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One for the books

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Mark Agoncillo looks over a divider at books waiting to be distributed to different libraries on campus. Agoncillo has worked at Suzzallo Library for almost two years.

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Books being transferred between libraries have a sheet in them indicating where the books need to be directed.

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(from left) Interlibrary borrowing supervisor Heidi Nance, student employee Kayla Johnson and Coordinator for Access Services Thomas Deardorff open a 100-year-old book ordered by Interlibrary Loan.

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Jung-Ho Ryu, an Interlibrary Loan truck driver, uses small book satchels if just a few books or magazines need to be carried into a library. When many books need transport, he uses a dolly specifically designed for books.

A mysterious-looking office bustles with activity on the ground floor of the UW’s Suzzallo Library. Stacks of books, many from other states, and even other countries, rest on carts and line the walls; they are labeled and ready for pick up. The delivery man arrives with a new shipment of books from places as varied as Harvard and Australia.

This is the office of the UW’s Interlibrary Loans (ILL). Much of the work that takes place downstairs in this office feeds and fuels the research done by undergraduates, graduate students and staff upstairs in Suzzallo and across campus.

The ILL tracks down books, texts and articles that students and staff request for research. Although the UW library system, which currently owns approximately 7 million volumes, is expansive, students often need an item that is not currently in the system. This is when the ILL takes action.

“We’ll search the whole world and say: ‘Who has this?’” said Heidi Nance, the borrowing supervisor of ILL.

Students can request books any time online through the UW library catalogue. If the requested item is not currently available in the UW’s library system, the ILL then looks in the Summit catalogue, a conglomerate of 35 regional libraries that exchange books on a daily basis. When the book cannot be found in Summit, the ILL staff searches library catalogues across the world.

This job of locating hard-to-find texts was made easier in May 2007 with the implementation of WorldCat, an international library catalogue framework. The UW was the first university in the United States to mainstream such a system; California schools soon followed.

With this framework in place, international borrowing has increased by 300 percent, said Thomas Deardorff, the coordinator of access services.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Nance said. “You might have to dig in some really obscure catalogues to find what you’re looking for.”

Most borrowing outside of the UW library and Summit systems happens within the United States. A high volume of exchanges takes place with Harvard University, as the school’s libraries have a unique collection.

However, the ILL does, at times, search overseas. Common countries include Germany, which includes a large collection of historical texts, and Australia, which has a wide array of journals and newspapers. Britain is also a common book-search locale.

This overseas borrowing is expensive; it costs between $25 and $100 for shipping and processing. Such borrowing is free for students and professors as long as the texts they seek are research-related.

A brief survey of the books in the ILL office shows a diverse array of student requests. From The Status and Role of Cinnamon Cultivation in Sri Lanka in 1993 to ancient Chinese scrolls, the ILL is almost always able to track down a needed text.

Processing requests at an average of once every minute each day and night, the ILL office stays busy and has hired about 25 students to help process and distribute books.

Mark Agoncillo is one of these students; he works as a book processor.

His job is to band and label incoming books that are to be placed on the hold shelves.

“It’s a very fun job. It’s fascinating to see what people are studying,” said Agoncillo, as he showed off one of the books he was processing, titled Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today. The book’s front cover boasts it is a “thrilling account of a secret world with its own laws and obsessions.”

Agoncillo also finds his work relaxing. He said that even though the job requires a detail-oriented approach and a high level of focus, it is a nice break from studying for his computer science major.

Working in the UW library system, which currently employs 500 students, is also convenient. Students can quickly transition from work to class and back. Agoncillo works five hours on Tuesday and Thursday, and he enjoys the flexibility his schedule offers.

“Throughout high school, I’ve worked in the library, so this job seemed to be a natural fit,” said Genna Watson, a UW freshman who helps in processing books borrowed from other colleges.

Watson is an avid reader herself, so she, like Agoncillo, is amazed to see some of the books that come through the ILL office. To her excitement and surprise, Watson has seen her own favorite book, A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, come through the ILL office on occasion.

“Seeing the books people have requested is very entertaining,” she said. Dreams from My Father — the UW’s common book for next year — and The Audacity of Hope, both by Barack Obama, are the most-requested books so far this year, Watson has observed.

Meanwhile, above ground on the UW’s campus, thousands of books are moved from library to library — from Suzzallo to the M.G. Gallagher Law Library, for example — every day.

To make these exchanges efficient and smooth, a truck makes daily morning and afternoon runs to each of the libraries so students can pick up their requests at convenient locations.

Recently, a noon book-run was added to service the law and undergraduate libraries, said Marty Nolan, a library facility supervisor.

Jung-Ho Ryu is a full-time truck driver for the ILL.

“I have the best job in the world,” he said as he stacked books onto a large truck before distributing them to the several libraries on campus.

The truck traffics books regardless of the weather: Rain or shine, the books must go through. To protect books against the rain, Ryu uses an innovative plastic cover strapped onto his book cart. It protects valuable books from Seattle’s often wet, unpredictable weather.

For now, the ILL enables the UW to maintain one of the top research libraries in the world, Nance said;

“It’s very rewarding when you’ve hunted down this item, and it comes through your door.”

Reach contributing writer Brian Byrnes at development@dailyuw.com.

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