Tools of the Trade: More on Interlibrary Loan

You might be a frequent patron of your local library, but have you ever taken advantage of their interlibrary loan services? NO? If you haven’t, my earliest post on ILL can help you learn more about this essential service. I have several ILL books sitting on my desk at the moment as I work on my next project and, in order to share more on this important service, I thought I would ask my local ILL librarian, Misty Perkins, about her job at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. Go for it, Misty!

Tell us about the process of interlibrary loan once you receive a request from a patron.

Once I receive a request, I will go to the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC)’s website and log into the WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service. From there I usually search for an item by title, title and author, or by ISBN. I find the correct item, click on the title, and look for supplying libraries nearby. I start looking in state first and then if I cannot find what I am looking for I expand outwards to surrounding states. I can select different libraries from different states; this creates what is called a lender string. For example, if Birmingham Public Library had the item, but their patron had the book checked out, they would select “no” to the request and it would go to the next library in the string. I wait for a library to select “yes” or “no” or “conditional” to the request. When a supplying library selects “Yes”, the item moves to the “in transit” tab. This process in receiving the material can take as little as 5 days or up to 3 months. Upon the book’s arrival, I open the packaging and inspect the book. Sometimes, if the request was really challenging, I rejoice. Most of the time, I’m just happy the item made it to HMCPL safely. Plus, opening mail packages every day is like having my own personal library birthday every day. I combine my paperwork with paperwork from the supplying library along with a thank you slip. Then I have to add the item to the catalog. I do this by creating a unique barcode for the item. I determine the due date from the paperwork sent by the supplying library. I catalog all this information into our catalog. I bring up the patron’s account, charge their account for the ILL item, check the item out to them, and then I contact the patron via email or phone to let them know the item has arrived.

What is your typical day like?

BUSY! I’m usually at the Information and Business Center and I bounce from reference questions to cataloging serials to processing ILL items, to fixing a computer problem and then submitting an ILL request. It is a fast paced, multifaceted job. I wear many hats at the library.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Helping people. I love helping people. Whether it is answering a reference question, finally ordering a newspaper multiple patrons ask for, or getting that rare book a patron requested- it is all rewarding to me. My goal is to help the patron connect to or find the information they seek.

In your time with ILL, what has surprised you most?

The lack of open-source material and the fees associated with information. Librarians are guardians of the repositories of knowledge, and I believe information should be free. However, many universities that are suppliers of books charge fees and I’m always disappointed when I have to inform a patron that the item they requested is going to cost more than the fee we charge.

Another interesting thing is how I can have two patrons who do not know each other, working on completely different projects, yet request the same thing at the same time. It is bizarre when it happens, but it happens at least once or twice a year.

What would you like your patrons to know about your area of the library?

This process is slow and can take time. I can’t guarantee I will always be able to obtain the item requested, but if you are seeking something that the library does not have, please submit a request. I will be more than happy to see if we can get it through Interlibrary Loan services.

Thank you, Misty, for answering my questions and for being such an integral part of my job! If you haven’t taken advantage of this service at your local library, I highly recommend that you give it a try. Many thanks to all librarians out there for being the guardians of knowledge for all patrons in their communities.



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