The current situation NHS library resource sharing: market review and options appraisal

The systems and processes used by NHS LKS for ILDS in England are fragmented and complex

The infrastructure includes multiple library management systems, some instances of specialised ILDS software solutions, some regional databases of library holdings and various resource-sharing lists.2 NHS library staff typically use multi-step processes to receive, check, source and supply requests. With little connectivity between systems, these processes often involve copying/pasting information and maintaining the same data in different places. 

Recent engagement with LKS in the East of England and in Kent, Surrey and Sussex on the ‘pains and gains’ associated with using library systems indicate that ILDS is the work area with the potential for most improvement, a job which is critical, undertaken very frequently and associated with varying degrees of frustration.3  

Although reciprocal sharing between NHS libraries is long-established, the current lack of any means of automated ‘load balancing’ to ensure a fair distribution of requests can deter libraries from uploading all their holdings to shared lists, whilst the need to manually upload local records can lead to quality issues. Commenting of the LAWMunion scheme, one librarian remarked, ‘not all e-journals or collections are added because there is a concern that you will get too many requests’ and ‘the same book might be added 3 times in different ways – and when a journal name changes, updates have to be made in multiple places’. 

This report addresses the options for a single national holdings database (NHD)/resource sharing solution to replace the current complex regional holdings database infrastructure and deliver efficiencies and an improve user experience by integrating the NHS with Library Management systems (LMSs)   

The opportunity – a new resource sharing landscape 

In recent years, several new solutions have come to market offering more efficient peer-to-peer sharing based around, what would be for NHS libraries, a National Holdings Database (NHD) . 

What do we mean by a National Holding Database (NHD) 

The key element is the ability to upload and describe holdings across NHS England libraries. This minimum capability would allow LKS staff to search and locate relevant holdings in a single coherent resource. This would be an advance on the current situation of a multiplicity of different holding databases and interfaces. However to make a significant impact on improving staff workflows, saving time and improving the user experience by delivering, especially journal article requests more quickly, the additional  elements of load balancing and the integration of the NHD with the ILL function of the LMS and from there to the user interface of the Ebsco discovery service (EDS). These elements are described in more detail in this report 

The key developments in a new resource sharing landscape are described below. 

ISO ILL compliant LMSs 

For many years, ILDS functionality was either not included in library management systems (LMSs) or, in the UK, focussed on placing requests with the British Library's document supply service (BLDSS) rather than managing peer-to-peer ILDS. This has changed in the last few years with LMS suppliers, such as SirsiDynix, OCLC and PTFS-Europe (Koha)  adopting the ISO ILL 10160/10161 standard.5 However the adoption of the ISO protocol for practical peer-to-peer resource sharing in the UK is limited.  

The only example application is in Wales, where a consortium of eight higher education libraries (all part of WHELF) 6 with the Ex Libris Alma LMS use the ISO standard to enable both digital and physical sharing and ensure an equitable spread of requests across participating institutions. There are future plans to extend this to the NHS libraries in Wales (which also use Alma). It should be noted that the resource sharing participants all use the same (Alma) LMS and, for practical implementation reasons, the WHELF invitation to extend the network is currently only open to other Alma customers.  

Rapid ILL 

RapidILL was developed by inter-library loan staff at Colorado State University and subsequently acquired by Ex Libris. It facilitates quick, reciprocal resource requesting for ‘pods’ of libraries and interfaces with software solutions from a variety of vendors. It is optimised for ‘non-returnables’ (i.e. electronic copies such as journal articles, rather than print resources such as books) and offers the following features: 8 

RapidILL ‘pods’ are groups of libraries (a pod could be all NHS libraries in England) that have agreed to freely share journal article and e-chapters and commit to supplying these within 24 hours. Their holdings are loaded into RapidILL via automatic, monthly OAI-PMH harvesting.  

RapidILL provides load balancing to ensure that each library receives as many copies as they supply. When sourcing items, it selects the holding library with the lowest net number of requests.  

Once requests are fulfilled, details are transferred to and held within the local LMS/ILDS systems with which RapidILL interfaces. This means that user data is held only temporarily in RapidILL, and requests managed and user data held on local systems. With the Alma LMS and CLIO ILDS system, there is full integration and the transfer of requests is automatic. This level of integration does not yet exist for other systems and manual data transfer is required. 


Tipasa is supplied by OCLC and described as ‘an ILL management system for individual libraries to share and obtain materials through different resources and systems as well as to provide an exceptional experience for the library user’.9   Unlike RapidILL, it is designed to manage both ‘returnables’  and ‘non-returnables’. 

Tipasa claims to be system agnostic but currently only integrates with OCLC WMS, Ex Libris Alma10 and CLIO. It uses a ‘proven sender’ concept, with libraries designated as proven senders where they have demonstrated that they provide good quality documents quickly. Optionally, Tipasa offers Article Exchange, a secure area for article delivery where staff can place requests for users to download 11.  

Tipasa uses the NCIP protocol12 to integrate with local LMS circulation systems to create temporary records in circulation systems. Unlike RapidILL, Tipasa can also manage requests made to fee-based services such as Reprints Desk. Conversely, libraries which charge for document supply can be excluded.  

Tipasa can be implemented as part of the of OCLC WMS LMS or deployed separately. Library holdings are uploaded to WorldCat. OCLC manages the holding upload process as part of the implementation and will do regular, automated uploads for the life of the subscription.  

Rotas and load balancing are managed by ‘smart lender strings’.  The library selects the locations that go into strings. Tipasa calculates turnaround time so it works out which library can supply fastest and undertakes load balancing so that no library gets more requests than it can handle.  Libraries that demonstrate they can achieve a quick turnaround can be included in an ‘express program’ group. 

User data is ingested into Tipasa from the LMSs that are integrated with Tipasa by an initial upload as part of the implementation process then managed by batch loads or an online API. Articles (PDFs) can be emailed to users or OCLC’s ‘Article Exchange’ may be used as the delivery mechanism.  


Project ReShare is an open-source community driven project ‘creating a new and open approach to library resource sharing systems that sets the standard for how we connect library patrons to the resources and information they require.....designing an open source, highly-scalable platform that supports discovery, fulfilment, and delivery workflows, with a focus on user-centered design’. 13 

 Although not formally part of the Folio open source LMS initiative, Project ReShare uses the same core developers IndexData14 and the Folio technical infrastructure and has much of the same community ethos. Although community-owned and driven, it encourages libraries and commercial organisations to participate meaningfully in advancing its goals. Currently the community of libraries actively engaged with project ReShare is exclusively US-based. ReShare supports consortial, peer-to-peer borrowing between defined resource sharing groups, which can restrict resource sharing amongst themselves. It has a strong focus on interoperability, using standards such as NCIP, Z39.50, ISO10160 and ISO18626.  Its current focus is returnables. Non-returnables are on the road map but with no clear date.


[2] The current infrastructure is summarised in “Inter-lending and document supply (ILDS)”

[3] See appendices

[4] LAWMunion meeting 12 March 2021. Notes. Ken Chad (available on the project web site)

[5] ‘The InterLibrary Loan Protocol (ISO ILL 10160/10161) was developed to provide uniform procedures for handling  peer-to-peer interlibrary loan operation between two ILL systems. The standard defines a number of messages that can be sent between the requesting site and the supplying site in order for the requester to have access to different services and material that might be offered by the supplying organization’.

[6] ‘Reciprocal Borrowing across Alma institutions: P2P inter-lending with WHELF’. WHELF 2020  

[7] Ex Libris RapidILL

[8] Rapid ILL introduction to HEE. 5th March 2021. Notes available on the project website

[9] Resource sharing revolutionized. OCLC

[10] For a detailed workflow example (for an Alma LMS)  see: Third-party Integration Workflow. OCLC October 2020

[11] “The Article Exchange document-sharing site provides a single, secure location where lending libraries worldwide can place requested documents and library users can retrieve articles or book chapters obtained for them via interlibrary loan”

[12] ‘NCIP (NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol, also known as Z39.83) is a North American standard which allows disparate library systems to talk to each other (for example the library's management system and ILL system)’. NCIP Overview. OCLC August 2020.

[13] Project ReShare.