Answered By: William Gee
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2014     Views: 269

Interlibrary Loan can be as quick as a few hours for articles and 3-4 days for books and media; however, the process can also take weeks -- it depends on which libraries own the material and how quickly they can provide it to us.

We always try to obtain requested materials as quickly as we can. If you have an upcoming deadline or want to check on the status, please let us know. You may also check on the status of your request in ILLiad

If you know that you are working under a deadline when you place your request, please update the Not Wanted After / Need By date on the request form to reflect your deadline. The date defaults to 30 days, but you can set it shorter or longer, depending on your need. 

For more information, please continue reading.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) borrows materials from other libraries, museums, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Since we are most often asking to borrow items, we have limited control over which institution will fulfill our request or how quickly they will do so. We're always trying to find partners that will provide materials reliably, quickly, and cheaply. We do sometimes purchase articles and books from publishers and vendors -- in those cases, we usually receive items within hours or 2-3 days.

It might help to think of Interlibrary Loan on a more personal level. If you ask a friend to borrow one of her DVDs, she can tell you no, ask you to wait, or say yes. If she says no, you have to ask another friend until one says yes. If she says wait, you have to wait, especially if she is your only friend who owns the item you want. If she says yes, then she gets to tell you how you can use it, when you have to return it to her, etc. This is very much the way Interlibrary Loan works, except we're asking from a network of thousands of libraries and other organizations around the world; so, we also have the delays and expenses of finding the libraries that own the items, having them look for the items, scan or package the items, wait for the items to arrive in the mail, etc. See below for an overview of some of the complex steps involved.

  • ILL staff receives and processes your request in ILLiad.
    • We verify your request and ensure that the library does not already own it. Not all requests are easy to understand. Foreign language materials and citations with abbreviations, misspellings, or information in the wrong fields delay our processing.
    • We locate potential lenders and ask them to provide the material to Joyner Library for your use.
  • Your request is sent to a lending string of up to ten potential libraries. These usually are libraries with which we have special arrangements to provide materials to each other's patrons. Materials not owned by our preferred libraries are sought from other libraries, but they may not be as willing or able to loan to us.
    • Each library is usually allowed multiple weekdays (up to four) to respond with a "yes" or "no" answer to our request. Most reply quickly, but others take several days to respond, especially if they have staff absent, etc.
    • During these hours or days that a lending library has your request, it must check its catalog to see if it the item is owned, is checked-in, and is able to be loaned/photocopied. It must then check its shelves to see if the item is actually there and is in a good enough condition to be loaned or photocopied.
    • It then must either scan and send electronically, or package the item for mailing or shipping.
      • Due to the high cost of expedited shipping services like FedEx and UPS, few libraries use them to ship loaned materials. As fast and as reliable as the US Postal Service is, few libraries use its expedited delivery service for packages or pay first class postage to send packages to libraries. Most often, libraries use 'library rate' which is similar to 'media mail' if you have ever shipped books or media items -- it is a cheap service, but usually takes a week or longer. Materials borrowed from other countries may spend several weeks in shipping alone.
    • It also must update its request management system and check the item out on its circulation system.
  • If a lending library says no for whatever reason (checked out, lost, is non-circulating, etc.), the request is then sent to another library in the string until one agrees to provide it. If all libraries in the lending string respond "no" it comes back to the ILL staff at Joyner for review. If the citation is verified and other libraries are located, your request is sent back off and repeats the above steps.
  • Once your request item is sent to us by the lending library, Joyner's staff must again process it.
    • We have to unpack it if it were mailed/shipped. If sent electronically, we must receive the digital document.
    • We verify we received the right item.
    • We inform the lending library that the package or article has been received.
    • We label the item or save the PDF.
    • We notify you that it is available for you to pickup or send you an email with a link to the electronic document.

As you can tell, it is an intricate process -- and this is just an overview of it! So, when a requested article arrives within a few hours or days or a book arrives within a week, it is amazing.

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