Tools of the Trade: Interlibrary Loan

Libraries are the greatest resources any society can create for itself: a repository of books, documents, visual media, and more that anyone can access either for free or for minimal cost. When we were kids, our school libraries were fun places to find books that sated our thirst for knowledge or imagination. In high school and college, libraries became the source of necessary information for expanding on our ideas, to prove or disprove any argument that we needed to make for that all-important research paper. For this writer and for you guys, my readers, the library provides another amazing resource: Interlibrary Loan.

What is Interlibrary Loan?

Interlibrary loan is a service where a patron of one library can request materials owned by another library. If you haven’t used this resource before, ILL is a great way to access books, articles, visual media, etc. that your library or library system may not own. The service is available to any library patron: as long as you have a library card, you can use ILL. Once you make a request, your librarians will search a database of participating libraries to see who has the item and what their terms are for lending it. Want to find an article in a magazine that your library doesn’t carry? ILL. Want to read a book that your library doesn’t currently own? ILL. Want to check out a movie that you can’t find in your area? ILL. For a small fee, you can have access to nearly any resource your library may not have in their collection; your time with that item will vary based on the terms the lending library sets. For example, I wanted to read a book on the Hillsborough disaster after watching a documentary on an inquiry into that event. None of the libraries nearby owned the book so I made an ILL request; within two weeks, I had the book in my hands, from the library at Quantico. Amazing!

For my book on Sir Barton, I relied on interlibrary loan to help me access books that I suspected might be useful, but either were too rare to be purchased affordably or only had a small section that I wanted to read. ILL allowed me to access those resources for a small fee and, within a few days or weeks, I had them in my hands. Some of those books I ended up purchasing because I saw that I would need them for more time than the ILL period allowed; others I would copy the pages I needed and then return them.

IMG_20190215_101441This stack encompasses most of the books I used while researching Sir Barton’s story. A few were already in my library; Boots and Saddles was an essential purchase that I made early. The rest were all books that I have checked out through ILL and then subsequently purchased in order to have these as permanent parts of my library for this book and for any subsequent research. Without access to a service like ILL, I would have had to purchase all of these books sight unseen, which not always a wise use of resources.

Have a book you’re interested in but not sure you’re ready to purchase? Visit your local library and see if they have it on hand. If they don’t, consider using interlibrary loan to find that precious resource. Libraries provide so many services that benefit researchers and writers like me, but, more importantly, for you as a reader and a citizen. I hope you’ll pay yours a visit and discover all of their bounty again.

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