Document Delivery – Document Retrieval Made Easy: Tips for Retrieval from Southern California Libraries

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(Archived January 3, 1997)
James Hauger is founder ofCal Info, a document retreival service with offices in Southern California and Washington, D.C.

There are many rich sources of documents in the Southern California area including the UC system, the Cal State system, public libraries, and private libraries. This article reviews how to access them.


Before on-line catalogs you had to call reference at these libraries to find out if they had what you needed. This was a hit and miss way of doing document retrieval. You could also subscribe to union lists. Today you need computer access to the catalogs of these sources. There are several databases that provide access to the catalogs of most institutions. For document retrieval in Southern California OCLC and RLIN are indispensable because of their wide coverage of libraries in the area. They give you access to all libraries in the other databases listed. Databases which list library holdings include:

  • OCLC provides access to all the Cal State and UC libraries, Cal Tech, Occidental College, San Diego State, the University of San Diego, and many public and private libraries. You can subscribe to OCLC as a contributing member which means your library holdings are listed or subscribe to their EPIC service which allows you access to the OCLC database. The benefits of being an OCLC contributing member is that you can get journal holdings and arrange interlibrary loans on-line. This is not possible on EPIC
  • RLIN is similar to OCLC and provides very good coverage to Southern California academic, public, and private libraries and is the only commercial database which includes the Los Angeles County Law Library.
  • MELVYL provides access to the Cal State and UC system.
  • THEMIS provides access to the Los Angeles County Law Library. Other county law libraries have their own database.
  • UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara have individual catalogs you can dial into. UCLA’s database for example is called ORION.

The Internet provides access to many of these databases. Check Hytelnet for a list of online catalogs of California Libraries available on the internet.


Once you have run a search and have a list of libraries that have what you need there are a number of things to do.

1. Verify the Item is There
Call reference and confirm that the item is in their collection, get the call number, make sure it circulates, and ask whether the computer indicates the item is not checked out. Many items listed in the on-line catalogs, especially the commercial ones, have been weeded out, put in storage, or lost even though the database still indicates it is there. Generally books will circulate unless they are reference or reserve Multivolume sets sometimes do and sometime do not circulate. This may or may not be indicated on-line depending on the database. Journals almost never circulate except with a few exceptions at public libraries. Even though the reference librarian tells you that the computer indicates the book is not checked out there is still a possibility that the book is off the shelf (OTS) because someone happens to be reading it in the library, it is on a shelving cart, it has not been reshelved properly, or it is missing.

2. Retrieve the Item Directly
If you have established with reasonable certainty that the item is in the library then you have various options. If the library is close to your office you can send a staff member over to pick up the item. Most college and public libraries offer library cards to the public. Private libraries do not. Public library cards are free. Colleges charge a fee for the card. UCLA for example has several options from an individual card for $70 per year (nontransferable) which allows you to check out five items to corporate cards which start at $1000 per year for unlimited check out. Call the circulation desk of the library to find out what their policy is.

3. Arrange an Interlibrary Loan
If you can not send a staff member then you can arrange an interlibrary loan. This will give you access to most library collections including private collections. The book OCLC Participating Institutions tells you whether a library is a supplier or a nonsupplier. You can send an interlibrary loan through OCLC if you subscribe, through email to the interlibrary loan department or fax a request to interlibrary loan. Most libraries require you to fill out an American Library Association (ALA) interlibrary loan form for each email or fax order, one item per form. For email this means you will have to have an electronic form. The ALA form is filled out with your library at the top and the lending library at the bottom. Be as specific as possible on the item requested including title, author, date, volume and issue for serials, and page numbers if requesting a photocopy. For photocopies you must indicate copyright compliance. If you are in a hurry for the item to be faxed ask for “rush” service or provide your FedEx number for books and indicate when you need it. The interlibrary loan charge will be based on how fast you need the item, number of copies, and method of delivery. The cost can range from $5 to $50 and more per item. Any questions regarding this form should be directed to ALA.

Here are a few hints for requests.

When ordering copies always ask for a cover page, copyright page, or table of contents, something that will identify the source and date. If the document ends up as an attachment to a court filing the court will throw out the filing if the attachments are not properly identified.

If you need both a fax and then the hard copy indicate that the fax will be destroyed when the hard copy is received. There are a few libraries that will not do both because of copyright laws.

When deciding on a source for an interlibrary loan generally the turn around time from college, university, and private libraries is faster than public libraries.

Public libraries are one of the few sources that will actually check a shelf for an item. Only once in a blue moon will a college librarian check a shelf.

Many universities have a special service in addition to interlibrary loan that deal with businesses. These are the most efficient services to deal with when you need something ASAP. UC San Diego for example has a service called Corporate Plus. Services such as these will charge more than interlibrary loan.

If you do not have the staff or time to do document retrieval there are many commercial services that will do it for you. These services can locate items for you, retrieve them, and arrange interlibrary loans. One of the best sources for such services is The Burwell World Directory of Information Brokers. It is organized by state with listings alphabetical by company name within the state. There is an index by city. Pricing is included in most entries.

Watch for future articles in this series will include nonlibrary sources, sources outside of Southern California, and Washington, DC sources.

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