Eh, What’s Up, DOCLINE? How About 40 Million Requests!

It wasn’t exactly like the ball dropping at Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

But as the DOCLINE® milestone approached earlier this month, librarians on DOCLINE were watching: Who will make the 40 millionth request and who will fill it?

Another Indiana Connection to NLM
Indiana contains one of the richest concentrations of limestone in the world. Indiana’s limestone has helped build the Pentagon, the Empire State Building, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and many other important buildings—including the National Library of Medicine.

That honor belongs to libraries in the Hoosier state. The Community Health Network Library in Indianapolis, Indiana, entered request number 40,000,000. And the Health Sciences Library at Franciscan Health, also in Indianapolis, filled the request.

DOCLINE, NLM’s automated interlibrary loan request routing and referral system, enables the efficient sharing of medical literature resources among over 2,100 libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine.

“Basically, DOCLINE is librarians helping each other out,” says Elisabeth Lubar Unger, DOCLINE team lead. “DOCLINE gets to the core of who we are. As a profession, librarians want to help.”

This free service also helps solve a potential problem that librarians particularly dislike. “Librarians hate to not be able to put their hands on what one needs,” says Unger.

What’s the DOCLINE difference?

“DOCLINE service is fast, and use of the system is free,” explains Unger. “Hospitals rely on us. Some libraries don’t have a budget for or access to literature. With the FreeShare group, we have 1,000 libraries who share resources with one another for free.”

Unger estimates that 60% of participant libraries are in hospitals, and they place around 60% of requests and fill about 40%. In contrast academic libraries constitute approximately 25% of users, but fill nearly 60% of requests. The remaining 15% of libraries are at federal or state public health agencies and other institutions.

DOCLINE automatically matches requests with libraries that report having the journal, so most of the time requests are routed to people who can fill the request.

Currently, 93.3% of requests are filled successfully, and the average time for lenders to fill a normal DOCLINE request is typically less than single day.

The DOCLINE® team raise their hands in celebration and smile.

Hooray for 40 million! DOCLINE team members Lisa Theisen, Joe Schechter, Li Chen, Lis Unger, and Joanna Widzer celebrate the milestone.

Requests that can’t be filled are often for “e-pub ahead of print” articles or information that appeared in journal supplements, because not every subscription includes access these materials. Requests for articles published in foreign journals are also difficult to fill, because they are not widely held.

“Sometimes, people are surprised to learn that 98% of requests are for articles, not books or other materials,” says Unger, “and most of those requests are for articles published within the past five years. This is sort of counterintuitive.

“If people think about interlibrary loans, they think it’s about older stuff that might be harder to get, not current stuff. But in fact, most of the requests are for more recent literature, which may be because, in the medical realm, more recent information is more important.”

But on the flip side, she says, “The older stuff is important to know—what people might have tried to do or what they used to do—particularly for diseases we thought we had eradicated.”

Some requests come from DOCLINE’s companion system, Loansome Doc, that connects individuals to libraries that can provide them access to health-related literature.

What’s the deal with the DOCLINE dog?

DOCLINE mascot Tugger, a Jack Russell Terrier


When DOCLINE began in 1985, computers could be intimidating. To help make the system seem as friendly and as accessible as possible, pictures of Tugger, a dog belonging to an NLM employee, were put in the system.

Even today, when people log on, they’re still greeted by Tugger. Says Unger, “He actually has quite a following.”

What’s up next, DOCLINE?

DOCLINE libraries don’t place as many requests as they did even five years ago. The internet, open access repositories like PubMed Central, and the ability for libraries to subscribe to large journal packages with thousands of titles have all played a part in the reduced number of ILL requests.

But the need for DOCLINE remains strong—and not just among librarians.

“Historically, the user group was librarians with very specialized knowledge. Now some users are library clerks, students, and even continuing medical education coordinators. It could be anyone,” says Unger.

To help the different types of DOCLINE users and offer more efficient service to all, DOCLINE staff is in the process of redesigning the system.

“We’re moving away from using library-specific terms,” explains Unger. “For instance, right now, one aspect of the system that makes it special is that all the member libraries put in their journal holdings, except that they’re labeled as serial titles. If you don’t know that serial is synonymous with journal, it’s not a helpful label. We’re going to re-label serials as journals.”

“We’re also redesigning the system so that electronic journals and delivery are given more prominence,” says Theisen. “Many things have changed since the system was rolled out in 1985, and libraries were mailing photocopies instead of delivering PDFs from their online journal collection via email.”

Changes will be rolled out later this year and early next year, says Theisen. She adds, “We really appreciate the people who use our system.”

Meet DOCLINE’s team members at NLM

Public Services Division (PSD)
Elisabeth Lubar Unger, DOCLINE Team Lead, Collection Access Section/Systems Unit
Lisa B. Theisen, Head Systems Unit, Collection Access Section
Joanna Widzer, User Experience Lead, Reference & Web Services, Web Information Unit
Mark de Jong, Head, Collection Access Section
Mark Ziomek, PSD Chief

Office of Computer & Communication Systems (OCCS)
Lichuan Chen, Programmer
Joe Schechter, Lead Programmer

For more information about DOCLINE, please contact us.

DOCLINE Customer Service
National Library of Medicine
US: 1-888-FINDNLM (press 2)
Intl: 301-594-5983 (press 2)