What is Interlibrary Loan?

What is Interlibrary Loan? That’s a question that I’m sure many of you are wondering. In essence, interlibrary loan is a sharing of materials between libraries. That’s it. No big secret there, is there? Libraries lend and borrow materials or supply copies, from each other to help serve our patrons (that would be you). All types of libraries participate in this activity and have been for a long time. Why would libraries do this though?

Libraries participate in ILL because, they can not reasonably purchase every material that is published or produced, nor would they want to–both for money and space constraints. Take a look at Amazon, go on take a look. Millions of books, cd’s, dvd’s, magazines, etc. All items that you might find in a library, but does your library have them all? Think about how much it would cost to keep up with all of these materials. Every day spending thousands of dollars to buy new material that is released, and this isn’t counting things like government documents, foreign or small press. Think about the space you would need to store all of these things. You’d need a warehouse the size of New York City to store every book, every CD, every DVD, and every journal ever published. And it would just continue to grow each day.

Let’s look at from another angle. Take a look at a local college. What are they well know for? Education, science, art? Take a look around at what they own. If their known for art, what’s their science collection like? Why would a college that is know for its art program, purchase large number of materials on the study and the evolution of the parrots of the world? They wouldn’t is the simple answer. It doesn’t mean that their users won’t need the material, its just that it is not conducive for the library to invest money into purchasing them when the majority of their users will want art books. Now they might not have every art book ever published (remember money and space), but they’ll have more books on art, than on parrots.

This is where Interlibrary Loan comes into play. It allows you, the patron, to be able to borrow materials that your library does not own. So if you go to the art college, but need a book on parrots of the world, ILL makes it possible for you to be able to use the material, generally at no or small cost to you. The library provides the bulk of the cost. Now this does not mean that every item out there is available. The Vatican is not likely to lend its secret archives out to anyone. What is generally available are the mass published materials that everyone has a chance to purchase, such as books that are found on Amazon.com or a site like it.

Now, that does not mean that all materials that you find on Amazon or on the web are available. Their are some items that libraries aren’t willing to lend out, either because of scarcity or because of cost. Materials that are difficult to acquire through ILL are audio visual materials (videos, cds, dvds, etc.), Special Collections or Archives materials (lets face it the Library of Congress is not going to let you borrow the original papers of George Washington Carver), and Theses and Dissertations. Now lets stop a minute and talk more about this.

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or onto the next page:How does ILL work?

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