Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States Explanatory Supplement

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For use with the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States (2016)

ILL Code with Supplement (Printable PDF)
ILL Request Form (Fillable PDF)

Table of Contents

Responsibilities of the Requesting Library
Responsibilities of the Supplying Library

This Explanatory Supplement is intended to amplify specific sections of the Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, providing fuller explanation and specific examples for text that is intentionally general and prescriptive. Topical headings refer to the equivalent sections in the Code. Libraries are expected to comply with the Code, using this Supplement as a source for general direction.


The U.S. Interlibrary Loan Code, first published in 1916 and adopted by The American Library Association in 1917, is designed to provide a code of behavior for requesting and supplying material within the United States. The code is intended to be adopted voluntarily by U.S. libraries and is not enforced by an oversight body. However, as indicated below, supplying libraries may suspend service to requesting libraries that fail to comply with the provisions of this code.  

This interlibrary loan code describes the responsibilities of libraries to each other when requesting material for users. Technology has expanded access options beyond traditional library-to-library transactions, including unmediated requests and direct-to-user delivery. This code makes provision for such options while at the same time affirming the responsibility of the patron's library for the safety and return of the borrowed material, or for paying the cost of a non-returnable item sent directly to the patron.  

The Interlibrary Loan Code reflects established practices. However, libraries and other information centers are encouraged to explore and use non-traditional means when available to ensure maximum accessibility and convenience for users.

1.0 Definitions

In this code, “Interlibrary Loan” refers to transactions between two libraries.  Transactions between libraries and commercial document suppliers or library fee-based services are contractual arrangements beyond the scope of these guidelines.  

The terms "requesting library" and "supplying library" are used in preference to "borrowing" and "lending" to cover the exchange of copies as well as loans.

2.0 Purpose

Interlibrary loan (ILL) is intended to complement rather than to substitute for good library collections built and managed to meet the routine needs of local library users. ILL is based on a tradition of sharing resources between various types and sizes of libraries and the belief that no library, regardless of its size or budget, is completely self-sufficient. When policy and circumstances warrant, interlibrary loan may also be used to obtain materials that are owned by the local library but which are not available because they are damaged, missing, or checked out. Though some libraries are net borrowers (borrow more than they lend) and others are net lenders (lend more than they borrow), the system of interlibrary loan rests on the belief that all libraries have something to contribute and should be willing to lend if they are willing to borrow.

3.0 Scope

3.1 Domestic Transactions
This code is intended to provide guidelines for exchanges between libraries in the United States when no other agreement applies.  The code does not override individual or consortial agreements or regional or state codes which may be more liberal or more prescriptive. 
The interlibrary loan of special collections materials is regulated by the Guidelines For Interlibrary And Exhibition Loan Of Special Collections Materials (2012) by the American Library Association and Association of College and Research Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section. 

3.2 International Transactions
The conduct of international interlibrary loan is regulated by the rules set forth in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) document “International Resource Sharing and Document Delivery: Principles and Guidelines for Procedure (2009).”  

Although the U.S. shares a common border with Canada and Mexico, it is important to remember that these countries have their own library infrastructures and practices. The IFLA Principles and Guidelines regulate the exchange of material between institutions across these borders. Further, U.S. librarians would be wise to inform themselves of customs requirements that take precedence over library agreements when material is shipped across these national borders.

4.0 Responsibilities of the Requesting Library

4.1 Written Policies 
A library's interlibrary borrowing policy should be available in a written format and readily accessible to all library users. Whenever possible the borrowing policy should be posted on the library's Web site

4.2 Confidentiality 
ILL staff should adhere to the American Library Association's Code of Ethics (2008), specifically principle III, that states: "We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."

Interlibrary loan transactions, like circulation transactions, are confidential library records. Interlibrary loan personnel are encouraged to be aware of local/state confidentiality rules and laws as they relate to interlibrary loan transactions. Requesting libraries are discouraged from including a user's name on a request submitted to a supplier.  If individually identifying information is needed on a request, appropriate steps, such as using identification numbers or codes rather than users’ names, should be taken to maintain confidentiality.    

Policies and procedures should be developed regarding the retention of ILL records and access to this information. ILL personnel should also be aware of privacy issues when posting requests for assistance or using ILL requests as procedural examples. See the following documents from the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom:  Policy concerning Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information about Library Users (2004) and Confidentiality and Coping with Law Enforcement Inquiries: Guidelines for the Library and its Staff (n.d.).

4.3 Complete Bibliographic Citation
A good bibliographic description is the best assurance that the user will receive the item requested. Rather than detail these descriptive elements, the code requires the requesting library to include whatever data provides the best indication of the desired material, whether an alphanumeric string or an extensive bibliographic citation. The important point is that this description be exact enough to avoid unnecessary work on the part of the supplier and frustration on the part of the user.  

4.4 Special Requirements
Because returnable materials borrowed via interlibrary loan are traditionally intended for individual use of a defined duration, the requesting library should communicate with the supplying library in advance if the material is needed for other uses, such as course reserves, classroom or other group viewing of audiovisual material, or for an extended loan period, especially of a textbook.  

Other examples of special requirements that should be clearly indicated in original requests to potential suppliers include, but are not limited to, a particular format, edition, language, an alternate library shipping address or the address of the user’s home, rush delivery, or scanning with wide margins for replacement pages, etc.

4.5 Identifying Appropriate Suppliers   
Requesting libraries should use all resources at their disposal to determine ownership of a particular title before sending a request to a potential supplier. Many libraries contribute their holdings to major bibliographic utilities such as DOCLINE and/or OCLC, and most make their individual catalogs freely available via the Internet. Interlibrary loan discussion lists are also sources for the requesting library to verify and/or locate particularly difficult items when other options are exhausted.  

The requesting library is encouraged to use resources such as the OCLC Policies Directory or the DOCLINE Institution Information to determine lending policies, including any applicable charges, before requesting material.

4.6 Sending Unverified Requests   
Despite the requirements in sections 4.3 and 4.5 that an item should be completely and accurately described and located, the code recognizes that it is not always possible to verify and/or locate a particular item. For example, a request may be sent to a potential supplier with strong holdings in a subject area or to the institution at which the dissertation was written.

4.7 Transmitting the Request   
The code stipulates electronic communication. For many libraries, sending requests electronically means using the ILL messaging systems associated with DOCLINE, OCLC, other products that use the ISO ILL Protocol, or structured email requests.  

Lacking the ability to transmit in this fashion, check the potential supplier’s policies for preferred methods of submission.  If no other preferred method is specified, an ALA interlibrary loan request form or its equivalent should be used.  Whatever communication method is used, the requesting library should identify and use the appropriate address for ILL requests.  

The requesting library should include a street address, a postal box number, an IP address, and/or an email address to give the supplying library delivery options.

4.8 Copy Requests  
The requesting library is responsible for complying with U.S. copyright law (Title 17, USC), in particular, the provisions of sections 107 (Fair use) and 108 (Reproduction by libraries and archives).   In addition, there may be related regulations, guidelines, policies, and/or procedures to take into consideration such as the CONTU Guidelines (1979).

4.9 Responsibility for Materials
Although the number is small, some material is lost or damaged at some point along the route from the supplier and back again. This section clearly states that the requesting library is responsible for the material from the time it leaves the supplying library until its safe return to the supplying library.  The requesting library's responsibility for this loss is based on the concept that if the request had not been made, the material would not have left the supplier's shelf, and thus would not have been put at risk. 

If the requesting library asks for delivery at a location away from the library (such as to the user's home), the requesting library is likewise responsible for the material during this delivery and return process.

Borrowed items should be returned in the condition in which they were received at the requesting library. In particular, a requesting library should never affix adhesive labels or tape directly to any borrowed item. The requesting library should also return sufficient identifying information with the material to allow the supplying library to identify the request and process the return quickly. 

4.10 Service, Replacement, and Damage Fees
The requesting library should clearly state on the request an amount that meets or exceeds the charges of suppliers to which the request is sent or the request may go unfilled. The requesting library is responsible for payment of any service fees charged by the supplying library that are less than or equal to the amount stated on its request. Libraries are encouraged to use electronic invoicing capabilities such as OCLC's Interlibrary Loan Fee Management (IFM) system or the Electronic Fund Transfer System (EFTS).  

The requesting library should use a payment method accepted by the supplying library. If the requesting library is unable to pay using the supplying library’s accepted methods, it should not send a request to that library.  

It is the responsibility of the requesting library to pay invoices received or to notify the supplying library of any billing questions no later than six months from the billing date for the charges in question. The requesting library should also make every attempt to resolve billing questions within six months of notifying the supplying library of an apparent billing error.  

Although the code stipulates that the requesting library is required to pay if billed for a lost or damaged item, the supplying library is not necessarily required to charge for a lost item. In the case of lost material, the requesting and supplying libraries may need to work together to resolve the matter. For instance, the library shipping the material may need to initiate a trace with the delivery firm. In any case, a final decision regarding replacement, repair, or compensation rests with the supplying library.

4.11 Responsibility for Unmediated ILL Requests   
Some requesting libraries permit users to initiate online ILL requests that are sent directly to potential supplying libraries. A requesting library that chooses to allow its users to order materials through interlibrary loan without mediation accepts responsibility for these requests as if they have been placed by library staff. The supplying library may assume that the user has been authenticated and authorized to place requests and that the requesting library assumes full responsibility for transaction charges, the safety and return of material, and the expense of replacement or repair.

4.12 Due Date and Use Restrictions   
This code incorporates elements of both pre- and post-1994 codes with regard to due dates. It keeps the post-1994 concept of items being due on a specific date rather than referencing a “loan period.” However, it returns to  the pre-1994 concept that the due date specified by the supplying library is the date by which the item is due to be checked in at the requesting library for return to the supplying library.

The stated purpose of the 1994 change to defining the due date clearly as “the date the material must be checked in at the supplying library” was to bring ILL practice into alignment with automated circulation procedures and to facilitate system interoperability. While the 1994 definition is clear, its implementation requires estimating shipping times and back-dating from the lender’s due date to arrive at a due date for the end user. Doing so reliably has proven to be difficult, even for libraries using state-of-the-art interlibrary loan management systems. The emphasis on returning items to supplying library shelves by a certain date when no recall has been issued seems counterproductive. Since both circulation and interlibrary loan systems support recalls when necessary and since circulation systems have long included the ability to assign grace periods to categories of users and/or items, it seems reasonable to define the due date as the date by which the item is due to be checked in at the requesting library for return to the supplying library.

The requesting library is responsible for ensuring compliance with any use restrictions specified by the supplying library, such as "library use only" or "no photocopying,” and for returning materials to the supplying library promptly following check in.

4.13 Renewals
When the supplying library denies a renewal request, the material should be returned by the original due date or as quickly as possible if the renewal is denied after the due date has passed.

4.14 Recalls
The response to a recall may be the immediate return of the material, or timely communication with the supplying library to negotiate a new due date.

When the material has been recalled, the requesting library is encouraged to return the material via an expedited delivery carrier such as UPS, FedEx, or USPS Priority Mail.

4.15 Shipping   
It is the ultimate responsibility of the requesting library to return materials in the same condition in which they were received.

It is the responsibility of the requesting library to follow the shipping and packaging requirements, including insurance and preferred shipping method, as stipulated by the supplying library. Packaging is defined as the outer material, which may be a box, padded envelope, etc. Wrapping is defined as an inner covering for the item such as paper or bubble wrap.

If no shipping or packaging methods are specified, the requesting library's regular form of shipment should be used. 

If packaging material has been used previously, remove or mark out old addresses, postal marks, etc. to avoid misdirection. Do not reuse old, frayed, ripped, or decaying packaging and wrapping materials. Clearly address all packages with both the destination and return addresses properly attached to the packaging material. 

In accordance with United States Postal Service guidelines, tape is the preferred sealing method on all types of packages.  Staples are strongly discouraged in order to prevent injury to staff and/or damage to materials. 

Use wrapping and packaging material that is appropriate to the size and format of the material being shipped. Too small or too large packaging will not adequately protect materials during transportation. Remember to use appropriate wrapping to avoid shifting and damage. 

For special collections materials, consult Guidelines For Interlibrary And Exhibition Loan Of Special Collections Materials (2012) by the American Library Association and Association of College and Research Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section.  

4.16 Suspension of Service   
Repeated or egregious breaches of this code may result in the requesting library's inability to obtain material. Examples of actions that may result in suspension include repeated failure to return loans in a timely manner, multiple lost or damaged items, allowing "library use only" items to leave the library, or failing to pay the supplier's charges. A supplying library should not suspend service to a requesting library without first attempting to resolve the problem(s).

5.0 Responsibilities of the Supplying Library

5.1 Lending Policy
The lending policy should be clear, detailed, and readily available to requesting libraries. The policy should include among other things, schedule of fees and charges, non-circulating item types, loan periods and renewal policies, current shipping instructions, penalties for late payments, etc. The supplying library is strongly encouraged to fill requests for all types and classes of users, and all types of libraries, regardless of their size or geographic location. The supplying library is encouraged to establish as generous a loan period as its local environment allows.  

The supplying library is encouraged to make its lending policy, contact information, and service schedule available on the library's web site, and in resources such as the OCLC Policies Directory or DOCLINE Institution Information.

5.2 Confidentiality   
The supplying library has a responsibility to safeguard the confidentiality of the individual requesting the material. The sharing of the user's name between requesting and supplying library is not, of itself, a violation of confidentiality. However, the supplying library should not require the user's name if the requesting library chooses not to provide it. If the name is provided, the supplying library needs to take care not to divulge the identity of the person requesting the material.

5.3 Service, Replacement, and Damage Fees  
Supplying libraries are encouraged to fill requests without charge when possible. If charging for services, the supplying library may only charge an amount less than or equal to the amount a requesting library has indicated they are able and/or willing to pay. 

A supplying library may add a surcharge for expedited delivery, but no fee should be added to a routine service charge for delivering a document electronically. 

If charging for services or for lost/damaged items, the supplying library should make every effort to allow for a variety of payment options (e.g. OCLC IFM, EFTS, IFLA vouchers, credit cards, acceptance of replacement copies).

It is the responsibility of the supplying library to send final bills for service no later than six months after the supply date, final overdue notices no later than six months after the final due date, and final bills for replacement of lost material no later than one year after the final due date. The supplying library should resolve billing questions within six months of receiving notice of an apparent billing error.

5.4 Material Format or Collection   
Supplying libraries are encouraged to lend as liberally as possible regardless of the format of the material requested, while retaining the right to determine what material will be supplied. It is the obligation of the supplying library to consider the loan of material on a case by case basis. Supplying libraries are encouraged to lend audiovisual material, microformats, serials, and other categories of material that have traditionally been non-circulating.  

For special collections materials, supplying libraries are encouraged to consult Guidelines For Interlibrary And Exhibition Loan Of Special Collections Materials (2012) by the American Library Association and Association of College and Research Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section.  

If permitted by copyright law, the supplying library should consider providing a copy in lieu of a loan rather than giving a negative response.  

Supplying libraries should be aware of the provisions of license agreements for electronic resources that may either permit or prohibit use of an electronic resource to fill interlibrary copying requests. Interlibrary loan staff are encouraged to work with those negotiating licenses for electronic resources to include favorable terms for interlibrary loan.  

If a supplying library prefers to provide a loan instead of a copy (e.g. article is too many pages to scan, citation is actually an entire journal issue, etc.), the supplying library should contact the requesting library to secure their permission first before sending the item.  If a loan is accepted, the requesting library then assumes responsibility if the item is lost or damaged before its return to the supplying library.

5.5 Timely Processing   
The supplying library has a responsibility to act promptly on all requests. The response should be sent via the same method the requesting library used to send the request, or by otherwise contacting the requesting library directly. Some resource sharing systems such as OCLC and DOCLINE have built-in time periods after which requests will either expire or be sent to another institution. The supplying library should respond before this time elapses rather than allowing requests to time-out.  

Providing a reason for an unfilled request helps the requesting library determine what additional steps, if any, may be taken to obtain the requested item. For example, "non-circulating" indicates the item is likely available for on-site use while "in use" indicates that another request at a later date might be filled. Providing no reason or simply stating "policy problem" or "other" without providing further explanation deprives the requesting library of important information and can lead to time-consuming follow-up for both libraries.     

Prior to updating a request as filled or unfilled, the potential supplier should request additional information and/or negotiate special loan terms, use restrictions and/or return shipping requirements, as needed, by contacting the requesting library through the resource sharing system or directly via email, phone, etc.  

Timely processing of a loan or copy may involve branch libraries and/or other library departments, such as circulation, special collections, and/or the mailroom. The interlibrary loan department is responsible for ensuring that material is delivered expeditiously, irrespective of internal library organizational responsibilities.

5.6 Identifying the Request   
The supplying library should send sufficient identifying information with the material to allow the requesting library to identify the request and process it quickly. Such information may include a copy of the request, the requester's transaction number, or the user's ID or name. Failure to include identifying information with the material can unduly delay its processing and may risk the safety of the material.

5.7 Due Date, Use Restrictions, and Shipping Requirements
Although it is the responsibility of the requesting library to ensure the safe treatment and return of borrowed material, the supplying library should provide specific instructions with the item and in the resource sharing system when it is lending material that needs special handling. These instructions might include the requirement that material be used only in a monitored special collections area, no photocopying, library use only, specific return packaging/shipping instructions, etc. The supplying library should not send "library use only" material directly to a user.  

The supplying library should clearly indicate the due date. Unless otherwise indicated, the due date is defined as the date by which the material is due to be checked in at the requesting library for return to the supplying library.  Supplying libraries should implement a grace period before sending overdue notices to account for items in transit back from the requesting library.

5.8 Delivery and Packaging   
The delivery location specified by the requesting library may be the requesting library itself, a branch library, departmental library, or the individual user.

It is the responsibility of the supplying library to:  

  • judge whether an item is suitable for shipment and circulation. If a damaged item is sent, the supplying library should note all prior damage and not hold the requesting library responsible for this damage.  Examples include loose pages/spine, liquid damage, or significant markings and defacement.
  • take care that the material it sends out is adequately packaged to protect the item from damage or loss even though the requesting library will be held responsible for material damaged in shipment.
  • specify the shipping method, as well as any insurance requirement, for returning materials and if any special wrapping or packaging is required. See section 4.15 above for definitions and other important information regarding wrapping and packaging.
  • provide a return address including a complete street address if asking for return via UPS, FedEx, etc. (Many supplying libraries find it safer and more cost effective to ship all material via expedited carriers). Supplying libraries are encouraged to enclose an accurate and complete return mailing label.
  • work with the requesting library when tracing a lost or damaged item if the commercial delivery firm is responsible for reimbursement for losses in transit.

5.9 Renewals   
The supplying library should respond affirmatively or negatively to all renewal requests. The supplying library is encouraged to grant the renewal request if the material is not needed by a local user.

5.10 Recalls   
The supplying library may recall material at its discretion at any time. However, it often is more effective to request the material on ILL for a local user rather than to recall material on loan to another library.

5.11 Copy Requests
Comply with U.S. copyright law or applicable license agreements when providing copies.

When scanning, the supplying library should provide a copy that closely reproduces the original article or chapter in appearance, legibility, and completeness with appropriate attention paid to image color and clarity, margins, page orientation, and any accompanying references, plates, or appendices.

Respond promptly to resend requests (e.g. missing pages, margins cut off, poor images, unreadable text, etc.).

5.12 Suspension of Service  
A supplying library may suspend service to a requesting library following repeated or egregious breaches of this code. Examples of actions that may result in suspension include repeated failure to return loans in a timely manner, multiple lost or damaged items, allowing "library use only" items to leave the library, or failing to pay the supplier's charges. A supplying library should not suspend service without first attempting to address the problem(s) with the requesting library.