Skip to Main Content

Using Content for Inter-Library Loan

Inter-Library Loan is a service that allows the Albertsons Library to borrow books, journals, and other copyrighted material from other libraries. This type of service has been extended at most institutions to include the making and sending of copies even where no actual “loan” is involved.

Section 108 of the Copyright Act allows Inter-Library Loan copying under certain terms and conditions. Specifically, Section 108 allows a qualifying library to copy and send to another library portions of copyrighted materials as part of its Inter-Library Loan service, provided the “aggregate quantities” of copied items received by the borrowing library do not substitute for a subscription to a periodical or the purchase of a work.

Unfortunately, Section 108 does not define “aggregate quantities” – creating some ambiguity in interpreting the Inter-Library Loan provision. To help resolve this uncertainty, the National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyrighted Works (CONTU) developed guidelines during the 1970s with specific allowable amounts for Inter-Library Loan photocopying. The CONTU guidelines are not law and have never been reviewed or revised despite the many changes in technology; however, they still serve as suggestions that help librarians interpret the Inter-Library Loan provision in the Copyright Act. They also help reassure copyright holders that Inter-Library Loan will not replace periodical subscriptions and book purchases by libraries.

Under the CONTU guidelines for delivering photocopies through Inter-Library Loan, the borrowing library tracks patron requests and, once the guidelines are exceeded, the borrowing library reports the usage and pays the required royalty fees.

Inter-Library Loan in the Digital Realm

With the use of digital technology, Inter-Library Loan is evolving and becoming almost indistinguishable from ordinary “document delivery.” As a result, new guidelines may have to be developed for the digital environment. At the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) convened by the U.S. Department of Commerce in the mid-1990s, an attempt was made to develop such guidelines, but nothing relevant to Inter-Library Loan was agreed upon. At the same time, libraries are increasingly changing their journal subscriptions from print to digital collections. With the move to digital, the collections are managed through license arrangements with the copyright holders or aggregators. These individual licenses vary widely by content, publisher, type of use, and more.

The license accepted by the library is a binding contract. If the library has agreed to the limitations on the use of materials in Inter-Library Loan, then the library is bound by its agreement. Most libraries set internal rules for the kinds of licenses that they will accept, and it is important for libraries to be familiar with the terms of their various licenses. Some licenses are restrictive in terms of access to, and use of, the content by library patrons. For example, content may be accessible to patrons of the library only through a range of Internet addresses or on a single workstation within the library. Once the material is accessed, some licenses state that it may only be viewed and printed by the patron.

Some libraries have been successful in negotiating broader terms of use into their licenses – terms that expand the institution’s and patrons’ rights to use their digital collections. For example, some licenses may allow links to the material for e-reserve purposes or from a course-management system on campus. At the same time, these or other licenses may restrict other types of use, particularly Inter-Library Loan.

In yet other cases, the library may be allowed to use its digital collection to fill Inter-Library Loan requests, but only on a limited basis. For example, the library may be permitted to use content from an electronic journal to fill Inter-Library Loan requests, but only after the material is printed and scanned, or printed and then delivered to the patron via fax or mail. Publishers allowing delivery directly from the digital collection are rare, and licenses may even restrict delivery to only faculty, staff, and students on the campus.

Reporting Inter-Library Loans

Many libraries report Inter-Library Loan transactions for copyright clearance at the end of the calendar year. However, more frequent reporting makes it easier for the library to track its Inter-Library Loan transactions and helps ensure that permission is recorded on a timely basis. The responsibility for determining compliance falls on the borrowing library, and as long as the copyright transaction is reported on a reasonably timely basis, the borrowing library is fulfilling its copyright obligation.

Once copyright permission is granted, it is a standard practice to retain records for three years. Although individual institutions’ record retention policies may dictate longer or shorter retention periods.