The Miracle of the Interlibrary Loan System

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.

Happy hunting!

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.


A Computer-Based Alternative to Book Browsing?

The New York Times has published an article about a brand new Internet application called Tertulia, designed to condense the immense amount of online “bookchat” into digestible chunks of recommended titles.

Excerpt from the Times article:

Using a mix of artificial intelligence and human curation, Tertulia aggregates book discussions and recommendations from across the web, drawing from social media posts, book reviews, podcasts and news articles to generate reading recommendations that are tailored to individuals’ tastes and interests.

To get personalized recommendations, users answer questions about which genres they like and what types of people they want to hear about books from (options include space explorers, poets, chefs, historians, entertainers and book critics). Users can also sign in with their Twitter accounts, which allows the app’s algorithms to sift through their feeds to pull out book recommendations from people they follow.
Each day, Tertulia generates a personalized list of five books. Elsewhere on the app, users can browse lists of notable titles in different genres, which are ranked according to buzz, rather than sales.

The Tertulia app is available for free from the Apple Store.

Finding Public Domain Books Online

Sometimes you may need to consult the text of a book you don’t own and don’t have time to find at your library or a bookstore (or via Amazon or the other bookselling websites).

If the book you need to inspect (or, God forbid, actually attempt to read on a screen) is an older one, you may be in luck if you have a good Internet connection.

The Internet contains dozens of websites that archive the texts of books (and plays and stories and other types of texts) whose copyrights have expired – everything from familiar and obscure classical works to more recently published titles whose copyright protections first expired on January 1, 2022.

Five years ago, Nothing in the Rule Book posted links to 45 such resources. Take a look at the list.

The same year that Nothing in the Rule Book posted its list, EBook Friendly published a similar list of 25 websites containing downloadable books, and described each of these sites. Take a look at EBook Friendly’s list.

Happy hunting!

“How Long Will It Take to Read This Book?”

So Many Books So Little Time

In a recent blogpost, bookish blogger Alexander Atkins mentions a heretofore unknown-to-me genuine Internet Wonder, a website developed by Idaho-based Bridger Putnam that will tell you, based on your reading speed, how many hours it will take for you to finish reading any given book.

I just plugged into the website the title of the book my book club just finished reading this week and found the results to be quite plausible.

Given the difficult – and important – choices book clubs are constantly forced to make, and the numerous factors that sometimes go into choosing one book over other candidates, this tool could come in mighty handy at times in resolving some of those choices.

And for any reader, even those not participating in (or even allergic to) book clubs, this tool is also a sobering reminder of ye olde adage “So Many Books, So Little Time.”

Found at Atkins’s Bookshelf blog