What Is Document Delivery in Library Science?

About the Author

Emily Hamm

Emily Hamm was an educator for 13 years, teaching both elementary and secondary students in grades 4-12th. After seeking a more flexible schedule, she now works as an instructional designer, freelancer, instructional coach, college adjunct, and consultant. She has worked with educators in a professional context in over 20 states.

When writing a science research paper in college, Kate utilized her university library to access supporting evidence and additional research to cite in her paper.

Although university libraries often have a variety of robust research material, it is impossible to have every book or article available on site. Kate cannot find a page in a book nor a couple of articles that she needs for her research. Thus, Kate is proving the need for document delivery as a library service.  

Libraries Science and Sharing

In both university programs and in general, library science is a multidisciplinary field that applies the best practices, procedures, points of view, and tools of managing the collection, organization, and sharing of information across a variety of mediums. Historically, there has also been a component of archiving, which is organizing and evaluating material for later access, within the field. 

However, as the field progressed and technology became more widespread, archiving has evolved into more of a museum science, while libraries function as a provider of current information and publications. Patron access can occur in a variety of media, including, but not limited to, books, magazines, newspapers, film, video games, audiobooks, and internet access. 

As a result of the shift in the role of libraries from archiving information to the dissemination of it, various library connections, organizations, and groups were formed to create access to shared materials. 

For example, a child uses their small-town library in order to keep up with a series of books that they enjoy. Each year, a new book is published extending the series, but this child is the only one on record to check out this particular series. Should the librarian spend a portion of the children’s budget each year to order a book that only one child will use? Maybe not. Instead, the process of sharing materials among libraries was born out of just such an example. This is a perfect use of the interlibrary loan. 

The interlibrary loan is a service meant to create a network of connected libraries, allowing a patron to use one library to borrow resources from another. 

In our example, the child could still borrow the newest book in the series they enjoy, but it could come from a larger library that has more individuals interested in reading the series and more of a budget for children’s books. Interlibrary loan and document delivery are different yet related forms of services that libraries can provide for their patrons.

Document Delivery Details

Document delivery is a library service that many libraries provide to their patrons. Typically, you can request the entire document for articles or specific book chapters through the document delivery service for free, as part of your available services as a library patron. 

However, some research libraries have a cost cap for document delivery service, which can range from $50 to $100 or even higher, depending on the document delivery services policy. The charge, however, is not for you to pay. Rather, the fee is a cap that the delivery service is willing to pay to access the services that you’ve requested.

Complete articles and book chapters are provided as an electronic document. Document delivery services, including electronic document delivery, can take a week to ten days to deliver the requested articles, book chapters, or book pages to you. Information provided via document delivery services is usually in the form of digital copies (PDF). 

Many libraries that provide document delivery services can only provide one or a few book chapters per request. Because of this, you should make sure to check the available document delivery services policy information for your preferred library. 

The ability of a library to fulfill the document delivery request depends on the availability of the requested materials from partner libraries. When completing the document delivery service, you should be sure to provide complete citation information to ensure you receive the correct information, articles, pages, or book chapters.

Although they have similarities, there is a difference between a document delivery service and interlibrary loan. An interlibrary loan occurs when a library borrows an available material on mutual consent with or on behalf of a patron. The interlibrary loan does not typically send available materials, articles, or information in an electronic format. Rather, an interlibrary loan is often the physical material, like a copy of the book or periodical, sent through a courier or a delivery service to the lending library.

Kate, our introductory example, used a document delivery service to receive the science articles and available page information she needed to complete her research paper. Even though her library didn’t have all of the necessary information for her paper, Kate’s use of the library document delivery service ensured she received the necessary information for her paper.