Monday, January 12, 2009


On New Year’s Eve, I attended MnLINK/ILL training at MMC, hosted by Casey, Brian, and Patrick of ILL. Although I’ve been using MnLINK since its first very early (and painfully slow and erratic) days, I was pleased to find there was a lot still to learn about both MnLINK and the ILL process, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting nuggets with everyone. If this training is offered again, I’d really recommend it, especially for new-ish staff. For a quick refresher, be sure to check out the ILL information page on the SPPL website. There’s a lot of useful FAQ’s to be had for answering patron questions.

To show us some of MnLINK’s quirks, Brian had us all do some hands-on sample searches, and the results were very enlightening. For example:

-A Keyword Search on an ISBN yielded 7 hits, all coming up randomly, for each one of us at the training. Some people didn’t even get all seven hits, or even the same hits. This is because of the number of ports being used at each library system. If their ports are busy, MnLINK bypasses them. Going under Advanced Search and searching under ISBN yielded 24 hits. The difference in the hits is because not all systems catalog ISBN’s.

-If you are making the request, it doesn’t matter which item you select—as Casey said “One record is all you need”. Just make sure it’s in the right format. You can narrow your results by using the Merge Duplicates function on the left menu.

-Search Status. This will show you exactly which of the 24 library systems gave you hits.

-MnLINK is slower in the afternoons. You can perform the same search at different times of the day and get different results, depending on which ports are busy.

-If you get the “SIGN IN WAS NOT SUCCESSFUL” message:
1. Check to see if the card is in use on another terminal.
2. Check the card for problems (expired card, too many fines or bills, etc.)
3. If it is not a SPPL card, try to authenticate against the patron’s home library. If this authentication fails, the patron must contact their home library. It must be a clean card in both systems.

-Once a pickup location is selected and the request is made, ILL cannot change it. In MnLINK, it defaults to the patron’s last pickup location.

-Don’t put anything in the “Special Instructions” field—the request gets flagged and delays the processing of the item another day.

To give us an overview of the process, we received a handout on “How MnLINK Searches Work”—I found it to be very informative; here are some highlights:

1. A patron requests an item, which is not ‘available’ at SPPL, through MnLINK.
Note: “West 7th” and “Reference” are considered ‘available’, and will not be processed through ILL. “Missing”, “Billed”, and “Mending” are considered ‘unavailable’ and will be processed.

2. The computer takes the request and starts sending it to the other library systems in a specific order to see if it is owned. In SPPL, we have chosen to have the system check libraries in the following order: MELSA, CLIC (the private colleges such as St. Thomas and Hamline), greater MN, and finally, MINITEX.
Note: The computer selects randomly from MELSA. Also, remember that each library system has different lending rules, for example, Dakota Co. does not lend DVD’s. Therefore, it does not matter which record you select when placing the request, just make sure it is the right format.

3. The first library pulls up its list of requests and begins placing holds on their system. If they can’t supply an item, they indicate the reason why in VDX (the backend ILL system to MnLINK), and VDX will automatically send the request on to the next library. Each library has five days to say if they can or can not send the item. If no one can supply the item, the request will go to MINITEX, where they have additional resources, including the University of Minnesota libraries.

4. It is the patron’s responsibility to manage their MnLINK requests (under My Requests on the left) and follow through on anything that comes up with a listing of “not available through MnLINK at this time”.
Note: See the FAQ’s on the ILL webpage for a MnLINK messages decoder. If an item cannot be sent, patrons have to wait 2 weeks before reordering.

**As of October, 2008, SPPL now orders from Amazon any ILL-requested paperbacks that are $10 and under. This is cheaper than processing the ILL request, which has a general cost of $20-$30 per item; Amazon has a buy-4-for-3 program and 5% discount.

We then moved into the SunSpot, where the ILL staff first showed us VDX and how their workflow begins. Next, Casey spoke about National ILL Searches and had the following tips:

-Always check WorldCat before submitting a National Search Request. Print out the WorldCat record and attach it to the National Search Request form.

-Good candidates:
Not in Minnesota or Wisconsin.
No lending fees over $20 (this is FYI; we can’t see this in the non-ILL WorldCat).

-Iffy candidates:
Only one library in the world has the item—if this is the case, Casey recommended calling ILL and asking them to look up that library’s lending practices, rather than just taking the patron’s $5 National Search fee right away.

-Again, each lending library has five days to respond to the request before it gets passed on.

Finally, we were given a tour of MMC, particularly the ILL department and the very new shipping and receiving area-- a little bit of chocolate is always an incentive for an attentive audience! Again, I would recommend this training to anyone who wants to see how ILL works, and to gain a thorough understanding of the process. I even put my training to use upon my return to work—a patron called and wanted to what “not available through MnLINK at this time” meant, and how long she should wait for her requests to be filled. I was happy to have an informed answer to give her!


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