It has nothing to do with your local consortium of libraries.
Very often I see people complain that their library does not carry the books they want and often this complaint is used as a justification for piracy. However, library users typically have access to far more books than the ones currently sitting on the shelf of their home library. In fact, through the magic of interlibrary loan (ILL), the average library user in the United States has access to potentially any book owned by any library, public or academic, in the country.
Even avid library users sometimes fail to take advantage of ILL, however, because they mistake it for something else: the collection of local libraries with which theirs is affiliated. In this case, library users understand that they have access to more than just their home library; they also have access to the collections of libraries in the near vicinity. You can typically discover your library’s affiliates by using the online catalog. A drop-down menu will provide you the names of different libraries whose collections you can search–or you can choose to search all their collections at the same time. Once you have located the book you desire, you place it on hold through the catalog by typing in your library card number and PIN. The book is then placed in a van and driven to your chosen pick-up location (probably your home library). In this way, you can borrow books from a few to even dozens of affiliated libraries.
Interlibrary loan, however, does not limit users to borrowing only from a handful of affiliated local libraries, but allows users to borrow from nearly any library in the United States. To take advantage of ILL, you will not be able to place a hold through the library catalog. Instead, you will have to submit an ILL request. Typically, you can do this by calling the library, stopping at the ILL or Reference desk, sending an email to the ILL department, or filling out an online ILL request form. They will ask for as much information as possible–title, author, publication date, specified edition required, etc.–so be prepared. After your request is submitted, the ILL librarians will attempt to track down a copy of your desired book. They will submit a request to the owning library for the book to be mailed to your home library. Then, once it arrives, you will receive an email or phone call for pick-up. It’s truly magical!
So why don’t more people use ILL? In many cases, library users may simply not realize ILL is available to them. However, others dislike the inconvenience of ILL. Other libraries will not typically mail newly acquired titles to other libraries, so you cannot get new releases this way. Additionally, there is a waiting time for an ILL (since it needs to be tracked down, approved, and mailed) and some people want a book immediately or they do not wish to have to return to the library at an unspecified time (since you never really know when your ILL will come in). Some libraries charge nominal fees for ILL and patrons do not wish to pay. And some patrons dislike that the average ILL cannot be renewed. (You can sometimes ask for an extension, but I’ve never received one.)
Still, I think the benefits of ILL outweigh the negatives. I’d rather wait for an ILL and pay a nominal fee rather than have to buy a book full price. And I like to support libraries. Higher circulation numbers give libraries the chance to advocate for more funding, which means they can buy more books. Even if someone cannot afford to support authors by paying full price for every book they read, they can indirectly support authors by supporting libraries who do buy books.
So spread the word! Tell your friends! Interlibrary loan exists and it is awesome!