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Posted: 20 March 1998 - Updated 14 April 2010

Profiting From Interlibrary Loan
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

If you have heard of a book but your local library doesn't have it, what do you do? The obvious answer is to get it on interlibrary loan.

This process is quite simple. You ask your local librarian for the book, and your library locates it elsewhere and arranges for it to be sent to you.

The most common misconception about interlibrary loan is that people think they have to find out where the book can be found before requesting it locally. That is not true. It is up to your library to do the locating. They have various library tools which help them do this, so don't worry about it.

Your job is to confirm that the book really exists. This means you have to supply the library with the correct author, title and publication information. This last includes the publisher's name, place of publication and date of publication. Of these, the date is most essential. If the book has gone through more than one edition, you should indicate which one you want; if you don't care, please say so. Many very old Canadian books are available on microfiche. Will you accept a microfiche edition?

One easy way to find these books is to locate a possible library on the internet (perhaps one in the area which interests you), and tap into their web catalog. Many large libraries have their whole collection on the web now, and more will come up as time goes by. The library will need proof that the book exists as you say it does. If you have a copy of the book in your hand while you are visiting another library, photocopy the title page as proof. If you have found it on the Internet, print out the reference. If a bibliography has listed it, photocopy that page (with a note about what book you are copying from). This is sufficient for your librarian to help you. Your library will then locate copies of the book and choose which library they will borrow from.

The lending libraries make the conditions of the loan. They may charge something to lend it (your library will inform you about this before proceeding with the loan). They may let you take it home, or indicate you must use it in your library.

Don't try to second-guess the lending libraries. Although a book may be 'for reference only' in one place, another will happily lend. This depends on local policies and interests. Many of the books in our library ( Forth Wayne Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana), for instance, where the whole collection is reference, are also in the huge genealogy collection in Independence MO. All of their collection circulates. Also remember that the National Library in Ottawa tries to obtain two copies of most titles, one for use in their building only, one especially for interlibrary loan.

Don't be surprised if the book comes from an unexpected source. A book on Manitoba which I borrowed recently came from the University of Delaware. Your library will choose where to borrow based on their experiences of friendly, inexpensive places to get the books.

Stick closely to the due dates given. Interlibrary loans can be renewed sometimes, but try to use the material quickly and return it on time, to ensure that you and your library continue to have a good reputation in the world of lending. Books are not the only things available on interlibrary loan. Many newspapers can be obtained on microfilm, theses (a terrific but little used source of historical information) come on microfiche. Microtext publications are a terrific alternative for hard-to-get items.

Interlibrary loan is a privilege, not a right, so abide by the rules. Talk to your local librarian about other aspects of this service. For instance, some items which cannot be lent can be photocopied (if not under copyright), and if all you need is a page or two, the photcopying alternative is cheaper and easier. Genealogists who don't use interlibrary loan are missing out on part of their research.

Masters & Doctoral Theses As Sources

Masters and doctoral theses are a useful source of historical (and often genealogical) information which many researchers ignore. They can be very informative and the information in them has been carefully examined for correctness.

Theses from Canadian universities are routinely microfiched by the National Library in Ottawa. The fiche version is available on interlibrary loan at no cost, and is easily transported through the mail.

You can find the theses in the National Library's bibliography entitled Canadiana. Many of them also appear in databases such as FirstSearch, which has contributors from around the world. If you doubt the usefulness of this source, I can vouch for it personally.

I recently discovered a thesis from Queen's University in Kingston about two successful Methodist evangelists from the nineteenth century. One of them was my great-grandfather's first cousin. The thesis included information about his boyhood which I did not know. The thesis also told me about the hymnbook published by these two men, and that also was available in microfiche form.

For more information about theses in microfiche at the National Library, you can contact the reference desk there at

Do You Have Photographs You Can't Identify?

Do you have photographs you can't identify? I suppose we all do. One help in starting to use these pictures is knowledge about the photographer.

Three newly published books can aid this search:
  • The Ontario Photographers List 1851-1900 by Glen C. Phillips contains references to places in the provinces which had studios, who ran them and when. There is a name index. More information...

  • A supplement, The Ontario Photographers List, volume II, 1901-1925 adds more names. More information...

  • The Three Prairie Provinces, British Columbia and Yukon are covered in his The Western Canada Photographers List, 1860-1925 . It uses the same format. More information...

All three are available from at 613-257-7878 or click on the hot links above for more informaiton.

Books By Ryan Taylor

Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.

Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997

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