Adventures in Interlibrary Loan

Adventures in Interlibrary Loan

Let's say you want an item that the library does not own. Like I have said, every year more than a million books are published in English, and the Gering Library can't possibly buy them all. You can fill out a request with the title of the book or movie you would like to borrow. We will then look for a library willing to loan it to us so you can check it out. It's called Interlibrary loan or ILL.

We start by accessing part of a larger database called OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). This database connects many libraries in the US, and some from overseas. A search for the title of the book and the database shows a list of libraries that have the book. I choose five or six libraries to request the book from, starting with libraries that are close by. I enter the libraries into a list called a string. Then OCLC sends the first library a request that indicates Gering Library would like to borrow their book. If library number one's book is checked out, they decline my request. The request automatically moves to the second library in the string and so on until someone says they can send it. This process may take a week or two.

Before the internet, libraries would mail a request to the Nebraska Library Commission in Lincoln. They would check their state-wide catalog and mail a request to the first library for us. If they did not have it, a librarian would mark the request "no" and mail the request back. The Commission would mail the request to a second library, and so on, until a library was able to send the book to us. It might take months to get a book.

We charge $3.50 for an Interlibrary Loan. That pays for postage one way. Most libraries will loan us a book for about a month. Often we can renew them. ILL comes in very handy when ordering books for a book discussion group. If I need 10 books, I find 50 libraries that have the book and send requests off.

On a great day we might get six requests for us to loan a book to another library. These are generally six different items. In 2019 we were getting four or five ILL requests a week for “Winter’s Mourn” by Mary Stone. We often get requests for books from nearby libraries, but we rarely receive repeated requests from libraries in places like Florida and Connecticut.

This was a self-published book we purchased because a patron requested it. The book didn’t appear on Oprah’s book list or any of the other celebrity book sites. Curious as to what the buzz was all about, I contacted the author on Facebook to ask about her sudden popularity. She said, “I’ve been humbled by the attention. I was chosen for an [Amazon] Prime Day deal.” Amazon customers read about the book and asked for it at their library. Not many libraries had the item, but we did, so they were clamoring to borrow it.

I've had a few fun experiences with Inter Library Loan. I once borrowed a book about guns from the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress generally appears on the list of libraries that own books, but I figure they have better things to do than to loan me a book, so I don't send them requests. This time, however, there were only four libraries that had a particular book, so I added it at the end of my string. The other three declined my request and the Library of Congress sent me the book.

Going the other direction, we often loan books to Nebraska Prisons and Youth Camps. I have also loaned books to the FBI academy in Quantico and to the State Department in Washington, D.C. What were they reading? I cannot tell you due to patron privacy rules.