Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship

v.3 no.1-2 (Winter 2002)

Prospero Power: Web-based document delivery allowing libraries to exchange documents through interlibrary loan

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Panel presentation given October 10, 2001
International Scientific Conference in Library and Information Service
V. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine
October 9-11, 2001

Gentry Lankewicz Holbert, Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, Mobile, Alabama
Fulbright Scholar, V. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine

Ellen N. Sayed, University of South Alabama Biomedical Library

Sally D. Murray, University of South Alabama Biomedical Library

Today, I would like to demonstrate how some libraries are using a free, Web-based document delivery program, Prospero. As technology advances and patronsí demands for timely access to information increase, librarians seek new methods for improving document delivery and interlibrary loan services with control over copyright issues. This addresses how two libraries with the same university system, one medical and one academic, concurrently, but independent of each other, chose Prospero for desktop delivery of both interlibrary loan and in-house documents.

I believe Prospero can help librarians meet the needs of users for convenient electronic document delivery with control over copyright issues.

As technology allows, it has become necessary to modernize traditional library resource sharing mechanisms, and to experiment with new technologies to improve services. While the information explosion continues, librariesí buying power for journals and collection development is declining. Libraries have turned to resource sharing networks to meet their patronsí information needs. This creates a time lag between the time an article is requested and the delivery of the article; often including multiple visits to a physical library building.

Coincidentally and independently, the University of South Alabama Libraries, consisting of the University Library and the Biomedical Library, researched new document delivery methods during the same period of time. I wanted to share their experience with you and show you some screen shots of how Prospero is implemented and used.

The South Alabama libraries offer two document delivery services, an in-house document delivery service for materials held by the USA libraries and an interlibrary loan service for materials not owned. Materials are received by the departments and delivered to patrons in several different ways: US mail, campus mail, daily courier service between some sites and fax. Patrons also have the option of pick-up from all sites.

The Biomedical Library began looking into a desktop delivery system because doctors and scientists depend heavily on access to a variety of information resources to make intelligent and informed choices for patient care management and research.

Patrons directly motivated the University Library as well. Mostly research faculty, in the sciences, began demanding faster and more convenient delivery of articles. Distance education delivery concerns also prompted the search for a desktop delivery system. Without quick access, the disparity in information access will persist generally between on-campus students and distance learners.

So, the librariesí main goals in choosing an interlibrary loan service was to shorten delivery time.


The objectives of the two libraries were to implement a full-text desktop document delivery service, which would be Ariel compatible, easy to use, inexpensive, and fast. Prospero may also be used without Ariel. For easy integration into the departmentsí workflow and training of staff, students and users, it was equally important that the service would be easy to use. Speed of delivery would be critical to its success.

The University Library had the added concern of an easy to use Ďout of the boxí program. The University Library had one systemís person at the time who was learning about NT servers and didnít know much about operating servers. This software would be the first program put on the server. Finally, cost was an important factor. The University Library had very strict budgetary concerns.

The Biomedical Library had a larger budget and systems staff, but was cost and time conscious as well.

The libraries explored different options for new document delivery services by looking at other library sites on the web, reading articles, and brainstorming. The libraries choose Prospero over e-mail delivery, Internet faxing, Adobe Acrobat Capture, DocMorph, and Prospero by measuring the extent to which they could meet our stated objectives.


Despite a demand for electronic, instant delivery of information, some research has shown that users prefer the paper copy. Prospero, while providing electronic, instant delivery, uses the pdf format that allows the patron to print an article with the same look as the original. At both libraries, we have received complaints about full-text articles from databases which use html format instead of pdf: the pagination doesnít match when trying to read an article in a group, the pictures do not always print out well (if they are included in the article at all), sentences sometimes run past the margins of the printed page, and it just doesnít look as good.

Prospero is a web based document delivery system created by the Prior Health Sciences Library at Ohio State University in Columbus. Prospero interacts with Ariel, but can be used alone as well.

The patron requests an article (either through the Librariesí in-house copy services or through Interlibrary Loan) and chooses the Web or Prospero as the delivery option. When an Interlibrary Loan article arrives, which is almost always through Ariel, Prospero captures the Ariel file automatically. If the request is for an item held by the library, they scan it. An e-mail message is automatically generated and sent, notifying the patron that the document is ready, the URL to access it from, and the assigned PIN. If there are problems, there is a tab, "On Web Server" which may be viewed to see what documents are currently on the server.

Upon receipt of this e-mail message, the patron can go to the URL indicated in the message, and enter his/her e-mail address and PIN. Once these are correctly entered, the patron is supplied with a list of documents available for viewing. This same screen will tell the patron how many views are left if they have previously viewed the document or how many days are left to view the document. The libraries set the number of times an item can be viewed; this controls copyright. In the past, documents that were placed on the Web became a "free for all" with little control. After one of these numbers has been reached, the documents are automatically deleted by the purge.pl portion of the Prospero program.

This process circumvents the problem of large files attached to e-mail messages, and leaves the file more within our domain of control. Prospero does make it possible to attach a pdf file to an e-mail, if that is needed. Prospero also assigns each patron a PIN, and includes database management of patronsí e-mail addresses and a log of documents transmitted and those residing on the server.

One of the strongest positive points the libraries saw was the copyright management. Prospero makes it possible to place an article onto the web with a limited number of views and limiting the time the article will remain there before being automatically deleted. Because Prospero provided a means of authentication, preventing servers from being used as illegal electronic reserve areas or private libraries for patrons.

Another significant detail was that the program is in the public domain and is available for free. It can simply be downloaded with instructions from the Web for free. The site also has a Web Board where one can correspond others who are using and implanting Prospero. The libraries promoted Prospero on their Web site, in the libraryís newsletter, at an Information Fair, and provided information to all faculty on campus through e-mail.

User Evaluation

The service has enjoyed a high rate of success. It is fast and easy to use both from home and the office. A few patrons have had printer problems, unrelated to Prospero, which we successfully resolved. There were also some reports of slow download time in retrieving the article from the Web. Both libraries tried using Prospero with international users as well. International service raised issues regarding Internet fee structures in the particular country, type of Internet connection, varying computer systems, and other issues, which are beyond our control. Internationally, they are currently working with Argentina, Latvia, China, France, and Ukraine.

Most of the feedback on Prospero has been positive. Science faculty have been very enthusiastic about it. The libraries use Prospero for both interlibrary loan and for delivery of articles the library owns when the patron has a need for immediate delivery. It saves them fax charges and has proven to be very popular here as well.

Health care professionals and researchers alike rely on rapid access and delivery of information for their decision-making. Expansion of the Internet, full-text electronic journals and materials along with increased access to technology and the Internet have all contributed to patronsí increased expectations of instant delivery to their desktops of full-text materials. Libraries are continuing to face journal price increases and budgetary constraints. Consequently, resource sharing and an efficient document delivery process continue to play an important role in meeting library patronsí information needs.

It was determined that Prospero met our objectives and was feasible to implement. This is one example of how Prospero has been successfully installed, promoted and integrated into the workflow.

(Figure 1) Prospero recognizes Ariel files. They appear in the "Ariel In" and "Ariel Out" pages of the Prospero program. It lists the document id, date and time, number of pages, patron name, and the availability of the file for use.

(Figure 2) From this screen, the staff clicks on the "Select from User List" button and chooses a name and email from the pop up screen that appears.

(Figure 3) This pop up screen makes it easy for staff to choose an email address for notification.

(Figure 4) The "Queue" page show what documents are ready to send to the web server.

(Figure 5) The "On Web Server" page lists documents that that are on the web server. The date sent, the patronís email address, document id, and number of views available are shown.

(Figure 6) The email subject line may be customized. The message includes a clickable link to a web page where the patron can pick up their article.

(Figure 7) The patron enters their email address and PIN number to retrieve the article. The PIN is automatically configured and remembered by the system. To see an example of this page, go to http://ulibnt01.usouthal.edu/patron.htm

(Figure 8) The patron is then taken to a screen that lists the articles available to them (with the date posted, number of pages, size of file, and number of times they have viewed the article listed). They can delete the article or view it from this screen.

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