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Best Practices & DOCLINE

Tugger - Docline mascot puppyDocument delivery has certainly evolved since health professionals started seeking articles. I started using DOCLINE in 2000, as a library technician in a small cancer research center. I really respect those librarians who went on quests for documents in the days before microcomputers and OPACS were used in libraries. Even when computers were finally in use, how did librarians function without the graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that dramatically changed the usability of the Internet?

The creation of DOCLINE, the National Library of Medicine’s automated interlibrary loan request system, changed the health science library’s world. In a 1994 article comparing DOCLINE vs. OCLC requests, Neville D. Prendergast, noted the steady increase of DOCLINE requests at one health sciences library. Requests received at the health sciences library grew steadily from almost 4,000 requests in 1986, to 12,000 requests in 1992, for a total of about 50,000 requests during the six year period. This represents a 300% increase in requests. (In 1987, only two years after its start up, DOCLINE handled almost 800,000 requests nationwide.)1 Today, more than 3,000 libraries are DOCLINE members. As the use of DOCLINE increased, users began developing a list of best practices. It makes sense that users would start to see trends and figure out acceptable standards for using the system.

Full NN/LM member libraries using DOCLINE, are encouraged to follow these guidelines. Following these best practices allows DOCLINE to work optimally. This list of best practices was started by users as an example of etiquette so that all libraries could employ the list as a reminder of how to be sensitive to the document delivery policies and needs of each member library. The information in this article is condensed and does not touch on all the recommended practices. To find the full version, you can review the DOCLINE Best Practices for Users at . It should also be noted that although “Borrow Only” libraries are allowed in DOCLINE, that practice is not encouraged in this region, since the system’s strength is in its reciprocity.

DOCLINE Best Practices

  • Keep your Serial Holdings record accurate, if you don’t like to receive requests for articles you can’t fill. Maintenance of your library’s holdings is mandated by the NN/LM in its Document Delivery Plan .
  • Keep your institutional record up to date so that borrowers may see your current methods of delivery, service levels, fees, group memberships, and contact information.
  • Organize your routing tables. Put the libraries you trust and those with whom you have agreements, in the lower cells. You may also want to place libraries with lower fees in those cells. A library group, such as FreeShare, should be placed in a cell by itself.
  • Contacting a borrowing library may be necessary if a request is accidentally updated as “filled” when the lending library doesn’t hold the article. Always use the DOCLINE request number as a reference. Communicate with the borrower or lender when you are consistently seeing a problem with their practice. They may not be aware of the problem.
  • Filling Requests: DOCLINE libraries need to log in daily to receive and act upon requests. Requests that cannot be filled should be updated immediately so that the request is quickly routed to the next lending library. Lending libraries should reject a request, if they can’t produce a readable copy (reason would be “poor condition”).
  • Libraries sending requested articles via email or Ariel addresses should make sure those addresses are correct.
  • Send multiple requests from the same library individually.
  • The requesting library is responsible for copyright compliance.
  • Comply with your institution’s privacy policies.

If you are a new DOCLINE member, you may also want to review this web resource on document delivery  and resource sharing,, and subscribe to  “DOCLINE-L,” the users’ email discussion list .

Jim Honour, MCR DOCLINE coordinator, may be contacted with any questions or about problems you encounter with DOCLINE. Your state coordinators are also available to assist.

– Jim Honour, Wyoming/Member Services Coordinator

1Prendergast, N. D. Trends in the use of DOCLINE and the OCLC ILL Subsystem 1986-1992. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 82(4), 1994.

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