As liaison to all of the distance learning programs at our University, I frequently deal with our Interlibrary Loan Librarian. We can’t do traditional book interlibrary loan with our distance learners because the loan times do not allow sufficient time for us to ship the materials to the student and for the student to consult them. Instead, we try to buy what our students need, within reason. We can’t always get everything, but we do our best.

When we got back from winter break, the ILL Librarian came to me with a request from a student. When a request from an online student is unusual or the books s/he is requesting is over $50, the request comes to me, as liaison, where I either allow or deny it. I usually allow anything over $50 that would be a good addition to the collection. Anyways, this request was for five books from before 1910. All of them were on the same extremely esoteric topic, which was likely never to be researched again by anyone at this institution (it was an odd one). In addition, they were out of print and some were impossible to find through used book dealers. The ILL Librarian was ready to suggest that the student utilize the ILL services of his local public library. I asked if she’d checked to see if the books were available online. She hadn’t. I then proceeded to find two of the five in Google Books and another two in the Internet Archive. So four out of five of the books he was requesting were freely available online for him to read and download.

I explained to the ILL Librarian that any time an online student is requesting a book from before 1923, she should check online to see if the book has been digitized. She was so grateful for the information, as was the student, who was shocked that so many of them were available online (though there’s tutorial for his program on Google Books that I created some time ago… sigh…).

Sometimes we assume that the knowledge we have is common. Often, we couldn’t be more wrong. That trick you discovered with a difficult-to-use database? That website you found that offers a treasure trove of statistical and demographic data? That free site for creating citations? It’s very possible that your colleagues don’t already know about this stuff. We all have so much useful knowledge to share with our colleagues, with our students, with our profession. Finding ways to share it and collect it can be challenging, but what we will all learn in the end makes it worth the effort.

Needless to say, I will be offering a session for my colleagues on Google Scholar and digital book archives this semester, and I’m sure my colleagues will give me lots of useful knowledge to add to my reference arsenal as well. What I love most about this profession is that we are constantly and simultaneously teachers and learners. It’s a good thing.