Interlibrary Loan - An Underutilized Genealogy Resource

Inter-library Loan: An Underutilized Genealogical Resource

A robust inter-library loan program can contribute to your success as a genealogist. If you’ve never checked into your local public library’s inter-loan system, now is the time. Even if your library serves a small community, you might be surprised at what they can do for you.

I live in a very small community of less than 8,000 people and our library is smaller than most. However, their inter-library loan program exceeded my expectations. I was accustomed to the system my hometown library had established in the 1990s. Their inter-library loan program only encompassed a small portion of the state, mostly our county and a couple of others nearby. Recently, however, I’ve had to rethink my perspective on what inter-library loan can do for me.

First things first: if you do not belong to your local public library, now is an excellent time to get a card. If you have to pay because you live outside city limits, please don’t balk at the cost. Keep in mind if you live outside city limits, you are not paying city taxes – just county taxes. My taxes do not go to support anything directly in town, so I pay $30 a year for a library card, which covers everyone in my household. That $30 has saved me so much money every year. When I think of all the books I bring home that I end up only half-reading or skimming, or know I will only read once and never again, not to mention all the books I check out for my children (though they may have their own cards under the fee I already pay) and the DVDs I check out for the entire family, I know the price is well worth it.

Now, on to the wonderful benefit of library membership that is inter-library loan!

When looking for Almost Out of the World: Scenes from Washington Territory by James H. Swan, I decided to give my local public library’s inter-loan program a try. It was great surprise to find out that I could get this book from either Creighton University or University of Nebraska at Omaha. At first, I thought I would have to make the drive up to Omaha and while it’s not a long drive, it isn’t a drive I like to make unless absolutely necessary. Construction, city traffic, and just the overall inconvenience of adding a two-hour round-trip into my routine keep me from venturing outside my peaceful rural county.

Still, I found the book on Worldcat, went to the library, and asked about it. To my surprise, my friendly neighborhood librarian told me they could obtain the book. No need for me to make a trip to the University of Nebraska at Omaha in hopes of using their library. In fact, no need for me to make more than a 14-mile round-trip to the public library right here in town. There was a small out-of-pocket cost of $2.97 for return postage, which I paid upon receipt of the book. Once I had it, I got to flip through and photo copy the pages I wanted. I could have taken it home for 4 weeks, but I wanted to stay right there in the library, find the pages that mentioned my 4th-great grandfather, and read it right away.

After returning the book, I learned something else wonderful about our inter-library loan program. They aren’t limited to just local or adjacent counties, or even the state of Nebraska. They can get books from all over the country and this includes such desirable repositories as colleges and universities. From Florida to Oregon, Maine to Arizona, the world of U.S. libraries is open to me all for a mere $30 a year and the cost of library rate postage!

This is where we take a look at our good friend, WorldCat. Have you ever used it? It’s fabulous. WorldCat allows you to see books in libraries all over the world.

First, I would like to mention something. In a fantastic Facebook group devoted to DNA, someone mentioned that they aren’t sure how they feel about the commercials that are enticing people into using Ancestry DNA. Personally, I feel it’s wonderful that many people are getting turned onto genealogy, even if only for an ethnicity estimate. But, as I said in my post, it’s important that we embrace the new, while still using the traditional research techniques we’ve relied upon since before the introduction of computers into our day to day lives.

One younger member of the group responded, “Does that mean you’re sitting in a dark library scrolling through microfilm? LOL.” Answer?


So back to the wondrous world of libraries and inter-library loan. When you’ve been through Google Books and found you can only get a preview or snippet view of the older book you wanted, or Amazon and found that your only option is to pay far too much money for a tome out of which you’re hoping to get one name, inter-library loan could be the answer. Let’s take a look at my Amazon wishlist:

Inter-library Loan: An Underutilized Genealogical Resource

Look at all of these books about loyalists! I hope to find a specific name in them, but what are the odds the name is there? I really don’t know. Do I want to spend $45 on a book? Sometimes, I do. I confess to having my own personal library of genealogy books, many of which cost between $25 and $80 each to purchase. But do I want to make a habit of it, especially for books that may or may not have the information I seek? Probably not.

Now I visit trusty ol’ World Cat to see if any of these books are available from a library and voila!

Interlibrary Loan: An Underutilized Genealogy Resource

I either print or write this information down and bring it with me to my local public library. They give me a very simple form to fill out that asks for the title of the book, author, and my name and phone number. They submit the request and when the book arrives, I just sign the form saying I received it and pay the return postage. The book is usually mine for 4 weeks, which gives me ample time to do research, make photocopies, read it – whatever I wanted to do with the book.

That’s all there is to it!

Keep in mind that if your library does not offer such a robust inter-library loan program, you can become a patron at a larger library outside of your town or county. It will cost a fee, but it could be worth it for the time and money saved in research trips, book purchases, and more!

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