Published on August 29, 2022 by Ed Craig, Reference Librarian  
Law Library

 Even in the case of the nation’s largest libraries, maintaining a collection that will meet every patron’s needs is impossible. As a result, libraries cooperate to share their resources through a process called interlibrary loan. Many times, this involves mailing the physical book through the mail or a courier service; other times, it involves faxing or emailing an article to the requesting library. The hub of interlibrary loan activity occurs through a database called OCLC which includes in its data most of the holdings of major and medium-sized libraries nationwide, and to some extent, worldwide. With this database’s holdings information, the interlibrary loan librarian is able to find out which libraries have the resource that a library patron is requesting. Sometimes, the item can be found on the other side of town using this process–other times, it may be a world away. As the name implies, the service is defined strictly as a “library to library” lending process where the ultimate user obtains the item indirectly after the borrowing library has had an opportunity to process and record the loaned item, before handing it over to the patron. As a result, patrons who request interlibrary loans only work with the borrowing (local) library’s interlibrary loan office in receiving as well as returning the book.

While Beeson Law Library does not charge for its interlibrary loan services, the service is not without cost. Typically, the lending library will always pay for the return shipping fees, the labor involved in processing, as well as any borrowing fee (commonly charged by out-of-state libraries which are not part of the lending library’s cooperative network agreements). At this institution, these costs are paid by Beeson Law Library’s budget. The Beeson Law Library interlibrary loan policies provide for free lending services for faculty and students to support Cumberland academic classroom and research activities.

Before requesting an interlibrary loan, it is incumbent upon the patron to consult the law library’s online catalog to see if either Samford library has the item available for use. If the item is not found in the online catalog, you can make a request for an interlibrary loan to Ed Craig ( ) or Leigh Jones ( In the request, the patron should provide the following information:

1) Specify the purpose of the research. Is the material needed for a class paper? In aid of a faculty member’s academic research?

2) If the item requested is a journal article, the patron should provide as much of the following as possible: article title, journal title, volume and issue number, as well as page numbers of the article. Hint: If the researcher has partial information, they can try fashioning a browser search with that information--the results of that search will, hopefully, complete the citation needed.

3) If the item requested is a monograph, the patron should state the title, author, edition (if there are multiple editions) and date of publication. If the item is a multi-volume resource, the patron will need to know the volumes or section numbers needed; unless the set includes only 2-3 volumes, it is highly unlikely that the borrowing library will be able to find a willing lender for an entire set.

Patrons should plan ahead for use of the materials requested. Interlibrary loan requests take an average of 7-10 days to arrive (sometimes more, sometimes less). If the item is an immediate necessity, interlibrary loan is probably not the best method of obtaining the item; a reference librarian can help a patron locate the nearest library that has the item (quite possibly in the Birmingham area) so that they can travel to that institution to borrow or otherwise use it. At the same time, a patron should be prepared to use the material when it arrives. Checkout periods for interlibrary loans usually run from 2-4 weeks, without the option of renewal, in some circumstances; if the item cannot be used within that period of time, the library’s time and money has been essentially wasted.

When receiving the services of interlibrary loan, it is important to return materials in a timely manner. Beeson Law Library does not set due dates of materials obtained for Cumberland students and faculty; this is at the sole discretion of the lending institution, and as a result, these dates can vary widely.

If you have any questions concerning interlibrary loan services of Beeson Law Library, please contact a reference librarian.