Illinois Library Resource Sharing: the Three Pillars


Illinois libraries benefit from the core infrastructure of statewide delivery, a statewide catalog, and library cooperation in the form of consortia.


Library resource sharing is an incredibly robust network that is monument to what can be achieved through cooperation of local government leadership, state library leadership, and the meticulous work of library staff. Illinois provides a great example of how statewide library resource sharing should be structured through state-level services and cooperation between libraries arrived at through decades of effort.

Library resource sharing in Illinois is supported by three major services within the state.

  1. Illinois library delivery system, which is the statewide service that links Illinois libraries together in a cohesive web where material can be exchanged between libraries.
  2. Statewide participation in a unified global catalog where library collections are updated in a single searchable platform, which for Illinois is participation in the world’s largest library catalog, called WorldCat.
  3. Participation within Local Library System Automation Programs, often referred to as “library consortium” but referred to by their official Illinois designation LLSAP. These multi-type library networks have origins in the 1970s as bringing together diverse library collections through a technological arrangement would satisfy each participating library, “although not necessarily in the same way.”

These are the “three pillars” supporting library resource sharing in Illinois. The focus of this presentation is to outline why Illinois is a top US state in library resource sharing and to show the underlying data that shows why Illinois is one of the highest among all the United States.

The focus of this essay will be on Illinois public libraries

The number of public libraries in Illinois is larger than any other States with a total of 623 existing in the state. This count is supported by the data collected by the Illinois State Library as its obligation to collect data (the Illinois Public Library Annual Report, or IPLAR) which is in turn part of the annual data collection of the federal agency Institute of Museum and Library Services. The public library data collected by IMLS is posted publicly for anyone online to study and build independent observations.

The Institute of Library and Museum Services is a U.S Federal agency that collects and compiles data of the public libraries in the U.S.A. and the ILL lending and borrowing is a metric IMLS collects for all public libraries. IMLS has released public library data since 2005, and the most recent data available for analysis was collected in 2019.

U.S. public library resource sharing

IMLS public library data shows in 2019 that Illinois was 5th of the 50 U.S. States in total inter-library lending. Growth since 2006 is steady, doubling the total number of Illinois public library ILL by 2019. 


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Figure 1: IMLS public library data showing ILL with Illinois in bold, sorted by 2019 top 10 US States

The reasons why Illinois is a powerhouse for library resource sharing is due to the coordination of all levels of statewide government, the regional library systems, and the efforts of library staff.

What is Illinois resource sharing?

Library resource sharing evolves as technology platforms emerge, change, and impact the ability of the public to find books held by public libraries. Resource sharing in Illinois is the ability to have library users perform two major functions:

  1. Walk into any public library with a valid library card, browse the open shelves of books or any material (movies, music, graphic novels, audio books), and borrow those items at that library.
  2. Request items from an Illinois library via an online system built on internet standards to be delivered to a home library of that library user.

There are of course, some variations on those two major functions, such as newly purchased books being held exclusively for local home library users for a set number of weeks, but by and large the resource sharing covenant within Illinois is built upon those two functions as described.

The ability to share material via an online request is called “inter-library lending” or ILL. IMLS data on ILL reflects an individual library’s tracking of its library’s sharing within a consortia and a wider resource sharing system such as WorldCat. For Illinois public libraries, the ILL data is combination of the Illinois participation in WorldCat and sharing within the libraries participating in the LLSAP.

Resource sharing pillar #1: Illinois Library Delivery

The delivery service established by the Illinois Secretary of State via the Illinois State Library is the glue through which statewide ILL is possible. The statewide library delivery service is the most cited service by library users, taxpayers, and Illinois legislators as fundamental to their positive experience of using a public library in Illinois. The delivery service is available to any library that qualifies for membership in one of the two regional library systems within the Illinois. 

Regional Library System Delivery

All 623 public libraries are members of the Illinois regional library systems, which coordinate delivery between the libraries within their service areas and connect to the statewide ILDS. Each library system closely monitors the transport of items to and from libraries, making sure efficiencies through number of stops, volume, and personnel are finely tuned to the demands.

RAILS for example, posts its delivery “fine counts” publicly, which allows for a detailed snapshot of delivery hand counted by library staff for 1 week twice per year. During this designated week, library staff count items going through delivery sorted into each shipping container and report this data back to the library’s regional library system. The data from these counts are valuable in understanding delivery volume through the ability to share collections and request items from another library in Illinois.

Library consortium in Illinois

Libraries in Illinois participate in regional networks called “library consortia.” There are 8 library consortia, so by grouping library delivery counts by these consortia, a wider picture emerges of the immense volume of library collections shared within those networks as compared to the libraries not participating in the 8 groups (in this chart those libraries not in the library consortium are “standalone” designation).

Illinois Delivery Service (ILDS)

Think of ILDS as a highway between Illinois research and academic, university, and college libraries. Those highways then connect to the 3 regional library systems and the geographic areas they provide delivery service within.

The ILDS website provides an interface to obtain delivery counts based on a range of dates that can be selected. There are 140 academic libraries participating in the ILDS system. Within that library community is a service provided by CARLI where a catalog interface called I-Share has enabled ease of access to academic library collections. The 88 libraries participating in I-Share represent 86% of the delivery volume within ILDS.

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Figure 3: ILDS delivery counts broken down by CARLI i-Share compared to other libraries using ILDS

Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS)

The regional library system providing delivery services to the southern half of Illinois collects counts on the number of items delivered to individual libraries. Heartland works closely with a single, huge library consortium called SHARE. Delivery data is not publicly posted but is available upon request. The resource sharing of the SHARE library consortia represents 93% of the IHLS delivery volume.

Chart showing IHLS delivery as represented by SHARE and other libraries served by IHLS delivery

Figure 4: Chart showing IHLS delivery as represented by SHARE and other libraries served by IHLS delivery

RAILS delivery

The delivery data collected by RAILS is done each year over two 5-day periods, representing 2 weeks of the year. RAILS delivery data requires multiplying the 2 weeks of data into a full year in order to compare to the counts with IHLS. This data once compiled, and its individual libraries are affiliated with their library consortia, show heavy use of the RAILS delivery service by these groups.


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The combined item count of RAILS delivery when grouped by the library consortia shows that delivery volume in RAILS is 88% by the libraries participating in the resource sharing groups.

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Figure 5: RAILS delivery counts are conducted each year, and for 2019 the library consortia are a large conributor to the delivery volume.

ILLINET delivery

The combined data for ILDS, RAILS, and IHLS shows the overall strength of resource sharing in Illinois where 13 million items were shared in a single year. The data also shows the power of the library consortia in maximizing the ease of requesting and borrowing material via the ILLINET delivery service.


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When taken together, ILLINET provides delivery services to all libraries, but the 8 library consortia groups make up 90% of the total delivery volume.

ILLINET delivery total for 2019 with library consortia groups
Figure 6: ILLINET delivery volume visualized by library group, with largest SHARE at the base.

Resource sharing pillar #2: WorldCat is the resource sharing platform for Illinois 

The elected Secretary of State is the official state librarian in Illinois. The department of the Secretary of State in conjunction with the Illinois State Library based in Springfield, IL has negotiated a statewide resource sharing platform for all Illinois libraries for the primary purpose of exposing collections of all Illinois libraries and allowing participating libraries to request materials. 

Each Illinois library elects to participate in the negotiated OCLC services of which WorldCat is the public facing website for this statewide solution.

As part of its responsibilities to libraries and the state budget, the Illinois State Library issued an RFP in 2012 for statewide services for resource sharing and bibliographic control. There were two proposals received, and a committee of statewide library representatives following Secretary of State procurement guidelines, individually graded the proposals and the State Library compiled the results. The contact was awarded to OCLC for the statewide library software platform.

Below is a table providing an overview of the Illinois statewide catalog through WorldCat.

FeaturesOCLC WorldCat, WorldShare, ILL, Discovery
Illinois Statewide Catalog
Union catalog platformOCLC WorldCat holdings are set by individual libraries and OCLC membership is required
Library members2,945 Illinois libraries (according to OCLC Policy Directory)
ContractNegotiated by Illinois State Library on behalf of Illinois libraries with OCLC; libraries sign agreement with Illinois State Library each year
Size of WorldCat104 million Illinois library holdings517 million bibliographic records3 billion library holdings
Quality controlOCLC provides various levels of data creation with stringent guidelines. Quality control is provided by peer review, reporting, and subsequent correction of cataloging errors.
Updating holdingsOCLC WorldCat holdings are maintained by individual libraries or by consortia groups. Illinois library consortia CCS, Pinnacle, PrairieCat, RSA, SHARE, and SWAN update WorldCat monthly. SWAN library holdings in OCLC have a real-time status with a Z39.50 connector.
Vendor cataloging servicesOCLC’s “WorldCat Cataloging Partners” works with a multitude of vendors. The library orders materials from vendor partners. The vendors then transmit to OCLC the lists of titles ordered. OCLC delivers the full MARC records to SWAN, and the library’s holdings are automatically set in OCLC.Multiple national libraries represent catalog records and holdings in OCLC, providing a large repository of foreign language materials.
Interlibrary Loan ScopeWorldwidez39.50 availability offers real-time availability status check.IFM (Interlibrary Loan Fee Management) available for out-of-state, special arrangements (libraries may receive fees for lending material out of state to cover costs)
Document DeliveryArticle Exchange provided electronic delivery of full-text articles through the OCLC knowledge base, TOC, etc. Article Exchange electronic secure transmission can also be used internally to support patron services.
Benefits to Illinois libraries & residentsEnormous database of 517 million records in all formats and languagesWorldwide resource sharing (inter-library loan) componentStringent quality controlMonthly holdings update can restrict extract of material ineligible for interlibrary loan.

WorldCat by the numbers

Illinois statewide catalog built through library cooperation has eye-popping numbers. OCLC WorldCat recently shared the May 2022 numbers for ILL requests made on its WorldCat and WorldShare platform. Illinois is the top lender and top borrower among the 50 US States within OCLC WorldShare ILL.


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Figure 6: OCLC WorldShare ILL data for May 2022 shows Illinois is the #1 user of the OCLC service. In addition, Illinois is a net lender which shows the national and global reach of OCLC benefits Illinois libraries.

The statistical data provides ample evidence that Illinois libraries request a robust software solution for sharing collections between Illinois libraries, but that also providing Illinois residents access to out of state materials is vital. The reciprocity of this arrangement cannot be overstated: support of a nationwide network of libraries via the OCLC WorldCat is a major benefit to Illinois library users, and to the needs of libraries throughout the country.


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Figure 7: One month snapshot shows Illinois beats New York, California, and Texas for lending and borrowing within OCLC.

Resource sharing pillar #3: Library consortium are leaders for Illinois resource sharing

The total number of public libraries in Illinois is 623, of which 538 are participating in a library consortium. The remaining 85 public libraries that are not participating in an LLSAP represent 14% of the Illinois public libraries. LLSAP participation levels have been steadily growing among the Illinois public libraries.

86% of Illinois public libraries are library consortium members

There are the 7 library consortium/LLSAP in Illinois. Their size based on participating library varies: some have large numbers of school district libraries participating (PrairieCat and Resource Sharing Alliance), while others are exclusively public libraries (CCS and Pinnacle). One important aspect of LLSAP membership is that it is voluntary: there are no defined boundaries for Illinois library consortium, and no state requirements that a public library must participate. The 538 public libraries in Illinois have arrived at decision to participate at the local level through its trustees, staff, and leadership. These 7 library consortium are some of the finest examples of regional cooperation of local library entities. Those libraries have representation within the group, established through organization bylaws and policies. Libraries pay to be members of the LLSAP and have voting rights within the cooperative. 

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The chart below shows only the public libraries participating within the LLSAP.


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LLSAP resource sharing among Illinois public libraries represents 93% of the total

Library membership within an LLSAP is not indicated as part of the annual report and are not therefore reflected in the IMLS data. But a simple cross reference of 2019 membership of public libraries within LLSAP reveals that the public libraries participating in Illinois consortium make up a staggering 93% of the resource sharing within the state. 

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Library eBook usage is not overtaking resource sharing

If one were thinking that the future of sharing library collections is waning, while the use of library eBooks is waxing, the data tells us otherwise. eBooks within U.S. public libraries has been a featured service for some time now, running in parallel with traditional collections of books, audiobooks, films, and music. Perhaps the growth of eBook usage in Illinois public libraries will eventually overtake the need for the resource sharing infrastructure as described?

Fortunately, the size of eBook collections, their expense, and their usage has been tracked by IMLS for well over a decade now. The Illinois public library IMLS data shows a steady growth of eBook collections offered to the public has increasing use. But this service has not undercut the demand by the public for the core services of popular collections of physical books, audiobooks, films, and music. 

Figure 8: IMLS data on physical items circulation (blue) versus the use of Electronic Materials (orange). The IMLS report on eBooks is the “total annual circulation of all electronic materials,” and is compared to total circulation of physical collections. Note: 2014 data collected by Illinois and submitted to IMLS appears to be inflated as it is the first year of the e-circulation data collection

E-book circulation in 2019 is only 10% of the total physical circulation for the 623 public libraries in Illinois. If it appears that public library circulation from 2014 to 2019 is falling, it is worth noting that physical circulation has been slowly decreasing each year since its meteoric 19% increase in 2010 during the Great Recession. Illinois public libraries are reverting to the 2006 mean in terms of total circulation.

In conclusion, eBook collections and its growing usage by public library users should be supported, but its usage data in comparison to the core library collections remains low in comparison to collection circulation.

Conclusion: What are we to make of the Illinois resource sharing numbers?

Here is a summary of resource sharing for public libraries in Illinois.

  • 86% of the Illinois public libraries participate in a library consortium
  • 90% of Illinois ILLINET delivery volume is connected to 8 library consortia, with 88% of RAILS delivery and 93% of IHLS delivery originating in consortia member libraries
  • Illinois libraries share more than any other US state using OCLC WorldCat (via OCLC WorldShare ILL)
  • Public libraries participating in LLSAP/consortia contribute 93% of the ILL within Illinois public libraries
  • The standalone libraries contribute 7% of the ILL within Illinois, yet represent 41% of the total spending on public libraries
  • eBook usage is 10% compared to the total circulation of physical collections in Illinois 623 public libraries

The amount of sharing between public libraries in Illinois is something all public library staff and state leadership should be proud of. This sharing of collections is built on the achievement of decades of library staff following technical standards set by state and regional leadership. Illinois achievement for resource sharing was built on the dedicated careers and labor of many library workers.


  1. Resource sharing among Illinois libraries as a priority of the Secretary of State and the Illinois State Library should be to fund the three pillars of resource sharing to its fullest levels: Illinois delivery, WorldCat participation, and LLSAP participation. Any reduction of State funding to any of the three pillars in favor of eBooks or other e-content ignores the evidence that public library users strongly favor physical collections over e-content.
  2. Participation in WorldCat is a major benefit to Illinois libraries as a single, unified inventory of all library collections. The public libraries in Illinois require a sophisticated solution that WorldCat provides through its ability to connect Illinois libraries to any library in the 50 states.
  3. LLSAP funding at the state level should be increased at every opportunity, as the contributions of those libraries within those 7 groups maintains the highest level of access to Illinois residents to all the collections of 623 public libraries. State funding to LLSAPs via library systems is the only funding source available to the 7 LLSAP, as the Illinois State Library and Federal agencies such as IMLS have no programs available for LLSAP to apply or petition for funding.


Data used in this analysis the is publicly available and is supplied below in a simplified set.

OCLC lending & borrowing


Illinois delivery data

IMLS Public Libraries Survey

RAILS delivery count

ILDS delivery statistics


  1. Regarding the comparison of OCLC ILL usage to California, CA has its own ILL system that doesn’t involve OCLC. Obviously, not all CA libraries use it, but the big ones do. It was amazing when I lived there — I would place a hold in the union catalog and have the title within three days.

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