Did You Know Your Public Library Can Give You Access to Nearly Any Book in the U.S.?

A common complaint I see from bloggers is that they do not use the public library because it does not stock the books they want. Some use this an excuse to pirate books instead. A well-kept secret, however, is that nearly every library in the United States participates in an interlibrary loan program. This means that they can request a book from almost every library–public or academic–in the country and have it mailed to your home library for you to check out. In other words, no library user is limited only to the books their own library carries. Each library user has access to the catalogs of almost every single library in the country.

Interlibrary Loan: Not to Be Confused with Your Local Consortium

Some library patrons do not take advantage of interlibrary loan because they confuse it with the system of local libraries with which theirs is affiliated. (Some libraries make it confusing because they actually refer to this system as “interlibrary loan.”) Most libraries in the U.S. have partnered with local libraries–perhaps from surrounding towns, maybe from the entire state if the state is small–so that patrons can request books from these neighboring institutions and have them delivered via van. Usually, patrons can make these requests directly from the catalog. They have a rough idea of when the books will arrive because the van has a regular schedule. The books check out as normal on their card and obey the usual rules of library books. Interlibrary loan, however, is different.

Interlibrary loan pulls books–and journal articles– from across the United States.

The process of an interlibrary loan (ILL) is different, and a little more complicated, than requesting books from your local consortium. ILL is typically not accessed through the catalog. Usually, there is a separate online form, or you might have to speak with or email a reference librarian. The ILL form you need to submit will ask for information like the title of the book, the author, the publisher, and the publication date. Once the form is submitted, an ILL librarian has to check which libraries own the book you want. They then contact the owning library and see if the library is willing to mail the book to your home library so you can check it out. In this way, a patron from Wyoming, for example, could receive a book from Massachusetts, Georgia, or California. The book could come from literally anywhere in the country!

Why don’t more people use interlibrary loan?

Many people do not use interlibrary loan simply because they do not know it exists. Public libraries do not do a very good job of advertising this service. Even people who have submitted ILL requests for college often do not realize public libraries offer the same service.

Others dislike that ILL is more inconvenient than checking out a book already on the shelf. You have to submit a form, you have to wait a few weeks for the request to be processed and mailed, and then you have to return to the library to pick it up before your hold expires. Often, ILLs do not renew the same way as other books, so you will have to contact your library so they can contact the owning library to see if you can get a renewal. And some libraries charge a nominal fee for the service (mine charged 50 cents), which some patrons dislike. (In my opinion, however, paying a small fee is preferable to paying full price for the book.)

Additionally, libraries do not lend out their new books. Their taxpayers have first rights to their books; libraries do not want to purchase a book and then send it across the country as soon as it arrives. Bloggers looking to review books as soon as they are published will not find ILL useful in this regard.

Conclusion

Interlibrary loan is one of the best-kept secrets of the public library. With the submission of a form, library patrons can access nearly any book in nearly every public and academic library in the United States. Your public library doesn’t have the book you want? No problem. Try interlibrary loan.

Interlibrary Loan

23 thoughts on “Did You Know Your Public Library Can Give You Access to Nearly Any Book in the U.S.?

  1. cryptomathecian says:

    Libraries in Europe are still limping a little behind. For example; to download an ebook in my library, I have to go there in person and download it on through their server IN the library. Since I travel a lot, this is most of the time impossible. For a while I’ve tried to inscribe myself in local libraries where I happened to be, but always run into the issue that I’m not a local resident.

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    • Krysta says:

      That seems so strange to me! I thought the point of ebooks was that people don’t have to go travel to the library!

      Yeah, it can be hard in the US to join a library if you aren’t a resident. I think it has something to do with how taxes are distributed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. BookerTalk says:

    I wish the libraries in my county (in UK) operated the inter-loan library system as effectively. It used to work but with budget cuts they are now reluctant to order anything from outside the county – it seems to now be a case of the librarian will call a librarian in another area that they know personally. So a buddy network rather than a system

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s so sad! I know interlibrary loan practices vary in the U.S. because of budget cuts. Some libraries will do it free, but others charge varying rates. 😦

      Like

  3. Eden says:

    I’ve borrowed books/movies from nearby libraries and thought that was interlibrary loan…but I was obviously was wrong. I never realized that interlibrary loans could be used like this! It’s awesome! 😀 Thanks for explaining this!!

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    • Krysta says:

      I guess…it is interlibrary loan, but also it isn’t? 😀 I think normally they just prefer to look locally, of course, but if the nearby libraries don’t have what you want, the staff should ask if you want to do an ILL. I think most people just don’t get that far because you’d have to be talking to a librarian. But a lot of people probably just search the catalog by themselves and just assume that if something isn’t listed, they can’t get it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bargainsleuthbookreviews says:

    I use ILL all the time for books and DVDs or Blu Rays my county library doesn’t carry. Usually I’m using ILL for older, not-well-known titles, usually old movies and out of print biographies, anyway, but our ILLs have to be at least six months old to request. My library doesn’t call the consortium ILL so it is not confusing, they just call it transferring books from one location to another. There are nine branches and a bookmobile that serve 250,000 people.

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  5. MetalPhantasmReads says:

    These posts make my day! 🙂 the inter-library loans are so nice since you never know how much your library can buy for the district. Plus some that are out of print are also easy to possibly access. Amazing post as always 🙂

    Like

  6. Milliebot says:

    This is super helpful because there’s a manga series I want to read and all the libraries in my local system only have one issue. So it’s possible that libraries elsewhere might actually have more. I also know I can request my library purchase books but Idk how to do that either. My local library website is really awful. Lol.

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  7. Arya D. @ Arya's Fangirl Lexicon says:

    I haven’t been to the library yet since it opened but I didn’t think that not university libraries did the ILL that is really cool. I have a ton of books on my backlist that I didn’t necessarily want to buy but I wanted to try so I’ll have to look into this!

    Like

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