Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Never Buy a Book Again (Unless You Want To)

If this was a radio station instead of a blog, it would be time for a public service announcement about now.

I want to briefly share a resource with you that has greatly enhanced the life of this bibliophile, and until just about five years ago I didn't even realize it existed.

It's called Interlibrary Loan (ILL), and many community libraries and almost all college and university libraries take advantage of it. It's exactly what the name implies -- a book loaning service between libraries.

For a quick example, if I go to my local library, and they don't have the obscure G.K Chesterton book I relish -- or the recently published $50 computer handbook I desperately need -- the kindly library folk will simply get on their ILL computer (if I file a request) and begin looking until they find another U.S. library that does have the book I need on their shelves. They will then request the book to be sent to them, and eventually I will get a call asking me to come pick it up.

Of course, someone's got to pay the postage, but you'd be surprised how often the library (such as the one I use) foots the entire bill. Some libraries will split the postage with you, and others will ask you to pay the entire amount. But still, spending a few dollars in postage is a lot cheaper than going to the bookstore and buying a new book.

I'd heard of interlibrary loan before, but I used to think it was only for postgraduate types needing arcane volumes on deconstructionist theories of fungus transmission for their theses and dissertations. The scholar types are some of the biggest ILL users, but everyday readers like you and me are usually welcome as well.

And you'd be surprised what you can get through loans -- not only books, but CDs and DVDs as well, although the supply of the latter two is much smaller, and some libraries frown on these requests because people abuse the system trying to avoid Blockbuster rentals.

But I have so enjoyed ILL. If I see a huge, expensive art book at a store that I'd love to spend hours looking at, but can't shell out $75 for, I'll request it through interlibrary loan, and usually it's in my hands in a week or so, free of charge. My parents live in a suburb where their library foots the total ILL postage, and as a result, Mom and Dad haven't paid a penny to read a book since the first Bush Administration.

It's also amazing to see just how far away some of your book loans come from. One finance book I borrowed came from the library of an Air Force base in Alaska. It was still cold to the touch when I got it, and smelled of jet fuel and whale blubber, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Of course, as a true bibliophile, I have to purchase books to stack my shelves with. It's an unavoidable compulsion. But when I want to read something I know I'll never need to see again afterward, or if I'm just checking out a book to see if I like it, or if there's an oversized book I can't afford, then ILL has proven to be a great tool.

As librarians say, check it out.

Quote of the day:

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."

--Charles W. Eliot

1 comment:

yoursbecausehis said...

Interlibrary loan has been a friend for a long time...partly because so many of the good books at our local library have been stolen (but that's another topic). I use them to find classic VHS movies. For example, when we read Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates with the kids one Christmas, I remembered that there was an old movie made from the book. Another time we were studying James Thurber's Secret Life of Walter Mitty for elements of good story-telling. We requested the movie (which they found in the Houston library system). It is almost completely different from the original short story EXCEPT for the story-telling elements we had discussed.

Okay, okay...our family is a little weird that way, but WE had fun, and that's the point, right? :)