Monday, January 14, 2013

Learn to Love Interlibrary Loan

Frugality blogs always encourage using your local library rather than buying books.  However, I'm continually surprised how many people don't realize that you aren't limited to the books housed in the library building closest to you.  There are 3 different forms of interlibrary loan, or ILL, services ready to help you out. 

Well, the first form isn't really ILL, and most people do know about it.  Usually, public libraries or university libraries don't exist in isolation.  Your local library is most likely a branch: one location of many that all share a catalog.  Public universities will be linked to the other libraries in the state system.  Certain holdings technically belong to each branch, but you can order books, CDs, and DVDs from anywhere in the system, through the library's website.  It's right in the catalog page - usually its the "Place a Hold" button.  Then you select what branch you want to pick the item up at.  And voila!  3-10 days later, you've got your book. 

Then there's the do-it-yourself version of ILL.  My college was networked with about 50 other colleges and universities in our state, and in Maryland all of the county libraries are linked.  Basically, there will be a separate system that you have to log into with your library card, and you can search all the network catalogs simultaneously.  If it finds the book, you can request it to be sent to your local library.  This can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months. 

Not every library is part of one of these systems, unfortunately - NYPL doesn't have one so far as I can tell, although they're a massive library to begin with.  And even when a library is in a network, patrons might not know about it.  My college promoted the service like crazy, but it was only a few years ago that I managed to access the Maryland one, called Marina.  It can be really great though - in the three years between discovering Marina and moving away, I ordered at least 30 books through it.

Finally, traditional Interlibrary Loan service is for those hard-to-find books that aren't available through the other two methods.  Find the form (here's the one for NYPL), log in, and give all the details about what you're looking for.  That form goes to a person (or office of people) whose job is to search all the libraries in the country for that thing you're looking for.  And it doesn't matter what you want, as long as it's been in print for at least 6-12 months (most libraries won't loan out recent releases because their duty is to their own patrons first).  I used to think you could only bother the ILL people for important research materials, but then I discovered that students at my college requested everything from class textbooks to romance novels.  These people want to find books for you!

These services are there for you as long as you're a member of your local library, and they're almost always free.  You can get any book you want, as long as you're willing to wait.  Intra-system requests take about as long as standard shipping from an online seller, and I'll admit to filling my online shopping fix by "shopping" the NYPL catalog ;-)  One word of caution though: you can typically only renew ILL books once, if at all, and the fines will be higher.  So don't take out too many at once. 

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