Interloan program helps library find books for patrons

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Bill Plott is writing a book about the Birmingham Black Barons. His primary source is newspaper accounts from the 1930s and early-1940s.

To write the book about the Negro League professional baseball team, the former Birmingham newspaperman looked at newspapers from New Orleans, Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta, but didn’t have to drive to those cities to view them.

Instead, the Montevallo resident went to the Harrison Library System headquarters in Columbiana, put in an Interlibrary Loan request and within seven to 10 days received the requested papers on microfilm.

“To get it to this point, I couldn’t have done it without the interlibrary loan,” Plott said. “I’m just grateful for them. They don’t charge anything.”

Every day, the library helps patrons like Plott find books, microfilm, DVDs and VHS tapes through the Interlibrary Loan system. If the Harrison system doesn’t have something, it can find it elsewhere, said Kala Petric, an interloan reference librarian.

Last year, about 4,000 items were loaned out or borrowed from libraries outside the county in a network stretching from coast to coast.

The Harrison has received interloan requests from as far away as Sweden or Norway, but usually limits its loans to states in the continental U.S.

“We borrow a little more than we loan,” said Kim Roberts, the assistant director for the Harrison system.

The Harrison’s biggest lenders are Auburn University and the Alabama Department of History and Archives, Roberts said.

Roberts said not all library patrons are aware of the service.

“People who are aware of the service us it a lot,” Roberts said.

Wilsonville resident Mel Densmore is one of those people.

“I probably read a book from that loan service every day,” he said.

Densmore currently has six books from the interloan service: three cookbooks, two guitar books and one book on rigging and cables.

He said he goes to Amazon, types in “any subject under the sun,” reviews options from a list of thousands and then goes the library to make his requests. He said the Harrison has “failed less than a half percent” of the time to fulfill his request.

“It’s just mind-boggling to me that you can get any book that’s in print, most likely,” he said. “That’s just a huge statement.”

The Harrison system limits its interloan requests to six or seven at a time for each patrol. Exceptions are made for research paper materials and other scholarly pursuits.

In addition to out-of-county and state materials, the library system also has an interloan service within the county. Last year, more than 80,000 items were loaned between Shelby County libraries.

In addition to the interloan service, the library also offers a number of databases on topics ranging from homework help to genealogy research.

Heritage Quest, an online genealogy research site, is the library’s most popular online database, Roberts said. Last month, library card holders made more than 4,500 searches on Heritage Quest.

Other databases include Auto Reference Repair Center, Alabama Virtual Library, Camellia Net, EBSCO Databases, Live Homework Help, Learn-a-Test and Tuition Funding Service.