UoL Library Blog

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Distance Learning Postal Loan Limits – survey results

Posted by gazjjohnson on 2 September, 2011

A few weeks ago I asked the UK educational library community some questions about levels of postal loans that they mail out to their students from stock. 35 individuals responded on behalf of their institutions and as such this is by no means a comprehensive survey, but merely indicative of the trends in postal loans as evidenced by the responding institutions.  As promised here are the results of that work – my grateful thanks to all those people whom took the time to respond to my survey!

For contrast to the national picture you can read about University of Leicester’s service here.

Do you post items from library stock?



Yes: UK based users only


Yes: Overseas based users only


Yes: All distance learners


Yes: UK and Ireland


Yes: Part-time students/anyone who has difficulty accessing the library


Yes: Any student off campus (not just DL)


Yes: BFPO addresses




Do all categories of users have the same limits?

Response Percentage
Yes: All users have the same limits


No: Limits vary by course level


No limits




No: Limited to p/t DL students only


What is the maximum number of items a distance learner may have on postal loan at any one time?

Response Percentage
2 items (shipped at any one time), unlimited**


3 items (shipped at any one time), unlimited**


5 items max


8 items max


10 items max


12 items max


13 items max


15 items max


20 items max


Unlimited (to normal borrowing quota)




**Values not included in Unlimited percentage

There is some variance hidden in the unlimited figure, due to the maximum number of loans varying by degree level for most institutions.  Many of those reporting an unlimited level of postal loans commented that few users took advantage of it; due the cost of returning items.  For some institutions this made a potential ceiling of 40 items on postal loan per user at any one time (ResPG students). The single institution that set a ceiling of 10 books for postal loan applies a £5 per item charge any items over and above this level.

How closely are any loan limits applied?



Strictly (virtually no exceptions)


Broadly (limited exceptions above normal level)


Flexibly (limits are guidelines only)


No limits


 Other comments

Additional comments were received from respondents amplifying the information they had given.  The following are selected highlights.

  • A number of respondents noted that the service was a lowly used one, and hence their loan ceiling was set generously high.  However, at least one noted that were the service to take off more that they would struggle to staff it with their current resource.
  • A number of institutions (4 in the sample) noted making a charge for the loan to cover postage costs.  Some have a flat rate, while others make a variable charge depending on where in the world it is being sent. Rates of between £1.40 to £5 per loaned item were quoted.  One institution offers a discounted rate where items are bundled, while another charges strictly on a per item basis.
  • Most, that noted it, pay for the outgoing postage and expect the student to pay the return costs.  One institution commented that departments are liable for the outgoing postage charges, and the students for the return.  Another noted that students themselves were liable for outgoing and return charges.
  • Many of the respondents noted a photocopy from stock supply service or scan to email service operated alongside their postal loan service.  Only one institution noted an active policy of eBook purchasing for distance learning students through faculty librarians encouraging academics to purchase these in preference to the print.

Key findings

From the sample it is possible to conclude:

  • The majority (91%) do post items from stock, mainly to distance learning students.
  • The modal value for postal loans is at an unlimited level, up to the maximum allowed by degree level.
  • UK based students (85%) are more likely to have a postal loan service than overseas students (37%).
  • Most institutions impose limits (80%) on the number of items postal loaned.
  • Some student loan limits (43%) vary by course level (PG/UG) or type (P/T or F/T).
  • Most institutions adhere closely to their postal loan limits (96% of those with limits).
  • A small number of institutions charge for the service, or make students or departments liable for outgoing postal loans.
  • The majority cover outgoing postal costs but expect students to cover payment for the return shipping.
  • Other supply services (photocopy, emailed PDFs and eBooks) operate in partnership with postal loan services at most institutions.

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