New Library Directors Handbook

Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary loan (ILL) is the process of sharing material between libraries. Much of interlibrary loan work occurs behind the scenes, but it usually starts at the reference or circulation desks. If a patron wants an item that your library doesn't have, interlibrary loan is one way of obtaining that item. It's not quite as simple as that, however. When a patron requests something, you should think carefully about whether or not you want to purchase that item. If it is something others might be interested in then you should buy it for your library. If it seems like a one time only item, then ILL may be the way to go.

The most important step in the process is a reference interview. You should talk to the patron to determine what is really needed and when it is needed. After working with the patron, make sure you gather the title of the item, author, and date published. For magazines, you will need the title of the magazine, the title of the article, author, date of the magazine, volume, and page numbers. Technology has made requesting an interlibrary loan much easier. You can search for the item while the patron waits and even see which libraries own that item. Generally in Montana there is no charge for interlibrary loan, but some non-Montana libraries do charge a fee. Your library could choose to pay this fee or you could pass the cost onto the patron. If it looks like an ILL request is going to generate a fee you should let the patron know that there might be a fee, and you should find out how much they are willing to pay for the ILL request.

After obtaining all of the information you need, verify that the information is correct and find out which library has the item. You do this by searching a bibliographic database such as WorldCat (, an online database.

Once you know who has the item, send a request to that library. This can be done via mail by using the appropriate form, by email, or by FirstSearch ILL (a product of OCLC, the company behind WorldCat). We won't go into a lot of detail about these products. If you would like more information about Interlibrary Loan, contact the Montana State Library at 1-800-338-5087. The staff can help you find the resources you need to learn more about interlibrary loan.