Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ask a Librarian: How to Get the Most Out of Your Library--Interlibrary Loan and Requests

Interlibrary loan is a wonderful service that not enough people use. One of the keys to successful library use is to give yourself plenty of time. So often, we have people come in looking for an immediate information need, or they want to read a certain book RIGHT NOW. In a larger library, those sort of needs can often be met (assuming you're not trying to waltz in and get the latest best seller the day it came out--there's gonna be a line for that one.) However in a smaller library, your approach needs to be different. Chances are, your library participates in interlibrary loan, and that is the road to every book you could imagine.

Think of your library as a single point on a huge global network. Most of the books of all of the libraries who participate in this network are available to the other libraries who participate. You go to your library, request the book, they find the book in the network, ask the library that owns the book to send it to your library, which then lends it to you. In some libraries, you pay the postage. In some, you don't. (You might be hit with some hefty fines if you return the book late--be careful of that! It all depends on the lending library's policies.) The only downside to this process is that it can take some time for it to happen. You can't walk out with your book the same day.

(On a side note, wouldn't it be great if you could? With ebooks, you really ought to be able to sit at home, go to your library's online site, request a book, be connected with a partnered library, download that book from their library, and be off and reading--without ever leaving your home. The technology is there--but the infrastructure to support this isn't. Publishers treat and sell ebooks very differently than they treat paper copies, and they're not above charging libraries more for ebooks than they charge your everyday person. This is (in my opinion) ridiculous. Libraries have been supporting books and reading for years. They've been lending books out for centuries. Why is it that a sudden change in format makes that model no longer sustainable? But I digress . . .)

So if you hear about a good book, but your library doesn't have it, you can have your hands on it in a week or so, through interlibrary loan. Nice, huh? And as many people take advantage of this service as you would think. (Here at Mantor, we have access to the whole UMaine system library holdings, meaning many books we can have in a couple of days. Nice!)

On the other hand, you can also explore an even less used alternative: suggest that your library purchase that book. We librarians actually want to help you get the information you need. If there's a book out there that you think your library should own, ask them to buy it. So many of the books we do buy end up not getting checked out--we're not buying them to hold the shelves down, people. We're buying them so people will use them. When we get requests from actual users--basically guarantees that a real person is interested in a certain book--we take those requests very seriously. Of course, sometimes students ask us to purchase their textbooks for them. We don't do that--textbooks get out of date too quickly, and people seem to have a tendency of walking off with them when we do order them. I wonder why . . . ) Mantor gets a handful of requests a year. It would be great if this changed.

In any case--Interlibrary Loan and Requests for Purchase. Two library services you should be aware of, and should take advantage of.

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