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WAAL 2008: RapidILL at the UW-Madison

Posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008 in WLA Blog Archive

  • Eric Robinson (WiLS) and Heather Weltin (UW-Madison)

RapidILL is excellent -

  • "It isn't the software that makes this work, it's the mindset"
  • Fill rate is 95% within 24 hours turnaround = convenience
  • Cuts out multiple steps to save time = efficiency
  • Reloads (updates) your holding records for you = accuracy
  • There have only been a couple hours when system was down, since October 2007
  • Soon, all you'll need is Odyssey, which is free
  • Technically, you don't even need an ILL system to use RapidILL
  • Not for book loans or book chapters, just for journal articles

Why did we purchase it?

  • No budget increase since 1999-2000 biennium budget
  • UW-Madison library budget is lowest in the Big 10
  • 40,000 students, physically large campus, with dozens of libraries
  • Memorial Library ILL "shop" specific; our health sciences library uses it separately
  • January 2007 we consolidated our 6 ILL shops into 3
  • RapidILL searching and processing faster than anything we had before
  • Unmediated RapidILL would have no staff intervention on campus - on the horizon at UW-Madison
  • Replaces our "Cancelled Title Project" - started this idea at Madison - journals that had been cancelled on campus, select publishers - instead of going through traditional ILL channels, we bought directly from vendor - help offset hassle to researchers; prioritized these requests
  • Replaces our "Rush Service" - very time sensitive and a lot of work - limited to fac/staff/grads - no questions asked - we prioritized these requests to find any way to get article - British Library per-article cost could be up to $60
  • We had been charging $2 per article for on-campus article scanning - students manually entered their fund accounts - typing errors and closed accounts resulted in a low 50% collection rate
  • Primary reason for RapidILL = cost savings - we had been spending $40,000/month, now $7,000/year

How does it work?

  • Need ISSN or OCLC number, and year to query RapidILL database
  • Click the "little yellow dot/ball" icon
  • # of library matches, with unique query #
  • Click import to ILL software, and voila!
  • What happens if RapidILL can't fill request? - your "pod" or "friend" libraries don't have article - usually means input error - pursue regular ILL
  • Checks for duplicate requests - not perfect, but no other system does this
  • Currently need to go online to RapidILL site occasionally - but won't have to go to live web with Unmediated RapidILL - bad citations will be a thing of the past - automatically send to patron
  • Right now, we rely on our students to check and send out requested articles (~40/hour)

Results: Requests

  • Requests are up
  • Allows us to staff more creatively - from multiple locations on campus - 7 days/week
  • Improved turnaround time


  • This work has to be done by somebody, 24 hours a day
  • Doesn't mean you have to supply everything from your collection
  • You give RapidILL all your records so they know what you already have to compare against requests, but you just give them an exclusion list for lending - only took me 3 hours
  • Everyone says their catalog is terrible, but RapidILL says there's no catalog they can't handle - it's true!
  • Need to know your licenses - electronic journals available for lending?
  • Test phase - 2-4 weeks where you can borrow but don't have to lend
  • They have an algorithm for the load balance - you lend at same rate that you borrow
  • "Pods" are pools of institutions with similar needs, likes, dislikes - can be in multiple lending pools - ARL, Carnegie E, Carnegie I, Boston area (includes public), Taiwan, etc.
  • When Hurricane Katrina hit, RapidILL helped institutions by allowing them to borrow without lending

Can you do it?

  • You can already do it, you just don't know you can do it
  • Check the RapidILL list against your existing lending/borrowing institutions - if already working with them, probably won't change your statistics
  • Trust
  • Integrated with ILLiad if you want all your stats in the same place, and your requests to print multiple per page
  • Get very specific shelf location and call #, in addition to ID # (and barcode) and Ariel IP address (and barcode) - allows easy staffing
  • Odyssey will make things better, cut out steps
  • Ariel older versions not recognizing current version requests (only 2 since October)
  • Batch updating - filled/unfilled
  • Can send notes about unfilled requests in natural language
  • Simple to do "resends" (fix mistakes)
  • Peer pressure to keep up with 24 hour turnaround - color codes on each request
  • Caveat: If you need to turn lending off, you also turn off borrowing...
  • RapidILL encourages you to innovate, and give away monetary recognition awards


  • Book lending is a possibility for some institutions
  • We fill 70% requests through Odyssey, rest in Ariel - more Odyssey = better, faster
  • UW-Madison fills 85% of everything sent to us, compared to national RapidILL average of 76%
  • We fill 2-3 times as much as other lenders get in
  • Turnaround = .53 days (average = .59)
  • Electronic journals included makes things faster
  • 44% of our campus requests were filled through RapidILL within half a day
  • RapidILL also has database of open access articles - it automatically fills within minutes
  • No question about it, YES we're going to keep RapidILL
  • We've prepared patrons by sending out messages: "Did you know that we can fill your request faster if you make your request through WorldCat etc.?"
  • Copyright fees are still an issue
  • Wisconsin pod is being discussed - all academic libraries, not just UW System


  • Pods? Some exclusive, others inclusive
  • Cost? Based on workload, still mom & pop shop, so very flexible
  • 24/7? Weekends don't count for lending (not required)
  • Copyright? Every campus has different licensing with vendors. Can't do permanent links or re-copy articles. Electronic journal article "print" versioning is just a couple clicks.
  • Public libraries? Major ones around the country participate, but RapidILL isn't specialized for lending popular materials
  • Odyssey? Will take over. Lots more people have it than you think. ILLiad is a dying software.
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