The Internet Before the Internet

Before the Internet made information access faster and easier (and it continues to improve), libraries were already mass-sharing information through interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan is such a simple concept–libraries share books with other libraries–but it was and continues to be carefully planned and implemented to ensure availability and access through cooperative collection plans, lists of records and methods for disseminating them (National Union Catalog, publishing bibliographies of what books were where), and agreements to make sure users know about the materials in order to request them.
Thanks to interlibrary loan systems everywhere for making information available and accessible. Making information findable, available, and usable is always something to celebrate, especially when they’ve been doing it for so very long. The original interlibrary groups have expanded, merged, and reformed, but some carry on under the same names like Florida’s interlibrary loan network, FLIN (The Florida Library Information Network) which turns 40 this year. Over those years FLIN has shared 6.6 million items, or 167,000 items a year! Congratulations to FLIN! And, congratulations to all of the interlibrary loan networks celebrating another year or another decade of service!
The Internet is now the main information source for many, but making the Internet really work (with information on where to find information, the information wanted) begins with the infrastructure for information access. Information architectures, systems for finding and accessing information, and making sure that information is in the best form possible has been a long tradition within interlibrary loan and with the subsequent technologies it employed, including facsimiles, microfilm (or microphotography), electronic, and digital. Without the systems for interlibrary loan, we wouldn’t be able to access many books in print and our digital-only systems wouldn’t have had the benefit of the painstaking work done through postal/train/car/horse/shoe/sneaker/net of interlibrary loan.
As this year comes to a close, thanks to all of the interlibrary loan services who have shared so much!