UAP and OIL:

Report on the work of the Core Programme for Universal Availability of Publications and the Office for International Lending 1979 - 2002

There has been an "IFLA Office" at the British Library, Boston Spa, for well over 20 years. This report highlights some of the major achievements of the IFLA Offices for UAP and International Lending during their lifetime. It also includes, as an appendix, a full listing of all UAP publications and a list of the UAP Seminars that have been held. It will also try to clarify the wide confusion over the relationship between OIL and UAP. What do the acronyms OIL and UAP actually stand for? Are they the same programme with different names? Different programmes with the same staff? Part of the British Library Copyright Office? Whatever the inaccuracies, many people in the library world are familiar with the concept of UAP and most would be able to come up with 'international', 'publications', 'availability', 'ILL' or 'lending', to fit some of the words in the acronyms.

The Core Programme for the Universal Availability of Publications was started in the late 1970s by Maurice Line, following a proposal by Donald Urquart some years earlier. The reasoning went that if you were aiming for a systematic recording of all library collections (the aim of the Core Programme for UBC), then there was also a need to improve the availability of those collections for all potential users. National bibliographies were all very well, but did they in fact help the user to obtain the library material required? Or did they simply raise awareness of the existence of relevant material and increase demand, which could not always be met? The aim of the new Core Programme for UAP was to improve access to published material, whether this meant improving local publishing and distribution patterns in developing countries; identification of effective strategies for the retention of last copies for preservation purposes; transfer of documents across national boundaries; or the traditional means of sharing library resources, good old interlibrary loan. In 1980, IFLA's second core programme was formally established at the British Library at Boston Spa.

The UAP programme was originally rooted within the Office for International Lending, sharing its staff and resources. The Office for International Lending had been established some years earlier, as a gift to IFLA from the BL Board, with the specific purpose of improving procedures for international lending and document supply between libraries. In June 1979, when an extra full-time officer was recruited, the functions, staffing and financing of the UAP programme were fully separated from those of the Office for International Lending (OIL), which continued to be supported wholly by the British Library. The Programme Management Committee confirmed in December 1980 the formal designation of an International Office for UAP, in line with the International Office for UBC in London.

Although the OIL and UAP programme have different origins, were funded differently and had different aims, it has always proved difficult to keep the two functions separated in people's minds, and, often, in the work that has been undertaken. Certainly in more recent years, the two arms were inextricably linked, despite constant protestations by each Director that they should be considered as separate functions. Since ILL is a key element of UAP, which relies on ready sharing of material among libraries, this report looks jointly at the work of the two offices.

The work of the Offices for UAP and OIL seems to have fallen into three main areas:

Promotion of the principle of UAP

Throughout the life of the Office, one of the key activities carried out by the programme was the series of UAP workshops held in different regions of the world. The aim of the workshops was to bring together senior representatives of the library and publishing worlds and governments, in order to bring about real improvements in the provision of published material to the region's citizens. Discussion on the local publishing and book supply industries supported the consideration of national library and information networks. Interlibrary loan was always a key element of these Seminars, and some important initiatives have emerged.

The concept and aims of UAP were promoted very strongly in the early years, beginning with a "call to arms" in the form of the International Congress on UAP, which took place in Paris, May 3-7 1982. The Congress attracted 178 participants from 64 member states of UNESCO, and resulted in a list of 48 recommendations aimed at governments, international organisations, the World Book Congress, national libraries and professional library staff.

After this, the first UAP Seminar appears to have been the UAP Training Seminar , held at the British Library Lending Division in February 1983. Its aim was to "provide a number of individuals of suitably senior status from various parts of the world with a broad and deep understanding of UAP." This was the first of many such seminars to be held, often concentrating on a single geographic area, where barriers to improving access would be similar for all libraries, and where, hopefully, seminar participants could work together to seek solutions.

The seminars were useful for UAP staff too in identifying recurring barriers to effective interlibrary loan and document delivery. It was discussions such as these that highlighted the enormous difficulties experienced by libraries in paying for their ILL requests, and of course, the now famous (or infamous?) IFLA Voucher Scheme was eventually developed to overcome this particular barrier.

In addition to the discussion and debate that was so valuable for the promotion of UAP, the UAP Office produced a series of publications to support education in UAP. The Model Handbook for Interlending & Copying; Guide to the organisation of meetings on UAP; Guidelines for national planning for the availability of publications; and Universal Availability of Publications: a programme to improve the national and international provision of documents are all important UAP documents.

A list of all UAP Seminars and UAP publications is given at Appendix 1.

Supporting UAP: twins, digitisation, union catalogues and more

As well as the direct promotion of the concept of UAP, the Office undertook a range of projects which all tied in with the aim of improving access to published material. One of the difficulties with UAP - and especially with its name - was the all-encompassing nature of the concept, which meant that virtually any scenario relating to improving access could be deemed to be of UAP interest. While the Programme was enormously wide-ranging, the projects carried out were necessarily more focussed and of value only to specific sectors of the library world. Some of the projects undertaken by the Office had rather tenuous links with the original ideals of UAP, but many sat happily with the aims of the Office to promote access and improve availability.

Of the projects carried out, the following are worth a mention:

Guidelines and practical tools

While the UAP Seminars focussed very closely on particular regions of the world, and supported library developments in perhaps just one or two countries, some of the more practical initiatives of the OIL/UAP programme have had more wide-ranging results.

The development of a set of principles which would regulate international ILL is one idea which spans UAP and OIL. The aim of the principles is to encourage libraries to share their resources with libraries in other countries, and to provide some guidance in doing so. The first and over-riding principle is that each country should accept responsibility for supplying copies of its own publications to any other country. The concept of universal availability of publications relies on this principle, since national publications must be available locally, if there is to be any chance of them also being available to users in other countries. Another principle recommends that particular effort should be made to satisfy requests received from libraries in less developed countries, in support of UAP. The International Lending and Document Delivery: Principles and Guidelines for Procedure were first agreed by IFLA in 1954, and have been revised from time to time since then. A major revision was undertaken in 2001 by the OIL and the Section on Document Delivery & Interlending, and a small sub-committee of that Section has been established to look after the Principles after the closure of UAP.

In 1975, the Office produced the first Brief Guide to Centres of International Lending & Photocopying. This Directory listed national lending centres for every country of the world (or national library where there was no national loan centre), and provided information on how ILL requests should be handled in each country. Users could ascertain whether a national loan centre existed, or which body held responsibility for co-ordinating lending in that country. Preferred request methods, likely charges and payment options were also provided. By 1995, the 5th edition was in production, and enquiries are still regularly received asking when the next edition will be available.

The IFLA Loan/Photocopy Request Form is perhaps one of the OIL's most famous and enduring products. The request form has been in use since at least 1975 and probably for much longer. It is recognised by ILL departments the world over, accepted by most of them as a standard format for paper ILL requests, and continues to be used by many libraries despite so much electronic progress in the world of ILL.

Use of this paper request form has clearly declined in recent years, and the move by libraries to other, electronic, request methods can be used as an example of the difficulty the UAP Core Programme has experienced in remaining relevant in the fast-moving bright new world of ILL. In the early years of UAP, most communication was carried out by letter or telephone, and email had not been invented. International interlibrary loan requests were sent almost always by post, and national boundaries were clear and significant. ILL was seen as the Cinderella of library operations and international lending was often seen as the triumph of optimism over a huge number of obstacles: lengthy delays at all stages of the request and supply process, difficulty in finding out which library might hold the item you required and an enormous reluctance on the part of most libraries in the world to lend abroad. The Office for International Lending prided itself on encouraging libraries to be more co-operative in support of international resource-sharing, and was in a position to offer advice and practical help in this area. International ILL was such a difficult operation that any small improvements were welcomed with open arms by those trying to obtain material from abroad. The Office was able to gather fairly comprehensive statistical information on the flow of ILL requests around the world, such was the limited nature of that activity.

By the mid-1990's of course, everything had changed. Interlibrary loan was now an exciting, dynamic operation, new electronic options for sending and responding to requests and for sending the item were coming thick and fast. There was no longer only one option for sending ILL requests, but many. And commercial document suppliers, coupled with improved access to library catalogues across national boundaries and fast cheap options for sending copies, meant that there were whole areas of ILL in which the OIL did not have the expertise to participate.

But there are still several areas of ILL where progress has been slow. In the international loan of returnable items (traditional lending), long delays in the processing of requests, a persistent reluctance to lend material abroad and slow postal delivery rates still mean that this process is less than satisfactory. And the challenge of making payments for interlibrary loan transactions between countries remains the most problematic area. International payment problems are not limited to libraries of course, but anything that can be done to help libraries avoid the high bank charges, poor exchange rates and long delays in payment transactions can only be a good move.

IFLA Voucher Scheme

In 1995 after much discussion and some opposition, the IFLA Voucher Scheme for International ILL Payments was developed and implemented. The Scheme was developed in response to the regular cry for help in overcoming international payment barriers in ILL. But it was by no means obvious that this invention would be successful. The Scheme required libraries to buy payment 'tokens' in bulk in advance, and a critical mass of users would be needed to make the system successful. Seven years on and it is clear that the Voucher Scheme has gone a long way in improving the ILL payment options for many libraries. Over 1000 libraries are listed on the Voucher Scheme database, and around 67,000 full and 23,000 half vouchers have now been sold to the international ILL community. Although its success has brought with it its own challenges in managing its administration and production costs, the Voucher Scheme is a model of simplicity and is a reflection of what the OIL has always done best: small practical solutions to specific ILL challenges. The Voucher Scheme has been identified as one of the few items of existing work that should be continued after the closure of the Office, and the management of the Scheme will transfer to IFLA Headquarters by the end of March 2003.


The IFLA Core Programme for UAP and the Office for International Lending have achieved a great deal during their lifetime. Often seen as a single function by many, they had very different approaches to similar challenges. The OIL tried to offer practical solutions to practical problems, specifically in the field of ILL. For ILL practitioners needing information about lending policies in other countries, the Office was an essential resource. The guidelines, finding tools, request forms and, of course, the Voucher Scheme, have all offered invaluable support in the ILL arena. Universal Availability of Publications, on the other hand, is an ideal, a lofty concept, an achievement towards which all libraries should be striving. It is one of the key underlying tenets of libraries, for if libraries are not in the business of providing access to publications, then what is their raison d'Ítre? The very hugeness of this aim has sometimes made it difficult to assess the impact of the UAP core programme and difficult for smaller parts of IFLA to identify themselves with it in any practical way. But the impact and practical achievement that UAP has had during its lifetime cannot be underestimated, and it is to be hoped that the aims behind the programme continue to be expressed and acted upon in the future.


Meetings and Seminars



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