From secret student archives to crusty old microfilm: Tales from the international ILL world


Back in 1988, one of my OCLC colleagues worked at The Ohio State University Law Library as a work-study student. Recently, he told me a story about going deep into the basement to the compact storage units to retrieve an 1870s law book to photocopy some Ohio municipal codes for a library in Japan. He mailed the document to the library the next day using the US Postal Service.

Today, almost 30 years later, the world of international interlibrary loan is alive and well but with fewer trips to the ‘dungeon’ and the post office, thanks to digitization, electronic publications, and advances in scanning technology. These advances, along with the web and the emerging global library data network, are making international borrowing and lending easier and more commonplace.

But it’s the stories behind these international transactions that make them memorable, inspiring, and fun.

What's your international ILL story? Click To Tweet

As I prepared to attend IFLA’s International Interlending and Document Supply Conference this month to moderate a panel discussion, I sent out a request for international ILL stories from OCLC members. Here is a sampling. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Digging into the secret student archives at the Universidad de Chile

Submitted by Dana Von Berg, University of Arizona

“Two years ago, a graduate student needed the first edition of a Chilean publication entitled La Ciruela from 1979. I tried contacting the National Library of Chile since they had some issues of this publication in their collection. They weren’t able to supply so I tried the Universidad de Chile using an ALA request. A librarian from there contacted me to let me know that this was a clandestine publication of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile that is not held in any Chilean libraries but it’s held in-house! She asked the student federation if she could get a digitized copy of this publication and they agreed to provide her with one. It took over a month to arrive but I received a PDF of the issue from the librarian that I was able to send to the customer.”

Chasing a Honduran tsunami with the University of Tegucigalpa

Submitted by Kurt I. Munson, Northwestern University

“We have a faculty member who studies tsunamis and earthquakes. In June 2015, he needed a newspaper article about a tsunami that hit the east coast of Honduras in the mid-1860s. We had to track down the newspaper to see if it even existed since it was Honduran. We emailed the University of Tegucigalpa, which was the only library that owned the title. They found it, took a cell phone picture of the article, and emailed that to us.”

Learning the Korean language with the help of a web browser

Submitted by Graham Fredrick, Indiana University – Purdue University

“Technology has made foreign-language articles easier to obtain. A few years ago, one of my faculty members requested several Korean-language journal articles. I have no Korean language experience, so I used in-browser translation to help me search several sites and verify citations. The articles were not freely available from publishers, so I then requested them from the National Library of Korea. Fortunately, they could supply several of the born-digital articles for free as PDFs.”

The thrill of reaching lands far away with a crusty old microfilm article

Submitted by Andi Wall, Cleveland University-Kansas City

“I have worked in ILL in two different libraries and both libraries stopped lending to international libraries, with the exception of Canada, Guam, and Puerto Rico, soon after I arrived due to publisher contracts or copyright concerns. However, just a week ago, I sent an old article—like crusty microfilm old—to Australia. For some reason, it felt great to supply information to another country again. I guess I’m still amazed at the ease of exchange to far-off lands.”

What’s your international ILL story?

The 15th IFLA International Interlending and Document Supply Conference was held in Paris October 4–6.  Attendees shared their challenges and experiences in extending the reach of their libraries. Librarians in attendance were interested in such topics as open access articles, IFLA vouchers, license management of e-collections, and storage and retrieval of physical collections.

Does your library have a story of pain or joy in one of these topics? How does international ILL look different in your library today than it did five, ten, or 20 years ago?  What do you want it took look like in another five, ten, or 20 years?

Send your story to and I will be happy to share with the community.

Registration open for 2018 OCLC Resource Sharing Conference

OCLC invites all ILL professionals to Jacksonville, Florida, USA, to share the latest in resource sharing, including innovative approaches to patron service and interlibrary loan workflows. At this year’s conference, you’ll find ways to improve operational efficiency, save time, and better connect end users to the information they need. Register today for this unique opportunity to interact with a very knowledgeable community of resource sharing professionals.