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.
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.
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!
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.