Session Description

In 2016, the Central ILL and Article Scan Service of the McGill University Library saw its staff numbers temporarily reduced by half. This poster will show the challenges, and opportunities for reinvention, that this presented.

Type of Library

College Library


interlibrary loan, ILL


May 12th, 11:15 AM

3Rs: Retirements, Renewal, and Reinvention in ILL: How ILL at a Canadian ARL library survived and thrived following the departure of 50% of its staff in six months

Fireplace Lounge

As the baby boomer generation ages, workplaces are seeing an explosion of retirements. As is widely acknowledged in the literature, academic libraries are no exception. Much of this literature tends to focus on the impact of professional librarian, rather than library technician, retirements. In 2015, the Central Interlibrary Loan (ILL) and Article Scan Service of the McGill University Library, an ARL library located in Montreal, Canada, was comprised of one librarian and seven support staff: four in borrowing, two in lending, and one in the article scan service for locally-owned materials. In the fall of 2015, the ILL team won the university-wide Principal’s Award for Administrative and Support Staff in recognition of their excellent service. By spring of 2016, ILL lending and borrowing staff numbers were reduced by half: one lending member left to pursue another opportunity within the library system, and two long-serving borrowing members retired. This poster will explore the impact of the loss in a six-month period of 50% of an ILL workforce on operations, workflow, and morale of the remaining members. It will also examine coping measures taken, solutions devised, and lessons learned for the future.

The library system underwent a period of major change from 2012 to 2015. The university launched a retirement incentive program, prompting a wave of departures, followed by a university-wide hiring freeze in 2014. Meanwhile, three faculty libraries were merged with larger subject libraries. Their holdings were relocated to these larger subject libraries or storage, creating the need to inaugurate the article scan service in 2014.

The ILL service handles a high volume of requests. In FY2016, nearly 23,000 borrowing, 15,000 lending, and 5,500 article scan requests were received. An unprecedented increase in requests received and filled occurred between FY2013 and FY2016: 73% and 52% respectively in borrowing, and 15% and 12% in lending. The article scan service was launched during this period as well. This left little time for cross-training prior to the 2016 departures. Although the hiring freeze was lifted in the fall of 2015, normal delays in recruitment meant the vacated positions could not be filled immediately. Urgent, stopgap cross-training was carried out by remaining staff members following the departures, made all the more hectic and demanding by the need to scramble to cope with the now doubled workload they faced. This, in combination with the climate of uncertainty created by library mergers and staff departures, resulted in high stress levels.
This period of transition afforded the ILL service the opportunity for renewal and reorganization. The team now has a better understanding of priorities in its day-to-day operations, and has developed more efficient ways of carrying out tasks and managing workflow. It is also more unified, and more aware of the importance of team social activities in the promotion and preservation of team cohesiveness and mental health. Now that recruitment has resumed, the team is well prepared to welcome new staff members into its smoother, more streamlined operation.


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