Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interlibrary Loan - Is This How It's Supposed to Work?

I went outside my comfort zone this week with a research tool I had never tried before - interlibrary loan. I'd found a 40 year old family history book on one of lines of my family on Google books several months ago. It was available only in snippet view. My keyword searches showed some limited information about the family I'm researching, but I really needed to see the book in its entirety.

It's not available anywhere online, but I found several libraries across the country that have it. I found the request for Interlibrary Loan on my local library's web site, filled out all of the information, sat back and waited.

The response I received said that one of the libraries that my library contacted would photocopy the table of contents and index for me for $20. Then, if I were to pick out some names, they would photocopy those pages only for $20. The fees aren't my concern with the process. The request form asked how much I'd be willing to pay to get the book and I said $35, and if it was more than that to let me know.

I guess I thought that Interlibrary Loan meant that this other library would send their copy of the book to my library and I could go to the library to read the entire book. I would understand if I wouldn't be able to check the book out and only be able to use it within the library.

What bothers me about not being able to review the entire book is because the research I've discovered refutes quite a bit of the information in this original family history. And that is based only on the snippets I've been able to access on Google books. Very few of the "facts" in this book about my great grandparents are accurate. Names and locations are incorrect. In fact, there is a documented incident of one of my ancestors killing his daughter and then committing suicide. The family history book I'm trying to locate tells the story differently - that the father drowned while trying to save his daughter from drowning while she was swimming. The newspaper accounts of the day confirm that he drowned - by suicide - after killing his daughter with an axe. How many people do you know who go swimming in Pennsylvania in February?

Ever since locating this family history on Google books, I've wanted to look at the entire book. I'm not sure how much of it is accurate after the differences I've discovered between it and my own research. But I want to read the whole thing! Even if there are errors in it, there are still probably some clues that I could follow. What's interesting is that the book was never published until after the author was dead.

I would appreciate input from my fellow genealogists regarding their experiences with Interlibrary Loan. Is my experience typical or do you usually actually get the book sent to your local library? I suppose that if I really want to read the book, I'm going to have to plan a trip to St. Louis (8 hour drive) to read it in their library. That's the closest library I've found that has it.

Please leave your Comments below - I look forward to hearing about your experiences.


  1. I've only done interlibrary loan once and the book was sent to my library and I was able to take it home and keep it for 3 weeks. If I wanted to renew for another 3 weeks, no problem! That's been a few years ago. Maybe things have changed? I was pretty shocked to read your post and see the charges!

  2. Susan, I've used it several times...once I had to use the book in the library (to where it was sent) and the other time, I was able to take it home. It depends on the rules of the lending library. I highly recommend it.

  3. Susan,

    This exact same thing has happened to me a couple of times. And like you, it was the money I was concerned about - I just wanted to read the damn book! You don't mention trying different avenues to get ahold of this book. Here's a couple that have brought me luck:

    Used book stores, ebay, BYU has loads of family histories and genealogies digitized and online. Internet Archive puts hundreds of books online everyday. University libraries in their special collections. Have you tried the Family History Library in Salt Lake? Maybe it has been filmed? That should keep you busy for awhile LOL

  4. Greetings Susan,
    Have you tried searching for the title on Abe Books ? For the amount of money that this other library wants you to pay for photocopying It might be worth it just to purchase the book yourself.


  5. Ah, yes. I've tried eBay, Abe, Alibris, Amazon, Bookins, World Cat, you name it! However, I do believe in synchronicity when it comes to my genealogy research and I know that this book will wind up in my hands eventually! I may follow-up with the local librarian and see if she will try one of the other 11 repositories that have the book. Otherwise, it's a trip to St. Louis to read it there and visit a cousin while I'm in town. :-)

  6. Many libraries, in fact, most, will not loan genealogy books. These are deemed too important to their collections to interlibrary loan and trust to mailing, mis-handling, any other of a long list of possible problems with the interlibrary loan.

    Double check with Mid-Continent Library, Inpendence MO, they have a collection of genealogy books that they maintain JUST for interlibrary loan. That collection is SEPERATE from thier main genealogy collection. You may or may not find it listed on World Cat. Also, check LDS to see if it has been filmed.

    Or visit your cousin, with lots of change in your pocket for copy purposes.

    I once had to visit the library in Dallas Texas to view the ONLY copy of a book I wanted to look at. I copied the whole thing.

  7. Interlibrary loan policies vary by library and depend on the item. Sometimes you can request items from nearby libraries. Sometimes you can request items from far away libraries. Sometimes libraries will copy pages, like the experience you've had. Sometimes the items are rare and not circulated at all.

    It wouldn't hurt to contact the nearest (or biggest) library by you and see what can be done.

    Also, if either of the big genealogy libraries near me has it (use zip 77004 in WorldCat), I'd be happy to look at it for you before you plunk down the $.