Most public and academic libraries in the United States offer a great service, often overlooked by genealogists, called Interlibrary Loan (ILL). This service allows a local library to borrow a book, microfilm, or other materials that are not available locally from another participating library. Unfortunately, family histories and other specialized genealogy books are not always available through ILL because the libraries that have such books in their collections want to be sure they are available to patrons who may have traveled long distances to use them. There are, however, some libraries that will lend such family history books. In some cases such books may also be available on microfilm, and many libraries will make copies of a few select pages of local history and genealogical publications in response to ILL requests. My favorite use of interlibrary loan is to request microfilm reels of old newspapers (something often not available through the Family History Library), as well as copies of obituaries.
While the majority of U.S. libraries participate in ILL, the following sources are of special interest to genealogists:
- The Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri maintains Genealogy in the Heartland, an outstanding collection of over 10,000 genealogy and local history books, all of which are available free of charge to researchers nationwide through interlibrary loan.
- The library of the National Genealogical Society, consisting of more than 20,000 genealogy and family history books, is deposited at the St. Louis County Public Library in St. Louis, Missouri. Almost every book in this special collection is available through ILL to both NGS members and non-members. The online catalog identifies books in the NGS collection as "SLCL -- NGS Collection."
- The U.S. Library of Congress does not permit its books on genealogy and local history to be borrowed via interlibrary loan. The Library has, however, microfilmed most of its books relating to United States genealogy published from 1876-1900, and this microfilmed material is available for loan. The Library of Congress also accepts requests from libraries outside the US.
Most public libraries in the United States offer ILL services for free - the cost is absorbed as part of the library's operating budget. State, academic and historical society libraries, however, may charge patrons a fee to obtain items through ILL. To learn how interlibrary loan works at your local library, just stop in and ask!
An alternative to Interlibrary Loan for both family history books, as well as microfilmed records, is the Family History Library. For under ten dollars per roll, you can request just about anything in the Family History Library Catalog and have it sent to your local Family History Center for viewing. Another great alternative for articles from local history and genealogical publications is the Allen County Public Library which allows you to directly request copies of articles from periodicals found in PERSI, a comprehensive subject index covering genealogy and local history journals and magazines written in English and French (Canada) since 1800.