Interlibrary Loan vs. Borrow Direct: Which One Should You Use?

There are benefits to using both Interlibrary Loan (ILL) and Borrow Direct. Which service you should use largely depends on your research needs and the item you are trying to obtain. Most people use a mix of both services.

The following table outlines some specifics of ILL vs. Borrow Direct.

  ILL Borrow Direct
Articles/book chapters  
Music scores
Music CDs ●*
Non-book loans (DVDs, microfilm, dissertations, maps, etc.)  
3-4 business-day delivery  
6-week loan period, one renewal  
Renewal option (depends on lending libraries' policy)
International loans and articles  
Loans from a library other than the Borrow Direct partners (including public, law, medical, special collections, etc.)  
*For Borrow Direct: Music CDs can be borrowed only from Princeton and the University of Chicago; Columbia lends music CDs to all Borrow Direct partners.    

Here are some sample scenarios that might help you decide which service to use.

I need to borrow a book that is checked out at Columbia. It is for a class assignment due in two weeks.

When speed is the issue for a loan, try Borrow Direct first. If the book is unavailable through Borrow Direct, try ILL, but keep in mind that ILL loans generally arrive within two weeks, which may be too late for your assignment.  Adjust your “need by” date on the ILL form to reflect your actual deadline.

I need to borrow a multi-volume set or one volume from a multi-volume set.

Although both services can accommodate multiple-volume-set requests, ILL is the better choice for ordering several volumes at one time.  Place one ILL request and indicate in the "Notes" field which volumes you need. If you wish to order multiple volumes or any specific volume through the Borrow Direct, please indicate the volume number(s) in the "Notes for Librarian to Review" field of the Borrow Direct request form, otherwise the first volume will be sent by default.

I tried to place a Borrow Direct request for a book that Columbia does not own. Even though I find the book through a Borrow Direct catalog search, the system will not let me place a request. What are my options?

The book you need is unavailable for loan at the Borrow Direct owning library. Place an ILL request for the item.

I need to borrow a book for the semester.  I know that a Borrow Direct library owns it. Should I use Borrow Direct or ILL?

Use ILL. Borrow Direct loans are six weeks, non-renewable more than once. ILL offers a renewal option. ILL requests can be sent to our Borrow Direct partners (all of whom participate in ILL), which can result in a longer loan period. If you’d like the ILL office to try a specific library first, please include that as a note on your ILL request.

If you are still unsure about which service to use, feel free to contact the ILL/Borrow Direct staff at (212) 854-7535 or