If you, presumably a book-loving person, are not aware of (or have forgotten about) interlibrary loan, you are missing out on an extremely useful tool for maximizing the scope and rewards of your Reading Life.
ILL is a service available at most public libraries, even smaller ones; in many cases, the service is free to library cardholders. Even when a library system chargers a fee for the service, ILL can save you hundreds of dollars in obtaining books to borrow that you might otherwise be obliged to purchase to get hold of.
Many library systems allow cardholders to place ILL requests online, so you don’t even need to visit the library until your book (or magazine article) arrives.
In my own case, because my reading habits don’t dovetail very well with the sorts of books (bestselling fiction, for example) that branch public libraries tend to purchase, I’d guess that at least 70% of the books I’ve read over the past 40+ years I’ve obtained via ILL. (I may be overestimating that figure, purely because I’m so enthusiastic about spreading the gospel of interlibrary loan.)
Whenever anyone asks me why I value public libraries so highly, I usually mention two things: (1) public libraries are one of the few U.S. institutions anyone can visit and use without any cash changing hands, and (2) public libraries offer interlibrary loan services in addition to being great places for book lovers to browse in and borrow books from. Access to ILL is certainly, all by itself, worth getting a library card for, whether or not you visit public libraries very often to browse there.
Of course, the main difference between using ILL and browsing a public library for your next read is that, with ILL, you need to know, exactly, what you’re looking for. If you’re in the habit of garnering titles of interest to you that you notice on the Internet sites you visit, or through word of mouth from your friends who are also readers, you’re probably also in the habit of putting those titles on a list. If you’ve checked the catalog of your local public library and don’t find the title you want to get hold of listed there, do not despair – or decide your only choice is to buy the dang thing. Remember interlibrary loan: in 99% of the cases, your friendly ILL librarian will come to your rescue. And once you’ve used ILL successfully a couple of times, you’ll find yourself an ILL convert/proselytizer yourself.
A couple years ago, someone named Nick Ripatrazone wrote a story for the website Literary Hub about how the interlibrary loan system works – and how it got started. You might find Nick’s article, “InterLibrary Loan Will Change Your Life,” worth reading.
P.S. Libraries don’t usually lend out, via ILL, rare books, genealogy texts, reference books, or – and this is important to remember – recent bestsellers). But anything else: no problem. Your aforementioned friendly ILL librarian will do the research of tracking down some library (usually the one nearest the library he/she works in) that owns the book (or magazine article) you’re looking for, and pretty soon you’ll likely be summoned to your local library to borrow it.
The good folks who constitute the United Kingdom’s website For Reading Addicts have posted a roundup of what they consider a baker’s dozen of the planet’s most gob-smacking public libraries. (Alas, only one of them is located in the United States.) Take a gander.
Later, it posted some horrific images of libraries around the world that have been abandoned. (Four of these are located in the United States.) Take a look.
The website also posted its list of the world’s most gorgeous bookstores. (Again, only one of which is located in the United States.) Take a look at these.
Two librarians (“Mary” and “Holly”) have a Facebook page featuring weird, blatantly sexist, embarrassingly out-of-date, or otherwise cringe-worthy book covers they are confident are lurking in public libraries throughout the land. You might want to give a look-see at some of the gems they’ve uncovered.
Many of us library-using booklovers are realizing it’s been over a year now since we set foot inside our favorite library. Those of us who heavily rely on Interlibrary Loan have also had to Do Without for just as long, and are still waiting for that crucial service to be resumed.
Usually, it’s government bureaucrats who argue against, and/or justify budget cuts to, government-funded public libraries. That’s usually because they notice that , while libraries are perennially popular with taxpayers, libraries are not major “revenue generators.”
Sometimes those would-be budget-cutters are constrained by reminders that public libraries are operated to offer valued services to taxpayers and should not be expected to turn a “profit.”
Recently, however, it was a capitalist – excuse me, an employee of a publishing firm, who marshalls numerous economic data to support his contention that the prevailing “business model” of public libraries is not only obsolete but demonstrably harms not only publishers’ profits but authors’ incomes.
Many readers posted in their comments their objections to the assumptions (and/or the values) espoused by the article’s author, but the article (“Overdue: Throwing the Book at Libraries”) does contain some startling economic factoids that I’ve not seen elsewhere.