20 March 2013

The First Time I Got ILL: Interlibrary Loan

Reading Gena Philibert-Ortega's blog post about Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" column was like being transported back in time to the Southern California library where I placed my first interlibrary loan request. I'd been doing biographical research on Sadie Peterson Delaney, a librarian who left her post at the New York Public Library during the height of the Harlem Renaissance to start a library at the veterans hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. Jim Crow laws were still in effect at that time, so Delaney's sense of mission must have trumped any concerns about her safety and the loss of freedom she would surely experience. The woman had some serious guts, and I wanted to learn everything I could about her.

I'd already learned[1] that Eleanor Roosevelt had written about Delaney in "My Day," and I desperately wanted to find that column in My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962.[2] I located the book in the reference section at my local branch of the County of Los Angeles Public Library, but unfortunately, this "greatest hits" compilation didn't include the column about Delaney. Interlibrary loan to the rescue!

If you've never taken advantage of interlibrary loan, also known as ILL, you're really missing out. And if you've never heard of this service, I'm not surprised. Libraries don't seem to go out of their way to advertise it, perhaps because it's expensive. For them, I mean. For you, it's a bargain! In a nutshell, interlibrary loan is a way to gain access to items your local library system doesn't have in its collections. You can also use ILL for document delivery, which is what I did.

I knew I needed to locate one of the newspapers in which Roosevelt's widely syndicated column had appeared, but I couldn't figure out how to do that. The book's Preface and Introduction contained no hints as to which newspapers had run the former First Lady's column, but the author of the article I'd read earlier[3] cited the New York Post. I knew my way around article databases, but did my local library system subscribe to one that included New York Post articles from 1957? That didn't seem likely, so I made one of my rare visits to the reference desk.

(I say "rare" because when I'm at a library, I like figuring things out for myself. That's just me, though. It's always appropriate to ask for assistance, especially when you're stumped, as I obviously was.)

I spilled out my problem to the librarian at the desk, who listened attentively, nodding and smiling while I bombarded her with questions. Then I noticed the piece of paper she'd been trying to give me. She told me to write down my contact info, the name of the column, and the date it had run.

I blinked. That's all I have to do? I thought. That's way too easy. I'd gotten so used to fending for myself that it had never occurred to me to let someone else handle the details! Once I wrapped my brain around that idea, I filled out the form and handed it to the librarian, who assured me that someone would get in touch with me soon.

Within a week, a library staff member called me and said the item I'd requested would be waiting for me on the hold shelf behind the circulation desk . . . and it was! I finally had my photocopy of Eleanor Roosevelt's column about Sadie Peterson Delaney, and I don't think I was even charged for it.

It's been at least a decade since I made my first ILL request, and the column I so desperately wanted can now be found online.[4] History students at George Washington University are making "My Day" available as part of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (ERPP), and The White House Historical Association has posted an introductory video about the Project on YouTube.[5]


[1] Betty K. Gubert, "Sadie Peterson Delaney: Pioneer Bibliotherapist," American Libraries 24 (February 1993): 124-130, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25632815.

[2] Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962, ed. David Emblidge (New York: Da Capo, 2001).

[3] Gubert, "Sadie Peterson Delaney."

[4] Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day," transcript by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1957&_f=md003698 : accessed 20 Mar 2013); citing original column distributed by United Features Syndicate, 18 Jan 1957.

[5] Eleanor Roosevelt "My Day": Introduction, YouTube video, 4:12. Posted by the White House Historical Association, 9 Apr 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD3aBAcg4i8.

Copyright © 2013, Madaleine J. Laird. All rights reserved.

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