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Case Study: North West Libraries Interlending Partnership’s Use of SUNCAT

Quote: SUNCAT has to have an impact on supply rates to borrowers… Certainly it helps us to deliver our service to our users and helps those libraries to supply to their end users.
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This case study is based on an interview with Gillian Wilson, North West Libraries Interlending Partnership (NWLIP) Manager.


August 2011

Details of Service

NWLIP is a service provided by Lancashire Library Service in association with the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) North West. The Partnership provides Inter Library Loan (ILL) support services to libraries in the north west of England.

NWLIP provides an email based location search service for academic partner libraries. It also provides a forum for partnership networking, exchange of good practice and a programme of training and events.

Scale and Impact of Service

NWLIP currently has 31 partners, 11 academic partner libraries and 20 public library authorities based in the North West of England.

The location service is available to NWLIP Higher Education and Further Education partners. The service handles around 50-60 requests per month, with an increasing number of requests for journal articles.

The service saves NWLIP subscribers a great deal of time as the process of locating items can be quite labour intensive. Anomalies related to title or other details provided by the end-user arise frequently, but an expert and comprehensive search service ensures more ILL requests are fulfilled.

NWLIP also saves subscribers money by identifying partnership locations first; reciprocal lending between these partners means that subscribers only have to pay for requests fulfilled by libraries outside the partnership.


“For journal articles…SUNCAT is the first port of call.”

The NWLIP location service receives email requests from its subscribers, including details such as title, author, year, page numbers etc. Some subscribers conduct a quick initial search and only submit requests where they cannot easily locate an item, while other subscribers automatically pass on all of their ILL requests.

A growing number of requests are for journal articles and for these the first port of call is SUNCAT. The requests often only contain truncated journal title details so the SUNCAT cross referencing is invaluable. If the journal cannot be found on SUNCAT, it usually means that there is a problem or error with the request details. In such cases an Internet search can help to clarify the details, at which point the SUNCAT search can be repeated with the updated information. On some occasions a quick search is conducted on Copac, while this rarely produces an alternative title to that on SUNCAT, it does sometimes produce additional locations. Although, not all the NWLIP libraries are included in SUNCAT it’s not usual to check these separately as the item can generally be found among the journal holdings available on SUNCAT.

Once the libraries holding the particular year, volume and issue are located on SUNCAT the details are sent back to the subscriber along with the relevant British Library codes. Other NWLIP partnership library locations are highlighted first due to the reciprocal interlending agreement, however, all available locations are listed ensuring that the search service is fully comprehensive.

Key Functionality of SUNCAT for NWLIP

“It’s really useful for lots of things, it will translate the details supplied by the borrower so that when I enter citation details into SUNCAT, even if I have no knowledge of that journal, SUNCAT will provide cross references, which is excellent.”

“the results look very clear.”

Firstly, the bibliographic details are important in order to verify details, spellings, dates, titles etc. as provided in the ILL requests. Secondly, the holdings information is also vital to find out which libraries hold the journals and the particular years required. The cross references are particularly useful for finding out if and when journals have changed title or if the request only includes truncated journal title details.

Value of SUNCAT for NWLIP

1) Improves Supply Rate to Borrowers

“For a journal request I’ll rely primarily on SUNCAT.”

“Generally speaking if the journal exists and the details are correct there is normally something on SUNCAT. I don’t think I very often come across anything I haven’t been able to trace. If I can’t find any record at all on SUNCAT that suggests to me there’s something wrong with the details the borrower has given.”

Using SUNCAT has an obvious impact on the supply rates to borrowers. Journal article requests have increased, perhaps due to users finding more information on the Internet, so SUNCAT helps NWLIP libraries to supply to their end users.

The success rate searching on SUNCAT is very good, if a journal exists it is usual to find some information on SUNCAT.

2) Provides Cost Effective Solution for Locating Journal Articles

Without SUNCAT, resources would be greatly reduced with only limited resources such as Copac, and Internet searches available to check if the item is available to buy or download for free. It would be necessary to investigate creating a centralised catalogue for the North West but obviously there would be a considerable cost involved.

“[Not having SUNCAT] would have a big impact. My resources would be cut down… we may not be able to provide the location search service to our users, as it may not be cost effective to provide this service without a centralised catalogue."

3) Provides Bibliographic Information for the Verification of Request Details

“…it’s not just the holdings, but the bib details, which are really valuable”

What else could SUNCAT do?

Ideally it would be useful to be able to sort results into regions or to just have a view of North West libraries holdings with the option to expand out to a full search if required.

It would also be useful to be able to sort results by year of holdings as this is key information for ILL requests.

Separating ejournals from print journals would be helpful as hard copy is often the first choice for ILL. Many NWLIP subscribers shy away from electronic resources due to uncertainty regarding different licence restrictions and many libraries have a blanket policy of not supplying electronic format.

The inclusion of the British Library codes beside the library names in the holdings display would help more than anything. Each UK library has an identifying code which is used by a number of ILL systems, so having this detail on SUNCAT would save time checking codes on the British Library website.

Finally, it would be preferable to have fewer duplicate records for the same title to reduce the time required to check several records.