Interlibrary Loan: An Overview

Interlibrary Loan: An Overview

Defined as “Interlibrary Loans (ILL) is a practice between participating libraries who establish agreements with one another to share materials to enhance their collections” (J-Gate). It’s a fantastic service used by countless people. Many types of materials are available to and requested by library users. Typically requested are books/chapters/pages, journal articles, reports, and audio and video media. These requests flow between libraries daily, allowing patrons to request items from the other side of the world. I had the pleasure of working with a highly-skilled librarian who was/is in charge of ILL at Spring Arbor University.

Per the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, there are established guidelines for properly running an Interlibrary Loan department listed as follows:

General Recommendations

  • Streamline the process within your library

    • Establish clear expectations for performance and turnaround for staff

    • Evaluate your routines and change them accordingly

    • Reduce the number of hands through which the requests are passing

  • All requests should be handled in one electronic system, preferably with the ability to interoperate with other ILL/DD systems.

  • Keep statistics to suit national monitoring schemes and local needs

  • Make holdings available on Union Catalogues and keep them up-to-date, with an indication of availability for resource sharing

  • Explore reciprocal arrangements Staff

  • Use the expertise of skilled staff members

  • Staff members should continuously be able to develop competencies and be trained in using new tools and resources.

  • Encourage the exchange of experience at the local or international level Technology.

  • Hardware and software must be up-to-date

  • Encourage users to submit requests electronically

  • Give the end users the ability to check the status of requests online

  • Handle all communication about requests electronically


  • Focus on the needs and preferences of the end-user

  • Perform user surveys regularly

  • ILL should be an integrated part of the Library’s service to users

  • Introduce new technology in all processes

  • Do not unreasonably limit the number of requests from users

  • Involve the end user as much as possible in requesting

    • Give end users access to union catalogs with requesting facilities

  • Process requests from end users quickly

  • Use your experience to select supplying libraries according to speed of service and cost.

  • Adhere to the conditions of suppliers and treat the material with care

  • Offer IFLA vouchers as payment

  • Deliver the material as fast as possible to the end user

    • Send copies electronically if at all possible

    • Check the speed of supply regularly

    • Use experienced staff to collect requested material from your collections to minimize mistakes.

  • Use the fastest delivery methods

  • Try to satisfy requests in the best possible way

  • Be sure that your license agreements for your e-resources will allow ILL/DD.

  • Create online order forms and/or interoperate with other ILL/DD systems

  • Make your library’s lending policies available on your website and in policy directories

As of October 2021, there were 274 resource-sharing consortia, according to a list on OCLC. This organization, founded in 1967 as a nonprofit member-run librarian community, has evolved into a massive international organization with over thirty thousand members. It supports “Library management, discovery, cataloging, digital libraries, virtual reference, resource sharing with 0ver 40 million search requests processed daily by OCLC systems.” One of these systems, WorldCat, is a significant utility for ILL librarians worldwide. It has “…over 542 million bibliographic records and more than 3 billion holdings… and is the foundation of WorldShare Interlibrary Loan. You can easily see the resources available from other libraries, borrow directly from them, and share your resources.” Another part of OCLC is ILLiad, a “Resource Sharing Management software (ILLiad) saves you time by managing all of your library’s borrowing, lending, and document delivery through a single interface.” This partnership provides a strong ILL for patrons and librarians to utilize.

In Michigan, like many other states, the whole-state consortia is MelCat (Michigan e-Library Catalog). Their mission statement is to “…provide all Michigan residents with free access to online full-text articles, full-text books, digital images, and other valuable research information at any time via the Internet; and provide an easy-to-use interlibrary loan system to allow Michigan residents to borrow books and other library materials for free from participating Michigan libraries.” According to their website, there are 437 participating libraries statewide. Patrons can access it from home and from their library.

ILL has been a considerable part of library life for several decades. Librarians and patrons alike have benefitted from the services and technologies used to make these exchanges possible.