Interlibrary Loan Policy

Online ILL Form - Requires an email address.

Borrowing libraries with questions, please see the Lending section.

Interlibrary loan is the process a library uses to borrow materials for customers that are not owned by that local branch library or by the library system that local branch is a part of.   Materials borrowed from other libraries and library systems for local library customers do not fall under the same borrowing guidelines as locally owned materials would.  Varying check-out durations, fees for borrowing materials and special handling may apply.    

Library customers with a current Harris County Public Library card in good standing may place an interlibrary loan request after consultation with a librarian at their local branch library.  This consultation will determine whether or not interlibrary loan service (ILL) is the best method to assist that customer with their need for information or materials. 

Interlibrary loan requests cannot be placed using Harris County Public Library group cards, temporary cards or visitors’ cards.  Online ILL requests may be submitted under certain conditions.  See “Borrowing: Can I submit interlibrary loan requests online?” section for further information on this service.


Who can check out my interlibrary-loan item?
Interlibrary Loan materials are non-transferable to another user's account.  ILLs may only be checked out on the original requestor's library card. If someone else is picking up your ILL, he/she must present your card to check out the item.

What can be borrowed through interlibrary loan services?
The Harris County Public Library will place interlibrary loan requests for books, audio books (CD/cassette), DVDs, VHS tapes, music CDs, microform, and photocopies.  However, it is entirely up to the lending library what they will lend, if they will charge a fee for lending the material, and/or if they are willing to make photocopies.    Newly published materials that are not owned by Harris County Public Library System may only be requested through interlibrary loan if they are more than six months post-publication or post-release. 

Customers who are interested in microfilm or microfiche interlibrary loan requests should check with their local branch library first to determine if the appropriate equipment to view these formats is available there. The following HCPL locations have equipment:

Microfilm - La Porte
Microfiche (Reader/Printer) - La Porte
Microfishe microviewer 15x magnification - Mobile

Lending libraries will generally only loan these formats for IN LIBRARY USE ONLY, and therefore, they do not check out for customers to view off-site.  The Library may not be able to borrow these formats unless the customer is willing to travel to another HCPL to view them, where the equipment is available.

What materials cannot be borrowed?
Materials that are currently part of the collection of the Harris County Public Library System may not be requested through interlibrary loan services. The Library will not borrow software, downloadable content and electronic resources.  The Library will not borrow materials from outside the United States.

Are there any limitations on the number of items I can borrow using interlibrary loan services or which branch library I may use to check these items in or out?
Customers are limited to ten (10) interlibrary loan requests/loans in process at any one given time.  “In process” is defined as requests pending, items awaiting check-out by the customer and items currently checked out.  As ILL items are returned by the customer, additional interlibrary loan requests may be placed.

Unlike HCPL-owned materials that may be sent to any branch in the library system the customer uses, interlibrary loan materials may only be sent, picked up and returned to one library location.  Customers should consult with branch staff to insure that their patron record for branch location is the branch they wish to use for interlibrary loan services.  If not, the branch staff can change their account to reflect which branch the customer is most comfortable using.  Interlibrary loan materials must be picked up and returned to one library location only and not to any other branch library.  Branches are unable to send interlibrary loan materials from one branch location to another.

In addition, microform (microfiche/microfilm) may only be borrowed from lending libraries for delivery to HCPL branch La Porte due to the availability of equipment at these locations to view and copy the material.  Generally speaking, microform is made available for LIBRARY USE ONLY and may not be checked out of the library.  Microfiche micro viewers that provide up to 15x magnification are available for use with microfiche requests at any branch. Customers with microform requests should discuss their options with an interlibrary loan branch staff member for further information.

How long can I check out something that has been borrowed through interlibrary loan?
The check-out duration for interlibrary loan materials is at the discretion of the lending library and when that item is due back to them.  For this reason, ILL materials may have shorter check-out periods than traditional library materials OR may be checked out for longer periods of time.  It will vary and is totally dependent upon the lending library.

HCPL puts a gold band around each ILL item to let the customer know when that item is due back to the branch library and that the item was borrowed through interlibrary loan.  Customers must not remove this ILL identifying band under any circumstances.  It provides the customer with important information about the material, and it also notifies library staff that this material requires special handling. 

Failure to return interlibrary loan materials on time and to follow interlibrary guidelines can result in the loss of interlibrary loan borrowing privileges for the Library customer, as well as the loss of borrowing ability for Harris County Public Library System.  For this reason, materials borrowed through interlibrary loan require special attention on the part of both the Library customer and the Library staff. Customer abuse of interlibrary loan due dates, accepted conditions on loans or damage to ILL materials will result in the suspension of a customer’s interlibrary loan privileges.

Occasionally, a lending library may RECALL their material.  If it is checked out to a Library customer, the Library will notify the customer that the material must be returned as soon as possible to the branch library where it was checked out.    

Library customers may request a renewal on their interlibrary loan material should a longer checkout be required.  Renewals must be requested before the item is due and are only granted at the discretion of the lending library.  HCPL is unable to renew ILL materials past their due date without the permission of the lending library.  If the lending library denies a renewal, HCPL library staff will be happy to re-request that item for the Library customer from another lender if available.

Is interlibrary loan service free?
Harris County Public Library makes every effort to borrow materials from other libraries free of charge.  However, it is entirely up to the lending library whether or not they charge to borrow an item or to make photocopies of their materials.  If the customer does not wish to pay any fee to borrow an item through interlibrary loan, the customer should let the branch staff member know this at the time the interlibrary loan request is placed. 

Harris County Public Library will never continue with an interlibrary loan request with a fee unless the customer has given permission for the Library to do so.  Customers are responsible for any fees they agree to pay for interlibrary loan materials.  Once that item has been shipped by the lending library, the fees are still the responsibility of the Library customer even if the customer never picks up the material or tries to cancel the request.  Library customers are also responsible for any overdue fines that may be incurred as well.

Refunds are not given for lost ILL items that are found and have been paid for.  Customers should make every effort to return ILL items by their due date to avoid any late fines or payments for the non-return of the borrowed material.

How long will it take for my request to be filled?
The time varies depending upon the item requested and how many libraries own it.  It also depends upon whether or not the lending libraries are willing to lend it or if it is currently in use by their customers.  There are many variables, and it is very difficult to predict.  Materials borrowed through the interlibrary loan network can take from 3 weeks to several months to arrive.   ILL takes time and there are no RUSH requests.  If a customer has a time restriction, they need to discuss that with a librarian at their local branch to decide whether or not ILL service is the best method to get that material for them.   If a customer’s ILL request has been cancelled by potential lending libraries, the Library customer will receive notification by email or regular mail.

What materials are the most difficult to get?
Most genealogy requests for specific titles are cancelled because genealogy materials are generally non-circulating.  Customers are encouraged to submit surname information and/or specific pages for photocopying instead or ask for a photocopy of the index or table of contents from the material of interest. 

Current editions of textbooks are difficult to borrow.  Interlibrary loan use of textbooks for college classes is not recommended.  These items are generally not loaned by the lending libraries.  Customers may be able to get older editions of textbooks more easily, but must return them when they are due.

How am I notified that my item has arrived?
Once an interlibrary loan item has come in for a library customer, the Library will notify that customer that their material has arrived.  Library customers with email accounts are encouraged to request email notification for interlibrary loan notices.  This is the fastest method to receive notification.  However, mailed notifications are also available to those customers without email notification preferences in their library accounts.   Mailed notifications are sent out each business day (Monday-Friday).  The Library has no control of the length of time it takes for a mailed notification to be received by a Library customer.

There are occasions when it is necessary for customers to be contacted by telephone when an item has arrived.  Since the length of time an interlibrary loaned item can be borrowed by HCPL is set by the lending library, interlibrary loan materials should be picked up promptly.  If the check-out period expires before the customer picks up the item, it will be returned to the lending library.  Any borrowing fees agreed upon by the customer for the loan will not be waived if the customer does not pick up the item.

What happens if I return the material late or the item becomes lost or damaged?
The customer is responsible for all fees/fines which are incurred during check-out and if the item is lost or damaged.  Unpaid fines and fees will go on a customer’s library record and may result in losing library privileges if they are not resolved.  There is no “claimed returned” status on ILL materials.  Customers must take care to return all ILL materials on time and to the correct branch library, along with the gold-identifying band securely attached.

Interlibrary loan is special service that the Library is able to offer its customers.  It does have its own, unique procedures and guidelines that Harris County Public Library and its customers must follow.  If Library customers have any questions about this service, they are encouraged to contact their local branch library for additional information.  Harris County Public Library branches are listed on the Library’s website.

Can I submit interlibrary loan requests online?

Only Library customers with a current Harris County Public Library card in good standing and who have a valid e-mail address in their library account may place online interlibrary loan requests.  Interlibrary loan requests cannot be placed using Harris County Public Library group cards, temporary cards or visitors’ cards.

If your e-mail address on record is incorrect or you wish to add one to your record, please contact your local branch.  You can also visit the My Account section of the HCPL website to make necessary e-mail address changes.

Whether submitting ILL requests in person at a branch library or online, customers are limited to ten (10) interlibrary loan requests/loans on their accounts at any one time.  “In process” is defined as requests pending, items awaiting check-out by the customer and items currently checked out.  As ILL items are returned by the customer, additional interlibrary loan requests may be placed.

Requests submitted that exceed this limit of TEN (10) interlibrary loan requests "in process", will be e-mailed back to the customer and not held by the branch library.  Customers may resubmit requests as their account has space to process them.

Submit an Online Interlibrary Loan Request.


Harris County Public Library System will lend materials to other library systems for their customers as well.  These requests come to HCPL through OCLC and then, ILLiad (interlibrary loan software) from other libraries across the country.  American Library Association requests are also accepted and can be emailed to: or sent through the mail to:  Interlibrary Loan Department, Harris County Public Library Administrative Offices, 8080 El Rio Street, Houston, TX  77054-4195. 

What materials can be loaned?
Harris County Public Library System will loan books, audio books, music CDs/cassettes, DVDs, VHS tapes that are available for checkout and have no holds or local customer requests.

What materials cannot be loaned?
The Library will not loan downloadable content, electronic resources, items on reserve/hold, reference materials or materials in the Instructional Media collection, oversized children’s books and periodicals.  The Library will not loan materials internationally.

What fees are charged for loans?
There are not any fees for borrowing our material.  If an item is lost or damaged, we charge a replacement fee.  There are no additional processing fees.

Do you give refunds for returned lost loans after they have been paid?
Refunds cannot be issued after payments have been processed. 

For items that we do not loan, can we make photocopies?
Yes.  We provide printed photocopies for items that cannot be loaned as long as a full citation is submitted with the request.  The first 30 pages are free, and then, there is a 10 cents/page charge for 31 pages and over.

How long are items loaned?
The lending period is 6 weeks, and the renewal period is 2 weeks.  More than one renewal is allowed only on a case-by-case basis. 

Harris County Public Library System is a member of the TEXpress courier system (LOCATION: 78  HUB:  HOU) and the OCLC symbol is:  HT#