Interlibrary Loan is awesome

Denizens of BushcraftUK discuss Willie Sundqvist's "Swedish Carving Techniques," a rare tome that goes for £100 and more. Then one of them has the bright idea of asking his local library to get one through Interlibrary Loan, the original P2P file-sharing network, and shortly thereafter, he gets a copy to read, courtesy of the Seattle Public Library. Go libraries! (Thanks, Andrew!)


  1. “Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.” ~ Mor in Jo Walton’s Among Others

  2. ILLO in Halifax NS is just great; but the Halifax Regional Library owns a copy of the Sundqvist! For more fun, go to when looking for books – there’s an option for it to tell you which libraries nearest you have what you’re looking for. Uh… but it did not list Halifax for the Sundqvist.

  3. Inter library loans are great – the wife and I have been able to check out research tomes through it that would have cost us $500 and $700 otherwise.  

  4. Let me add that as a grad student, I live and die by ILL.  It’s great for getting dissertations and theses to read.  And for finding books our library doesn’t have, especially rarer books. And for getting research materials (ILL microfilm for example). My state university system also has a University system wide version, so I can get books from other Unis and colleges in the state (as long as they are part of the University system)…  When they were on a budget cut tear here recently, they proposed cuts to the state wide version of ILL (GIL Express) and not surprisingly every department (in all the schools) pretty much had a meltdown about it and they had to back off.  We just would not be able to be a “research university” if those things got cut.  They also tried to close the state archives here recently too, making them only available by appointment.  We all again had a collective meltdown and I think they are still working out a way to cut the budget there and still maintain an open archive… 

    Um… sorry, that was a rant.  In summation: ILL rules the school!

  5. Last time I used interlibrary loan was to get the next book in a Walter Jon Williams space opera series.  Had to giggle at the massive resources applied to get a $0.49 fiction book.  Really just did it to see if it’d work.  Back in the day I used to help my mom with OCLC system at Southwestern College Library.

  6. Yes, ILL is truly excellent. 

    Australian Boingers should check out Trove,, which, as well as digital resources, contains a combined catalog of the contents of most Australian libraries. In other words, you can search in Trove for a book, find out if any library in Australia has it, and arrange for your local library to get it for you on ILL. I’m sure similar resources exist for other countries as well. 

  7. As an undergraduate back in the 70s I had a part time job in the Columbia University Math/Science Library.  I regularly handled ILL requests from all over the world.  The one I have distinct memories of was a regular request from Egypt for the “Proceedings of The Israeli Academy of Science.”  Non optimal routing due to political constraints I guess.

  8. As an avid, and sometimes obscure, reader I can speak to the awesomeness that is ILL.

    Speaking, though, as someone who works in a library, I’d like to add this: Support your local public library and, if you’re a student, faculty, or staff member, your school libraries. The ability to share resources that makes ILL great is only possible with a lot of financial support, and the ability to purchase resources that other libraries aren’t able to get but might still need for their patrons.

    In short: LOVE YOUR LIBRARY!

  9. My grandfather told me about interlibrary loan when I was about sixteen. I didn’t use it until college, but I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I’ve used ILL to read everything from dissertations to pocket manga.

  10. I love ILL, Was actually my student job while I was in college, it was really fun seeing what requests came in for unusual titles, and from unusual places. Sort of a version of Cloud Library-ing :)

  11. I’ve tried it, couldn’t use it. I had to contact each of the libraries that listed the journal and year in their catalogues, ask them, and wait several weeks for the reply that it was in their catalogue, but wasn’t in their collection.

    1. Sounds to me like somebody somewhere had dropped the ball and kicked it under the couch never to be seen again. It’s a really bad library that “has” items in their catalog but not in the collection. A likely scenario is that they had the material but it was non-circulating and should have been suppressed from their outward facing catalog. They didn’t do that and instead of doing it right they continued to bait and switch you (and probably a lot of other patrons) and both parties get to waste their time and effort. But that’s all speculation it could have been lots of reasons and most of them have to do with being lazy or incompetent(probably both).

      In any case, ILL is really awesome when it works. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with it.

      1. My local library hasn’t done an inventory in more than two decades. Three quarters of the items in their online catalog are gone, in many cases since the 1990s.

        1. Wowzers, three-quarters of the collection ‘missing’. At this point it would be easier for them to just throw out the old catalog and start over (aside from all the accounting headaches that that would cause). So what, they just don’t do any catalog maintenance? That’s just crazy, how do they get funding or for that matter patrons? Is it just really small and run by a solo librarian? What ARE they doing anyway? I’m sorry this just sounds completely bonkers to me having worked in libraries.

          And I would still classify that as a ‘bad’ library. A well maintained catalog is pretty much THE essential tool a library offers its patrons so that they can find what they want and then go get it. I’d go bananas if my local library had a 75% failure rate. That’s just really really… bad.

          Alas, in this case I would suspect funding issues to be the underlying problem.

          1. I work at a fairly large university and it had been twenty years since we did our last inventory. Naturally in the process of doing inventory they found that thousands of items were missing and many items had never made their way into the catalog. The libraries I’ve worked at always placed a fairly low priority on inventory for various reasons.

          2. The last university library I worked at had a fun ‘policy’ of not sending notices to faculty for something like three years (they claimed it was a perk). As a result thousands of titles were just out and sitting in random profs offices. They only figured out how stupid that was when the system would no longer renew titles without the physical barcode scanned. This first prof had like 400 titles in his office that he had to cart across campus and some poor student got to check them in and then re-check them out so that he could keep them. And that’s just sort of silly, IMO he should just buy the damn books if he needs them that frequently.

            And an even better face-palm involving abuse of ILL/UB, was this one lady. At the time all I saw was some rather odd patron taking a truck out to the parking lot where she started unloading hundreds of books from her car. I figured maybe they were donations. This was not the case. Turns out she was an instructor at some fly-by-night community college that would, like clockwork every three years, bring all of these titles back to be physically renewed. According to the ILL/UB librarian she had been doing this for almost a decade. Again, at that point you really should buy your own damn books or get your own college’s library to obtain them for you.  Because honestly the whole purpose of a library is to lend titles in its collection not to stock the profs shelves with their own personal branch library.

    1. That’s actually been an issue for many libraries, particularly academic ones. I mainly deal with journals, but I’ve seen library license agreements for e-book purchases, and can tell you that almost all include provisions for ILL.

      For me a much bigger concern with e-books (and e-journals, not to mention other electronic media) is long-term storage.

  12. Mr. Doctorw. The fact that you think Interlibrary Loan is awesome is just one more reason why I think you are awesome. Signed, a school librarian. 

  13. I feel like a double winner. Not only have I made good use of the Interlibrary Loan system finding rare and obscure texts, but I have spent some enjoyable hours visiting BushcraftUK in the past.

  14. ILL is even better when combined with

    Though I have to wonder what the librarians think as they process occasional requests for “Latawnya the Naughty Horse Learns to Say No To Drugs” or “Please Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Picture Book about Satanic Ritual Abuse.”

  15. ILL is a powerful tool for both information sharing and ensuring equity of access across different communities. It is therefore especially sad to note that interlibrary loan might go away. Not only is there a case before the Supreme Court that could redefine the first sale doctrine that allows ILLs, there is no first sale protection for digital works. 

    Continue to love your library, but also speak out to publishers to let them know how important it is for you that libraries be able to purchase, loan, and share resources in the future. 

  16. I use ILL all the time. My town library has an okay selection but my state has a fabulous selection, so I just request everything I want to read using their website and have it sent to the local library. My friends are all “oh I won’t go to the library, they never have what I want” and I keep trying to explain how awesome interlibrary loan is and they just look at me like dead fish.

Comments are closed.