The message was brief, but there was no mistaking its meaning. Those with a habit of keeping library materials past their due date knew it well.
"This is your conscience speaking. You know what I want."
The voice belonged to Mary Shelly, Franklin & Marshall's interlibrary loan assistant. In recent years, however, electronic communication has provided a more nondescript reminder to those with overdue materials.
"Now, we send e-mail," Shelly says. "It's a more impersonal manner of communication, but a fact of life."
Interlibrary loan has long been an important service offered by the library, particularly for faculty and students who need materials for research purposes. During her 30 years at the College, Shelly has connected thousands of patrons to materials not available in the College's holdings by working with other libraries around the country. She also exchanges resources with institutions as far away as Australia and Japan. Through it all, she has seen her share of technological advances.
"When I started in the department, they had a very large, clunky, loud machine that allowed us to communicate with people in Harrisburg and a few other locations," Shelly says. "When you typed on it, you felt as though they heard it."
In the 1980s, the process of filling an interlibrary loan request could take more than one month. Shelly remembers the procedure, archaic by today's standards. "We were only allowed to ask one location at a time," she says. "We'd type up an American Library Association form, mail it to the location and wait to hear back. Sometimes you would get a negative reply, and try again with another library."
Shelly's job became more streamlined when the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) provided the ability to send a request to five locations, one handing the request off to another until it was filled.
"There was a real evolution in information," she says. "Then came online journals, and in some cases, journals both in hard copy and online. Holdings became more and more defined, which made our job easier and more accurate."
With the click of a button, Shelly can now see another library's database and determine what is available. If a patron needs a resource quickly, Shelly and the library staff establish which location has traditionally produced a quick turnaround.
Despite the new technology, Shelly still needs to rely on her own instincts and experience to track down some difficult-to-find items. "One time we could find no locations for a particular item," she says. "We turned to Google and found the author's e-mail address. We wrote him and had the article within four hours—it was incredible. It's rewarding when you can find that difficult piece of material."
Shelly has also experienced some rewarding moments at conferences with her peers, who often tell her about the good reputation F&M has built and maintained. "When I came to F&M, the library had an excellent reputation, and we still do. Staff from other libraries say, 'You're F&M? We love you.'"
Wanting to help people and loving to tackle challenges are two reasons Shelly enjoys her job at the library. There is an added bonus.
"I love to read, so I think being in a library setting is like working in a candy shop," she says.