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How NILDE started

In Italy, at the end of the ‘90s, two main national services for the sharing of resources were well established: ACNP, the Italian National Union Catalogue of Periodicals, which at that times included  about 1,500  academic and research libraries which regularly updated their serials holdings, and SBN, the National Library System, in which about 3,000, mainly public and academic libraries participated, updating their serial and book holdings. Besides the two national services, a repository of the Italian OPACs was managed by the AIB (Association of Italian Libraries), to provide meta-search facilities to about 250 OPACs connected through a meta-search engine. As ACNP was a specialized serial catalog, it was considered to be (and still it is) the most authoritative Italian resource for inter-library document delivery service. In Italy, the term document delivery (DD) has been used to refer to ILL of not returnable materials.  
Thanks to these national services, the number of DD requests showed a general increasing trend  which led to the need for the reorganisation of services in libraries, through a rethinking at a broader national level. A proposal for a national “DD and ILL Customer charter” was issued, aiming to establish general criteria for efficient DD management, such as visibility of holdings, transparency of terms and conditions, promptness of response, completeness of data to start a DD/ILL request, homogeneous rules and means of payment for services. The great differences present among so many types of libraries were considered to be the main obstacle; in fact, the only successful cooperative projects involved a restricted number of Italian libraries generally belonging to the same disciplinary field or the same geographical region.

The NILDE (Network Inter-Library Document Exchange) web application was initially developed at the Italian National Research Council (CNR) Bologna Research Library, in the framework of a two-years project funded by CNR, which aimed  at “to exploit the new Internet technologies in order to develop advanced inter-library services and to promote cooperation among CNR and Italian university libraries”.
NILDE software design was inspired by ARL’s pioneering study conducted by Mary Jackson1, the results of which identified characteristics of successful high performance document delivery services. The initial vision for NILDE in the year 2000 was:

  • to create software to computerize the entire DD workflow, reducing library operator working time and avoiding highly-repetitive tasks;
  • to integrate in the automation software a secure way for electronic transmission of documents, so reducing management costs and increasing the efficiency of service;
  • to automatically provide performance indicators, such as cost, fulfillment rate and turnaround time;
  • to promote a cooperative model based on quality of service, which would have started a virtuous interactive cycle in Italy, stimulating libraries to improve their service. As a consequence, not only would the requesting libraries have benefitted, but so, eventually, would the overall system of libraries and their end-users;
  • to propose a unified DD payment system.

The first prototype of the NILDE software was presented to the librarian community in 2001 at the First Italian Workshop on “Internet Document Delivery and inter-library cooperation”, where all the attending libraries were invited to join the pilot project. A mailing list ( ) was set up devoted to the exchange of ideas, problems and solutions and to keep participants informed about ongoing improvements and developments in the software.
Since then, the rapid growth in membership proved how great the need was in Italy for the adoption of standardized and structured processes for ILL services by means of the sharing of common best practices through a computerized system. Librarians have stimulated NILDE continuous growth and the development of innovative features.