Archives for the Month of September 2009 on Carl's ILLiad Blog

Variation in Electronic Delivery Quality

"Why don't all my electronic delivery scans from ILLiad look the same?"

We always strive to provide you with good-quality, clear, legible reproductions of articles, book chapters, conference papers, etc., for use in your scholarly research. Most of the time we obtain high-quality reproductions from our suppliers, but we admit there can often be variation in the quality of the scans received. A little explanation of this may be in order.

All articles are delivered to you through your ILLiad patron account, downloadable when you log in, rather than as attachments to e-mail notifications. As electronic delivery is already a built-in feature of the ILLiad package, and for the sake of procedural uniformity, we use this method exclusively as it is a more manageable and streamlined process than the alternative. Ideally, an article is presented with one single page of text (or plates, if any) per frame, and these all should appear right-side-up, with numbered pages in ascending order. Usually a paging slip, cover sheet or request form (possibly with a copyright declaration) is included at the very beginning, prior to the text pages.

One of the most efficient and direct methods of transmitting articles electronically from one library to another--and the one which we use most frequently whenever possible--is through a system integrated within ILLiad known as 'Odyssey'. We consciously select potential suppliers that we know to use this system before any others, provided they have the required resources among their holdings. Occasionally, some lender libraries will instead send us articles as PDF or TIF documents via e-mail, as attachments or postings. Due to contractual agreements regarding confidentiality and fair use, and for the sake of uniform implementation of ILLiad functions, we cannot simply forward these communications on to our patrons. Finally, other lenders still send us paper copies through regular mail or courier, or by fax.

When we receive an article through Odyssey, we ordinarily have an opportunity to view and make modifications to the scanned pages. We frequently will upright any upside-down pages, crop out any unwanted black or white space in the margins, and re-order incorrectly ordered pages, when this is practical. Many suppliers already take care to have done this for us ahead of time. If a particular lender that uses Odyssey on a regular basis has proven to our satisfaction that they can provide quality scans, we will designate them with a 'Trusted Sender' status. Once this is set, all subsequent electronic deliveries from such a provider will be sent through directly from the lender library to you, unmediated by ILL staff at Kelvin Smith Library. This means that you may receive an article being supplied by one of these lenders at any time, night or day, or even on weekends. As this process will then be on a 'good-faith' basis, it also can allow for the possibility of an occasional scan of lesser quality.

When we receive a TIF via e-mail, we can import it into ILLiad's scanning function, and have the opportunity to modify the file (i.e., cropping, rotating, correcting page order, etc., when practical) before we send it on to you. When a PDF is supplied to us by the lender, we are more likely to leave it in its unmodified original form before providing it to you, since the regular use of Adobe Acrobat can be a little too cumbersome and time-consuming to be feasible, especially when larger files are involved. Since it is essentially 'ready-made', we can copy it directly into our online FTP folder and then send off the corresponding delivery notification to its recipient. When we are provided with a paper copy, we simply run it through an ADF scanner (with pages already properly oriented and in correct order) and import the images into ILLiad. Again, in this case we have the opportunity to perform some cropping when practical, before sending it on for delivery.

Variation in quality often is related to the original source of the article. For example, some lenders will supply an article, usually in PDF format, directly from their own electronic journal edition (when copyright or publisher contract allows), and you would ordinarily expect a high-quality reproduction (sometimes even with color print or images). This will usually not have a cover sheet, but almost always includes a copyright declaration. At the other end of the spectrum, articles reproduced from microfilm, microfiche or microopaque sources are often of inferior quality. Further scanning at errantly selected, inadequate resolution levels can diminish this even further. Unfortunately, some materials (such as old newspapers) are only available in these formats, as original print versions may not have been well-preserved over the years. Older, yellowed or darkened paper sources are also difficult to reproduce with acceptable degrees of clarity or contrast between background and print, and you may occasionally see a notation such as 'BEST COPY AVAILABLE' indicated by the supplier.

Original page size of print editions can also be a factor in appearance. Although most books and journals approximate the standard 8-1/2" x 11" dimensions, many are much larger or considerably smaller. Some lenders may choose to scan the pages to scale, and this would be carried over into the electronic file copy. (This usually will not affect your ability to print the file, as page size is ordinarily re-adjusted to fit into the available paper size, according to printer preference settings.) Others may choose to reduce or enlarge to fit the standard page size, although this is more common when photocopied paper copies are provided. Suppliers outside the U.S. routinely apply metric dimensions (i.e., 'A4', 'B4') when reproducing articles, which would normally be re-sized to fit standard letter-size proportions. Extreme reduction can lead to text that cannot be easily readable (even with magnification), while excessive enlargement can produce text that appears faded.

Another factor that affects quality is the type of equipment used, and how it is put to use by its operator. Overhead scanners are designed not to place pressure on opened volumes, and thus lessen the chance of damage to spines and brittle pages. However, this can ofter result in the appearance of fingers in margins and large dark areas in-between facing pages, both of which may obscure some of the text. On the other hand, there are some high-end flatbed scanners that, when properly programmed and operated, can split paired pages (thus avoiding alternate inverted exposures), crop margins uniformly, and delete unwanted pages, and are ideal for automated high-volume use. Of course, many lenders still rely on the good old-fashioned photocopy machine, which can result in a great deal of variation, such as the aforementioned fingers in the margin, dark gutters, black and white space, and alternating inversions, as well as the paper-conserving practice of reduction to fit two pages into a single exposure. Of course, additional human error can lead to missing or incomplete pages, incorrectly ordered pages, skewed text, and improperly selected density or resolution.

We do try our best to compensate for such anomalies, whenever this is possible. For example, in cases where we are able to intercept the delivery of an article to a patron, we can catch any egregious errors, such as missing, truncated, illegible or excessively skewed pages. In such cases, we would be likely to contact the lender library to request a corrected re-send of the article before making any attempt at delivering it electronically. We also realize that with the quicker turnaround time and less need for staff involvement as a result of implementing ILLiad's 'Trusted Sender' feature comes the caveat of the occasional less-than-perfect article. In the long run, we believe that the benefits of this application more often outweigh the risks.

Keep in mind that if you are ever dissatisfied with the quality of an electronically delivered document through Kelvin Smith Library's ILLiad services, you may feel free to contact our department by phone at 216-368-3517 or 216-368-3463 or by e-mail at, to request a replacement.

Additional information about electronic delivery with ILLiad is available in the following Customer Help pages:
View Electronically Received Articles & Electronic Delivery Information