I've posted elsewhere on this Blog my approach to visiting a research library...its all about the books and other written materials. Anything on the computers I can get at home, and nowadays even information found on films (microfilm and microfiche) can typically be had either online or at the local Family History Center. So when I'm in the library, every second is devoted to the stacks.
So what about all the time when I'm not in the library? Well, I'm making a list of what I want to see when I go back. Generally, I'm preparing for a visit to the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, but there are other libraries I use, such as the Sutro in San Francisco and university libraries.
The time between library visits is where you will find me using my Secret Weapon - but it is not really secret at all. Underused, perhaps altogether forgotten, but not secret. I'm talking about the Inter-Library Loan, or ILL for short. I use the heck out of this - two books at a time!
Most every book we encounter in mainstream genealogy can be found at the FHL. Some are digital, but most are not at the moment; others will not be digital because of permissions and copyright. Still, others can't me had at the FHL for some reason. So for those hard to find books, I make an ILL request. Likewise, books out of the mainstream of what we think of as Genealogy books, are not going to be found at the FHL. History books for instance. You will need the ILL if you're not taking a road trip.
In a recent example, the FHL didn't have the book. The closest copy to me was in Fresno (four hours away by car) and it was in-library use only. ILL to the rescue! I think the copy I ended up getting was from St. Louis.
Even if I can see a given text at the FHL, my time there is limited. There just isn't time to sit down and really read at the FHL. Typically, I'm taking scans of what I need from the book, and moving quickly to the next. Not so when I have a book on ILL. In every case, I've been able to read - really read - and this always yields data I didn't even know I wanted. In the research process, one item should move you forward to one or more other items.
So my process goes like this:
1) Research identifies a bound volume that may be useful or interesting.
2) Create a Task List assignment to view the item; tagged to a person or family in most cases.
3) Check WorldCat for the book's availability
4) Check on Amazon or eBay. If the book is something I'd really like to own, I will buy it.
After these steps, I will eventually see each book on my list. The ILL or short trips to local repositories could do all the work given enough time. My visits to the FHL just puts everything into fast forward.
A few tips about ILL:
1) Turnaround time will be less for books you get from ILL. Your local library needs to have the book back to the lending library by a certain date - so your time will be shortened. For this reason, pick up the books as soon as they become available.
2) Drop any other research you are doing and focus on getting as much out of the time you have with the ILL book.
3) Return the ILL book as early as you can. This shows the librarians you are responsible. They will get to know you.
4) Have a new ILL request in hand when you make a return. Keep the cycle going.
5) Keep track of the requests you've made. I track them on my Task List. Here is where I record the date I made the ILL request, when I got the book, and when I return it.
6) If you have to pay a fee (my library gets $3 a book) get a receipt. At least in the case of my little local library, ILLs are not routine. There seems to be some confusion as to when a patron pays for the book. If I keep my receipt I can avoid the confusion.
7) Try to get a receipt for the return of the ILL book. My library refuses to do this for me - though I always ask. Things get lost and in an ILL transaction, there are several hands in the mix. I always note on my Task List the date I returned a book.
So that is my Secret Weapon. I've been working this system for about two years now; only once was a book unavailable.