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Reviewing TC Library's Document Delivery Service

Reckoning with an innovative yet convoluted system


Become familiar enough with the system behind a foundational library service to make recommendations for experience improvements. 


The research phase of this project began October 2019.


Led all UX research efforts and synthesized findings for the product, design, and development teams as well as library management and senior librarians. 


Stakeholder interviews, data analysis



The Teachers College (TC) Library follows the patron-driven acquisition model. Simply put, this means when a patron requests access to a book or article the Library does not currently own, the Library buys it (or borrows it from a partnering library). This model has proven beneficial and cost-effective as it guarantees that purchases made will be used (at least once) and allows the Library to respond immediately to the needs of its patrons. ​

The mechanism by which requests are made and fulfilled in the TC Library is known as DocDel (short for "document delivery"). DocDel was created from the ground up in 2005 by the TC Library team. In addition to handling purchase requests, DocDel also supports interlibrary loan and course reserves, integral services to our academic research community. 

DocDel is as revolutionary now as it was then, though you'd never know it to look at it.  Very few services available today support all three material access routes in one; that is, requests/purchases, interlibrary loan, and course reserves. 

Despite the fact that TC librarians generally approve of the DocDel system, conversations with these stakeholders have revealed many pain points that interrupt and complicate their workflows. Fifteen years after it was launched, the next generation of the TC Library team has been charged with exploring the future of DocDel. 


  1. What are the user types that interact with DocDel?

  2. What types of requests are received through DocDel? 

  3. What are the workflows involved with fulfilling requests on DocDel? 

  4. What pain points do TC librarians experience when fulfilling requests? 

  5. What pain points do patrons experience?



I looked at our web traffic and server logs to answer the following questions:

  • Average number of daily requests by patrons

  • Average number of daily fulfillments by staff

  • Number of requests by month 

  • Number of requests by academic department 

  • Types of material requested (i.e., articles vs books vs book chapters)

  • Requestor breakdown (i.e. faculty vs non-faculty)


I had very little understanding of how DocDel worked prior to discussing it with our librarian in charge of materials and acquisitions, the main stakeholder of DocDel. During our first 2-hour meeting, she (extremely patiently!) explained the 3 main workflows involved in fulfilling requests. I took copious notes and asked clarifying questions along the way. She then graciously shared me on training materials that went into further detail on how to fulfill the three main types of material requests (i.e., articles, books, and book chapters). 

Throughout these quasi-training sessions, I was struck by how complicated the system was. Of course, complicated does not inherently equal undesirable; for example, thorny cases of copyright are handled through DocDel. Still, I noticed this senior librarian would breeze by examples in which she and her team had come up with workarounds for when the inflexible system failed them. 


Notes from my conversations organized into 3 types of observations: pain points (yellow), "it would be nice ifs" (pink), and my own questions (blue)



In sharing my research findings with the team, I wanted to create a coherent story because, like me, they were not aware of all the moving parts of DocDel. 


Because of the complexity of DocDel, I settled on making a series of flowcharts that represented the path to request fulfillment in all three of the main request cases. Throughout the flows, I indicated the friction points I observed from my conversations with the materials and acquisitions librarian (who also verified their accuracy). 

Purposely obscured due to privacy

The DocDel project is currently on hold. 

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