How does ILL work?

So you’re now wondering what are the real inner workings of ILL? Well, there a number of steps that happen between you requesting the item and the item getting into your hands. Now sit back, because this is a somewhat long process.

The first step is that you find the citation of the information that you’re looking for. It can be a book, it can be a journal article, or even a sound recording. But you have to have that information before you go any further. Telling us that the book has a blue cover and is about dogs doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You’ve got to go back and find the rest of that information. Author, pages, title of the book or article, title of the journal, etc. Then you can make the request for the item that you need.

There are a lot of different ways that this can be done. The simplest, at least here at Mercer University, is that is to fill out one of our online forms. We have two different forms, one for books and one for articles, both online to make it easier for you (place your request anytime) and for us, not having to worry about handwriting. Other libraries might do it differently.

Once these requests are submitted they go along to ILL staff to process. These steps can vary from place to place, but some libraries first check the citations received to ensure that they are accurate, before placing the request. Now that we have prepopulated ILL forms in some of our databases here it saves us a bit of time. Now depending upon the library there might be a management system in here helping process all of these email requests that come in.

The next step is that the ILL staffer has to find a library that holds the material that you, the patron, are looking for. Now there may be any number of libraries that hold this item, or there may be no more than one, such as with a dissertation. It gets a bit stranger here. Just because a library close to you, say your at Mercer and Georgia Tech, owns the item–may not mean that your request comes from them. It all depends on what type of agreement your library has with other institutions. Perhaps Georgia Tech wants to charge 20 dollars for an item, but University of South Carolina, which may take a bit longer to get from, will lend to your library for free. An order is then placed asking one of the libraries that hold the items to fill the request and send it on to the library. Generally the requests are made to a lender string of five libraries in case the first one on the list doesn’t have the exact item or the item is checked out.

Now you may be asking how do libraries find out who has this material. Well they don’t just take a guess and hope that the library closest has it, although back in the ancient days of ILL it wasn’t much better than that, instead they take a look at a resource called WorldCat. You may be familiar with this database and have access to it at your local library. Or you can take a look at Worldcat.org which is a free version of the site. Now it works a bit differently than the database, but the concept is the same. Now with free version it takes a look at where you located based upon your IP address. So type in “The Old man and the sea”. Next choose the addition that you’re looking for and up pop a list of libraries that own the item. The ILL staff choses the one that falls into within their policies, part of the same group as your library belongs too. That’s a brief synopsis of what your ILL staff does. For more in depth information check here (page in progress).

Once this order is placed its now onto the work of the lending library.

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