The Conarls Working Group was formed on 1st April 2009 as part of the amalgamation of The Combined Regions with Conarls, a co-operative of national and regional library organisations. The Working Group continued the work of Conarls, in particular:
- maintaining the Inter-Regional Unit (IRU) Cost Scheme, sometimes known as the ‘Conarls rate’;
- providing guidance and information about locating out of print fiction;
- providing advocacy and guidance on resource discovery, sharing and delivery matters.
The Conarls Working Group worked with organisations outside The Combined Regions to ensure representation is as wide as possible, and to facilitate co-operative working including The Forum for Interlending and Information Delivery (FIL) and The International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres, UK and Ireland Branch (IAML [UK & Irl]).
NAG took over the hosting of the Conarls information and maintenance of the list of participants in September 2019. The Conarls database of non-English language fiction collections was not transferred as it was decided that the base data was too out of date to be useful.
As libraries only have a limited budget, and limited storage and display space, they cannot provide a comprehensive collection of resources for their members and communities. Even if they could, it would be massively wasteful.
The solution libraries have adopted is to share resources through inter-library loan (ILL); this is sometimes known as interlending. Put simply, libraries borrow resources from each other to satisfy the requests of their members. It is not just books that are borrowed this way: talking books, vocal and orchestral performance sets, journal articles and other types of resources may be shared.
Public libraries have a particular strength when it comes to fiction, as through the Joint Fiction Reserve schemes, they co-operate in building a near-comprehensive collection of out-of-print fiction materials. These schemes can only work through the mechanism of ILL. It is not just public libraries that participate in ILL, though. Academic libraries, hospital libraries, and even some commercial companies’ libraries share resources through ILL. National libraries are particularly prolific inter-library lenders, although they tend to specialise in academic publications.