In my recent presentation on social networks for academics, I discussed the disintermediation of the library out of the scholarly communication process as social media tools make it easier for scholars to transfer and acquire information without consulting library services or staff. In today’s Chronicle, I came across an interesting example of this:

Thanks to Twitter, I have been sent copies of obscure articles much faster than I would have received them from an interlibrary loan. I just need to tweet “Does anyone have access to the Journal of X, 1972?” and within an hour someone will have e-mailed me the PDF. It’s tremendously useful.

A similar PDF exchange market exists on Reddit.

In some part, this relates to the concept of the “invisible college,” notably the part that encompasses the peer-to-peer transfer of research that has always existed and functioned outside library walls. In fact, I still have a drawer full of pre-prints and writer’s copies from scholars that I interacted with as part of my graduate work in medieval studies. If I needed a copy of research that my library couldn’t get due to copyright or availability (and electronic copies were not as pervasive then), I could usually contact a small handful of scholars (if not the author herself) and obtain a hard copy.

So how is this different? For one, it’s more efficient and, as the author points out, faster. But even more importantly, it reduces the need for ILL as long as (1) the need is for electronic material, (2) one’s social network includes enough cross-institutional coverage, and (3) one’s network includes at least one database-savvy person. I can only expect that these factors will increase over time thus creating an even richer environment for this type of exchange. So whither ILL?