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Get to know an Access Services Librarian: Kurt Munson

The Northwestern Libraries employ over 70 librarians who specialize in areas such as rare books, area studies, digital scholarship, and archives. In this series, we sit down with librarians to understand what exactly they do, and how you might take advantage of their expertise.

Today we’re hearing from Kurt Munson, who was recently named the American Library Association’s 2018 Distinguished Interlibrary Loan Librarian. As the Assistant Head of Access Services, a big part of Kurt’s job is to make sure all interlibrary loan requests are handled efficiently and done with the user in mind. In fact, his most recent article on user-centered provisioning of interlibrary loan is a perfect example of the type of work he does and the vision he has for improving resource sharing in the future.

portraitFor those who may not be aware of interlibrary loan and resource sharing services at the Libraries, could you give a quick summary?

Resource sharing, often known as interlibrary loan or ILL, is the service where we get materials from other libraries and share our materials for our respective patron populations. It expands the scope of materials available to the Northwestern community from what we have here to almost anything in the world. It’s a key tool for providing patrons with access to information.

According to the press release, “Kurt has established himself as one of the foremost authorities on resource sharing systems.” How would you explain that honor to a non-librarian? How does your profession view its role in libraries, and what does this honor mean among peers at other institutions?

ILL is a giant logistics puzzle. So when people say I’m an authority, they mean that I have deep understanding of the supply chains, programs, and processes to (locate) materials from all over the world. ILL folks see themselves and describe their work within libraries as facilitating that delivery. This honor is a recognition of my work to simplify that logistics puzzle, automate it, and align it with our patrons needs.

Are there innovations or process developments that are important to you, or which are career goals you hope to see achieved?

I want to revise the whole process. The workflows are archaic and unsustainable as we see the volume of traffic increasing. That said, I think we are finally moving away from thinking just about our library rules and what library system does what to one that is patron-centered and where success is defined by easy to understand processes that support what those customers trying to do and how can libraries best support their workflows. I’ve had the opportunity to push for these changes in collaboration with Big Ten partners and the Ivies too.

How did you get into libraries?

Typical story, I was a library student worker in college.

How has resource sharing changed since you started in the field?

When I started, we sent requests via fax, and that was newfangled cutting edge. Notifications were phone calls. It was very time consuming, libraries were very restrictive about what and who they would serve and loan periods were short. We were very good at saying no.

We’re much less uptight now. The internet and all the digitization projects make so many more things available easily. We ILL folks understand that we need our shared collections to support everyone.

Just for fun: What is the most memorable thing you’ve seen come through the library via ILL?
The pallet of historical printed-on-paper newspaper run the Center for Research Libraries sent us was the largest object, by far, that I’d ever seen requested through ILL.

And the album you’ve listened to most in your life?
Louder than Bombs, the Smiths