The Life of an Interlibrary Loan

October 12, 2020 – Chris Martin, Adult Services

My primary role is ordering Interlibrary Loans for patrons and processing them once they arrive. What is an Interlibrary Loan (or ILL, for short)? As the name implies, if the library does not have an item, whether it be a book, DVD, music CD, etc., we can check with other libraries to see if they will lend it to us. We can ILL items for both adults and kids, and the best part is that it’s free! Here’s a quick step-by-step rundown of the life of an Interlibrary Loan.


1. Processing the request. 

I check each morning in our software program, Symphony, to see if we have any new ILL requests. If we do, I then go to a website called OCLC Worldshare, which lets me check to see if the item is available in other libraries who are also participating in the ILL program. The item has to have been out for at least 6 months before we can ILL it from another library, plus not every library will loan out audio/visual materials, so I have to double-check each item and make sure it fits the criteria to be ILL’ed. If it does, I then choose from a list of libraries, sorted by state, who currently have the item and are willing to send it to us. Typically we get items primarily from Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and occasionally Arkansas and Oklahoma.


2. Processing the item.

Once a library agrees to send us the item, it is then shipped through a statewide courier system. Starting from requesting the item until delivery through the courier typically takes around 2-3 weeks depending on which library the item is shipped from. Whenever the item arrives at the library, I unpack everything and sort out the items based on whether it is a book or audio/visual. After that, I mark on an Excel spreadsheet how many materials we receive of each type. I then go to OCLC Worldshare and mark each item as received to let the lending library know that we received their shipment, after which we print out a sheet of paper that has the name of the patron who requested it, as well as the library who lent it to us. This paper goes on the outside of the book, and when returned, helps us quickly identify which library to return it to. After the book has been processed, I take it to User Services, who will add it to our system so that it can be checked out. The ILL item is now ready to be checked out!


3. Returning the item.

When the ILL item is returned, it is first checked in and then deleted from our system by User Services and brought down to me to return. Usually, there are quite a few items to return each day, so I divide them by which library they should be returned to, then go to OCLC Worldshare and mark them as returned, so the lending library knows to expect them. The items are bagged up using shipping bags that we receive from the Mid-America Library Alliance. A label with the delivery address for each library is put on the outside of the bag and it is ready to be picked up by the courier!


I hope you enjoyed this brief rundown of the life of an ILL item. If you have never requested an ILL before, you can do it in a number of different ways. You can request it through our website here (be sure to check ‘I would like to read/view/listen to this item. Please borrow this item from another library for me.’), you can request it by phone at 573-334-5279 ext. 113, by email at, or in person at the Adult Services desk.  All ILL items check out for 3 weeks, and can only be renewed by contacting Adult Services so that we can ask the lending library if you can have it longer.


I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and I look forward to processing all your ILL requests!


Cape Girardeau Public Library

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