The British Library has operated its docdel service on a prepayment basis
for years.  In the old days there were physical numbered request forms that
you bought, and once the net came along these moved to some sort virtual
form based on unique reference number.

When I was at the BMA we had a large amount of ILL traffic, peaking at over
80,000/year.  We introduced a system of BMA stamps which worked very well.
We printed special BMA tokens in postage stamp format which libraries would
buy in advance and then stick on whatever piece of paper they sent us
bearing the ILL request:  one stamp for next day, three for a fax (it was a
while ago) and ten for the drop everything and send it now option.   I think
this system is still used, though obviously only for a small portion because
most users now request via web forms.  I believe they now use a monthly
billing system which cumulates requests, which is based on Lotus Notes (not
because that's necessarily sensible but because there was a programming
genius who could do it for us).  This sort of thing is only economical if
the volume of work is there, so it may not be of huge help to you,I'm

There are a couple of particular considerations about running any sort
ofprepayment scheme.  You must set a time-limit on how quickly a
pre-purchased request must be used, after which the purchase lapses.  This
is for three main reasons:  

Firstly, the value of the purchase is slowly leeched away by inflation and
you don't want to be in a position 10 years down the road to be having to
fulfil ILL requests that were paid for at a fraction of your current cost

Secondly, you need to keep a grip on the debt issue.  In accounting terms,
the amount of money spent pre-buying ILLs from you goes into one side of the
balance sheet as revenue (good) but into the other side as debt because when
you think about it the money represents work that people have paid you to do
but which you haven't yet done but must expect to do sometimes.

Thirdly, you have to keep this "debt" under control because at some point
you will have to run it down or, worst case, pay it all back at once.  The
first is happening now as ILL goes onloine and volumes of requests collapse
in the face of big deals and other means of making articles available.  The
second could (conceivably) follow on from, for example, a major change in
the laws governing ILL provision which might make it illegal to carry on
with the service.  Having pre-bought requests "expire" after say 3 or 4
years puts the responsibility for managing this debt onto the requestors'
shoulders and puts a secure cap on the amounts involved.

There is good news as well as problems, though.  

You are putting extra cash into your organisation's coffers, which people
will probably be pleased about. At the BMA it was c$100,000 current value.
For your own protection, though, you need get and file safely a piece of
paper with the finance director's name on it which shows that he/she
understands what is going on and that there is $n,000 in the accounts which
needs to be carried forward each year as debt and which may need to be found
in the future outwith your operating budget.  Tempting though it might be,
you can't just go out and spend this windfall on beer and chips without
exposing you or your succcessors to future disaster.

Hope this helps,


Tony McSean
Director of Library Relations
84 Theobald's Road
London WC1X 8RR
+44 7795 960516
+44 20 76114413

-----Original Message-----
From: Medical Libraries Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Craig, Tom
Sent: 17 August 2006 19:30
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Prepayment for document delivery

I would like to hear the thoughts of anyone who requires or has ever
required pre-payment for document delivery or interlibrary loan services and
how such a policy might affect (positively or negatively) operations in
general and QuickDoc specifically.  I am being asked to come up with a way
to charge in advance for articles instead of billing when the articles are
delivered.  In cases where an article can't be obtained, this will entail
keeping a record of credits for overpayment and/or a refund system for
overpayment.  The campus cashier's office also advises against keeping
credit card numbers on file.  We charge flat rate for articles, but
copyright fees are also sometimes required.  Thanks in advance.

Thomas B. Craig, MSLS, Interim Director of Library Services Watson W. Wise
Medical Research Library The University of Texas Health Center at Tyler
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