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Interlibrary Loans

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 8

As defined by the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, "Interlibrary loan is the process by which a library requests material from, or supplies material to, another library. The purpose of interlibrary loan as defined by this code is to obtain, upon request of a library user, material not available in the user's local library."

This fact sheet has been designed for libraries in the U.S. and Canada. If you are outside of the U.S. and Canada, please see the section on international interlibrary loan below and follow the guidelines set forth by IFLA.


Libraries should follow the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, which was prepared by the Interlibrary Loan Committee of ALA's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA, a division of ALA) in 1994, and revised in 2001 (with the revision approved by the RUSA Board of Directors in January, 2001). The full text of the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States statement appears online and was published in the Summer 2001 issue of the official RUSA journal, the Reference & User Services Quarterly (v. 40 no. 4, pp. 318-319).

The Explanatory Supplement of the U.S. Interlibrary Loan Code also appears online and published in the Summer 2001 Reference & User Services Quarterly (v. 40 no. 4, pp. 321-327).

Most state and regional library networks/consortia and state library agencies have interlibrary loan procedures, and libraries in their service areas should be familiar with these procedures.


Libraries normally transmit requests either electronically (through OCLC or other networks) or using ALA-approved interlibrary loan forms. The interlibrary loan form, sometimes called "the ALA form," can be accessed as an Adobe Reader PDF document as well as a Microsoft Word file (which can be edited). The form can also be purchased in bulk from library supply houses. A list of directories of library product suppliers is available on ALA Library Fact Sheet 9, Library Products and Services.



Loans to Canada are conducted on much the same basis as domestic loans, with slightly different mailing procedures (many Canadian libraries are part of OCLC or other networks).

For more information on ILL in Canada contact:
Interlibrary Loan Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N4 Canada
Phone: (613) 996-7527
Fax: (613) 996-4424
Library and Archives Canada Interlibrary Loans (ILL) web page:


For more information on interlibrary loan, you may want to consult the following titles:

Boucher, Virginia.Interlibrary Loan Practices Handbook, 2nd ed. ALA, 1996.

"Guidelines and Procedures for Telefacsimile and Electronic Delivery of Interlibrary Loan Requests and Materials." ALA, Reference and Adult Services Division, 1994.

"Interlibrary Loan Packaging and Wrapping guidelines." ALA, Reference and User Services Association, 1997.

Higginbotham, Barbara Buckner and Sally Bowdoin.Access Versus Assets: A Comprehensive Guide to Resource Sharing For Academic Librarians. ALA, 1993.

Morris, Leslie R., ed.Interlibrary Loan Policies Directory, 7th ed. Neal-Schuman, 2002.


Any library may participate in international interlibrary loan activities. When seeking a loan from a library outside the United States and Canada follow the guidelines set forth by IFLA at the following sources:

"International Lending: Principles and Guidelines for Procedure (1987)." IFLA Journal 14 (1988): 258-264, or in Interlending and Document Supply 16 (Jan. 1988): 28-32.

International Federation of Library Associations. “The IFLA Fax Guidelines.” Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery and Supply. v. 6 no. 4 (1996) 5-10. (also at

International Federation of Library Associations. “IFLA Guidelines for Sending ILL Requests by Email.” At

Several procedures are particularly important when performing international interlibrary loan.

  • Interview the patron to get a complete picture of what information or source is needed and how it is to be used.
  • Verify the citation in a dependable source so that the record is complete and correct.
  • Always check to be sure that the item cannot be found in the United States.
  • If the item cannot be located in the U.S., locate a foreign supplier. If a foreign library or document supply center is found, address this organization directly.
  • If no location is known, find out if the country from which you wish to barrow has an international ILL center (use one of the sources listed below under “Selected Additional Sources”).
  • Be sure to inform the patron that the process could take up to six weeks (sometimes longer).
    (Summarized from chapter 6, “International Interlibrary Loan” in Boucher’s Interlibrary Loan Practices Handbook, 2nd ed.1997.)

Copyright regulations of the country from which the material is requested must be followed. OCLC PRISM Interlibrary Loan system serves a number of foreign libraries and is one of the best choices to use when transmitting a request. Fax and email are the most common modes for transmitting a request. If the postal service is used, choose the fastest method available (preferably air mail). Charges should be expected and paid promptly as the lending library directs.

Always contact the foreign lending institution first because some institutions use their own ILL forms. But most accept the ILL forms designated by the IFLA Office for International Lending. These forms are available for overseas use at a price of $15.00 per 100 copies from:

British Library Document Supply Centre
Boston Spa, Wetherby,
West Yorkshire, LS23 7BQ
United Kingdom
Telephone for information on the Document Supply Centre: +44 (0)1937 546060
Fax: +44 (0)1937 546333
Web site for IFLA’s ILL forms:
Document Supply Centre Web site:

Note: some libraries will not lend internationally. However, one good source for materials, regardless of language is the British Library Document Supply Centre (listed above). The Centre focuses on remote document delivery covering every aspect of scientific, technical, medical and human knowledge regardless of language. The Centre does require that borrowing institutions register with them free of charge. There is a fee per completed request. Information about the Centre’s service, the particular forms required, and the costs involved can be obtained from the above information. Please note that telephone number and Web site for the Document Supply Centre are different from the number and Web site for the IFLA ILL forms.

For more information on international interlibrary loan, you may want to consult the following titles:

Barwick, Margaret, and Pauline Connolly, ed. A Guide to Centres of International Lending and Copying, 5th edition. Boston Spa: IFLA-UAP Publications, 1995. (ISBN 0 7123 21128)

Barwick, Margaret, and Pauline Connolly, ed. Guide to Centres of International Document Delivery, 5th ed. Boston Spa: IFLA-UAP Publications, 1996. (ISBN 0 7123 21454)

Cornish, Graham P. Model Handbook for Interlending and Copying. Boston Spa: IFLA-UAP Publications, 1991.

Gould, Sara, ed. Charging for Document Delivery and Interlending. Boston Spa: IFLA-UA Publications, 1997. (ISBN 0 7123 2151 9)

September 2005

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.