit to the owners, and rewards appropriate to the success of the managers.

Forrester is arguing for a new model of management, one that sees a manager as an assembler of many different types of information. He is concerned that for too long business schools have been compartmentalized or siloed into a variety of unique tasks. His argument though is what underlies these “unique” tasks are a series of behaviors, and if these behaviors can be understood the manager can create a more holistic understanding of management and business functions. After looking at Forrester, one might ask, don’t libraries do that already? We do; we often examine the processes we currently undertake for their successes or failures. We adapt other successful practices from different libraries as our own. We understand the needs of the patron (customer). However, what we fail to do and, this is primarily within interlibrary loan, we fail to see how we as a single unit interrelate to other ILL units as a functioning entity of a larger information supply system. This concept removes the academic library in particular from an individual focus to a larger conceptualization that takes into account the interrelationship between libraries. As we begin to unravel this new concept of the interrelationship between libraries, Forrester (1958) can give us some guiding principles. He argues that there have been certain advances in recent years, i.e., 1958, that give us new tools we must use. Those tools are Data Processing, Strategic thinking, Feedback Control, and Simulation. Using these new tools, we can analyze a system to understand the interrelationship between the different parts. To analyze a system, Forrester (1958) argues that he must know three parts those parts are: organizational structure, delays in decisions, or actions and policies. For now, we will note this process for later analysis and application but there have been other important contributions in understanding supply-chain management that we must address. Supply-chain management can also be understood as a co-evolution of business practices.

Bechtel and Jayaram (1997, p. 15) argue that supply-chain management can be understood as “the interconnection of key processes within firms and between firms" Supply-chain management for Bechtel and Jayaram (1997) is not necessarily about logistics but more about the interrelationship between the consumers and the competitors that allows business to co-evolve around a certain product. Adding in the term logistics to this argument brings up an important caveat. Supply-chain management is not the study of logistics. Supply-chain management may have arisen out of the study of logistics but is it not logistics itself. Supply-chain management is an understanding of the relationship between processes. Logistics is the study of the movement and processes involved in the movement of items. It is important, though, to understand how the two different ideas can inform one another to provide us a better understanding of supply-chain management.

Logistics is defined by the Council of Logistics Management in an article entitled Supply Chain Management: More than a New Name for Logistics by Cooper et al. (1997, p. 1) as

The process of planning, implementing, and controlling the efficient, cost-effective flow and storage of raw materials, in process inventory, finished goods, and related information flow from point of origin to point of consumption for the purpose of confirming customer requirements.

This quote is very interesting and can help give us some perspective on two very complex topics as we move forward in our understanding of supply-chain management. First logistics by this definition is merely the monitoring and processing of goods. In library terms we practice a type of logistics every day. One type of logistics for a library is in the acquiring and processing of books which for us are the final goods for our consumers the patrons. Logistics then is more about the movement of goods from what is known as downstream facilities to upstream customers. Logistics analyzes the efficient movement of items and looks to create the best processes possible. While this type of business analysis would be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of how interlibrary loan items move about the building and are processed for delivery. The downside is that logistics does not take into account the whole process. Logistics only looks at the movement of physical items. It is only by taking into account the whole process can we better understand how supply-chain management can give us a new perspective in interlibrary loan and libraries in general.

So what is the difference? Supply-chain management is a holistic analysis of an entire process, not merely examining the movement of items. Supply-chain management seeks to understand, for example, how the customer experience can impact the supply of good from the warehouse to how the delivery of items can affect the desire of a customer to use your service again. If we try to examine this from an interlibrary loan standpoint, logistics would be the monitoring and analysis of how books are pulled from the shelf boxed and shipped. Supply-chain analysis would take into account the request form the patron uses, the imported data from OCLC, the routing rules used to govern and sort items, the staff training, and expertise, the type of boxes used and the speed of delivery. Supply-chain management creates a more comprehensive analysis that allows the ILL manager to look at the system as a whole and make adaptations and evolutions as necessary. What is also important with this example is that we cannot overlook the library or patron receiving the item and the behavior associated with that. The delivery location and processes are also part of the supply chain and can have an impact. It is expanding the analysis beyond the boundaries of the individual library where the greatest impact on change and evolution of the interlibrary loan process can be felt. It is important to consider another aspect of the supply chain that has yet to be discussed. As James Ayers (2001, p. 5) describes in the book Handbook of Supply Chain Management

The supply chain is not limited in terms of flow direction. Many consider supply chains only in terms of flow from suppliers to end users. For the physical processes, this is largely true. But supply chain design cannot ignore backward flows for product returns, rebates, incentive payments, and so forth. So much of what flows in the supply chain is two ways, including physical product, information, money and knowledge.

Ayers (2001) points out a very important idea as we move forward in our analysis. We cannot view the interlibrary loan supply chain as something that is completed merely when the book returns from the borrowing library or when the scan is electronically delivered. There are other things that we can learn and analyze even after the logistical process of delivery is completed, that can help build a better supply chain and thus help build a better interlibrary loan network. The implication is that even after the book is logistically delivered there are still opportunities for supply-chain management. Especially as departments evolve into resource sharing. The relationship does not end with delivery, there is assessment and analysis that must be undertaken.

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