[52WeToBeGeneChall] Interlibrary Loan at Thomas Balch Library

Geneabloggers.com and Amy at WeTree have done it again! This year they’re bringing us 52 weeks of genealogy challenges to blog about. As Amy said in her kick-off post, this year is meant to stretch our brains, work our skills, and build us into top notch researchers! She goes on to say:

The goal is to get genealogists to stretch their brains a bit. Beginning researchers will discover some new resources. You are encouraged to push buttons, click links and study all corners of the web sites. Some of you will be familiar with all of the tools used in the challenges. If that’s the case, approach them from a different angle. Don’t use them to search your ancestors, experiment with other ideas and explore the different ways the tool can be used.

This week’s challenge: Interlibrary Loan. Learn about your local public library’s inter-library loan (ILL) policy. Pick a genealogy-related book that you want to read that is not in your library’s collection. Ask the librarian how to request the book from another library. Find the different library systems from which you can request books through your own library, as this can dramatically increase the number of genealogy books to which you have access. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experience with requesting items through your library’s ILL service.

Interlibrary Loan at Thomas Balch Library

As I mentioned in my previous post, Thomas Balch Library is the premiere resource for genealogy in Loudoun County. Rather than explore the interlibrary loan process at Rust or one of the other branches I decided to go straight to the source. I had done this once before a long time ago. Luckily, the process hasn’t really changed very much.

Before going to Balch I made a quick trip over to Worldcat.org to find a few books that I wanted to request. I’m currently working on proving a line through the Copelands for my mother to join the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get a little research done on the way. I actually found six volumes that have some promise and aren’t found at either the DAR Library or the Library of Congress.

What I love most about Balch is that there’s almost always a librarian at the front to greet you and help you the minute you walk in. Tonight was no exception. I consulted with the librarian that I was looking to request a few volumes via interlibrary loan but I was a bit unfamiliar with the process. He directed me to a their two forms and informed me that the cost for requests had gone up a bit, $5.00 per book now. Recently, Thomas Balch Library has become independent from the other Loudoun branches for their interlibrary loan process, which has required them to raise their administrative fees. The $5.00, as I understand it, is a non-refundable administrative fee that you have to pay regardless of whether or not the book is available for circulation. The fees are due when the books are ready to be picked up, or once the request has been processed. Interlibrary loan requests can only be submitted by patrons holding a Loudoun County Public Library card or a Thomas Balch Library card.

The Forms

Balch has two forms for interlibrary loan requests. I assume that these forms are likely similar to many other library’s forms. One is for book requests and the other is for periodical requests. Both have a place where you can indicate up to how much you agree to pay to have pages copied out of the book or periodical if the item you have requested is not available for circulation. This could be extremely helpful if you already have a page citation that you know you are interested in, otherwise, I would imagine it could be a bit hit or miss.

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Having the sheets that I printed off from Worldcat.org made things incredibly more smooth. I highly recommend doing your research ahead of time. Not only does it speed up the process but you get brownie points from the librarian!

The Process

On the back of the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Policies and Procedures there’s a quick bullet point list of how to request and renew items on ILLs. I gathered that some of these are more guidelines than laws. I had six books that I wanted to request and the “guidelines” say that they only process three requests per patron per week. However, they were obliging to me tonight to let me request all six despite my offers to only submit three this week and return to submit the other three next week. They must be slow on requests! Most of the bullet points in the list are pretty self-explanatory and common sense type things. Such as, you must give an address, phone number, or email address so that the library can contact you regarding your requests and that you first consult the Thomas Balch Library catalog to ensure the item that you’re requesting isn’t actually held at their library.

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When I filled out my forms the librarian allowed me to use a nice space behind the desk to spread out on and fill all my forms out. He gave me a pen. I kind of assumed that perhaps I got to use this nice little nook because I had a pen amongst their collections and he wanted to keep an eye on me lest I get a wild notion to draw little black mustaches on some of the photos in their books! 😉 However, it was quiet and I was able to complete my forms quickly and easily.

Balch needed to retain the copies of the source data that I printed off from Worldcat.org so it was lucky that I brought them with me. A few initials by the librarian and then I was off on my way with my pink copies! I suppose I’ll hear back in a few weeks about whether or not they were able to obtain my requests. I remember the process taking a little bit of time.

Quick Start Guide to ILLs

In retrospect there are a few things that I recommend to making your process go smoothly:

  1. Check with your local library to see if they have ILL procedures/policies on the internet that you can peruse before you head over there to make your requests.
  2. Use your resources wisely before making requests. Check and double check your local library’s catalog and maybe even some of the surrounding libraries. You might be able to find the item that you seek just in your backyard! My favorite place to check where items are held is Worldcat.org. You can sign up for a free account and make lists too!
  3. Print out information from Worldcat.org before going to the library to make your requests.
  4. Bring your library card! I sometimes forget to bring mine when I go to Thomas Balch because it’s not a lending library… you can’t check anything out so there’s not a lot of use for my library card there. But you’ll definitely need it for making any ILL requests; that is, unless you’ve got your barcode memorized!
  5. For more information on Thomas Balch’s Interlibrary Loan Policies and Procedures refer to this document.


  1. When I wrote this challenge, I had no idea it would be so fun to read the different ways libraries handle ILL requests. No two are the same. Thanks for sharing yours.
    .-= Amy Coffin´s last blog ..52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Week 4 =-.

  2. Thanks, Amy!! I had a great time with this Challenge… And it came at the perfect time too. I hope that some of these books that I requested lead to some genealogical gems!!

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