Interlibrary loans bring country’s libraries to Truro

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Love My Library, By Norma Johnson-MacGregor

Program makes it possible to borrow almost any book in any library in Canada

Last month we heard about the home reader service, which allows the library to deliver books to patrons who aren’t able to come to the library due to illness or a physical disability. This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Penny Colpitts, who runs the interlibrary loan department:

Question: How long has the library offered this service/have you worked in this job?

Answer: I believe the public library has always offered some form of interlibrary loan service and over the years the service just keeps growing.


Q. Describe the interlibrary loan service.

A. If we have a patron who wants to read all of the books written by a certain author, we may find we don’t have copies of all the books in our collection. If we can find them in another library somewhere in Canada, then we have a very good chance of bringing them in for that patron. Also, sometimes a person is taking a course and needs some information for it; if we can locate a book in a university or college anywhere in Canada, we will try to borrow it for the patron through the interlibrary loan service.

Q. Where are interlibrary loan books borrowed from?

A. Canada Post has given libraries a very good rate for mailing library materials within the country, so we focus on borrowing from other Canadian libraries. We return the favour too by lending materials from our collection when a library sends us a request. 

Q. Is there a limit to how many interlibrary loan books can be borrowed at one time?

A. There’s no set limit, but when we borrow a book from another library we always try to tell our patron to read it first because we can’t extend the loan period. If the book has come from a university or college library, our patron can only keep the book for two weeks, so we’re careful with how many books a patron can borrow through interlibrary loan at any one time.

Q. Can other items be borrowed through interlibrary loan?

A. Canada Post has recently changed the “book rate” to “material rate” and this now allows us to borrow and lend different materials. We also borrow audio books for patrons with a visual disability.

Q. What is your favorite part of the job?

A. My favorite part of this job is finding a book, which a patron has been wanting to read, but wasn’t able to find and we discover it in some small library in Alberta or British Columbia.

Q. What happens to the interlibrary loan service when you go on vacation?

A. When I take a vacation, the service does slow down, but I do have part-time help to do some of the work that needs to be done.

Q. Do you have any closing thoughts?

A. Sometimes it takes longer than expected to receive a requested book. For example, if it’s popular, we may have to put your name on a waiting list. We do our best to have it available quickly, but sometimes we just have to wait. Since we can’t afford to purchase every book that’s published, I think this service is a great help in closing gaps in our collection. If we don’t have it and can’t buy it, we’ll try to borrow it from another library for you.

Norma Johnson-MacGregor is the Electronic Services Librarian for the Colchester-East Hants Public Library. You can reach her at

Organizations: A. Canada Post

Geographic location: Canada, Alberta, British Columbia Colchester-East Hants

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