Archives Interlibrary Loan

Mennonite College/University Archivists Network
Guidelines for Interlibrary Loan of Archival Collections

I: Introduction

Purpose and Audience

To enhance access, support research and promote awareness of their collections, Mennonite college/university repositories and the Mennonite denominational repositories may arrange to lend materials from their holdings to other institutions in the Mennonite College/University Network (MCAN) for research. At the time these guidelines were developed, MCAN included representatives of Bethel College, Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, Hesston College, and the Mennonite Church USA Archives. The purpose of these guidelines is to outline common understandings and decision-making criteria that support the inter-institutional loan of archival collections, to specify the respective responsibilities of borrowing and lending institutions, and to outline procedures to ensure the security and preservation of loaned materials.

These guidelines are intended for use among MCAN institutions but may also be useful when borrowing or lending archival material from/to other repositories. Although conceived to address material in archival collections, the guidelines may also inform practices relevant to any materials that are normally consulted under secure, supervised conditions. While many of the principles and guidelines outlined below are also relevant to borrowing or lending materials for exhibition, we are phrasing these more specifically as principles and guidelines for materials borrowed/lent for research purposes.

These guidelines were developed with direct reference to the ACRL/RBMS Guidelines for Interlibrary and Exhibition Loan of Special Collections Materials (Jan. 2012) with relevant passages from the ACRL/RBMS Guidelines incorporated, often verbatim. The ACRL/RBMS Guidelines, in turn, have been endorsed by the Society of American Archivists and adhere to and complement the American Library Association (ALA) Interlibrary Loan Code for the United States, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)/Society of American Archivists (SAA) Joint Statement on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries, the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association, and the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians.


  1. To support the needs of researchers and to enhance access to our collections, MCAN repositories have developed policies and practices to support the borrowing and lending of archival materials among our institutions.
  2. Borrowing and lending institutions share interrelated responsibilities regarding the care, handling, and storage of loaned materials and the management of their use. Lending institutions have an ethical responsibility to safeguard their collections for future use, including any materials they may lend to other institutions. Likewise, borrowing institutions must ensure that borrowed materials are appropriately safeguarded and handled.
  3. Borrowing and lending institutions should approach loan requests in a spirit of collaboration with a willingness to provide access through the most suitable means.

II: General Guidelines

The general guidelines below apply to both borrowing and lending institutions, and the additional guidelines that follow pertain to the exercise of the respective roles of borrowing and lending.

General Guidelines for Borrowing and Lending Institutions

  1. MCAN members will make this policy publicly available, at a minimum, sharing it upon request with potential borrowers to aid them in determining whether their requests will meet requirements of the lending institution.
  2. MCAN institutions will periodically review this loan policy and related practices in light of evolving professional standards and our experience in fulfilling loan requests. The next review will occur no later than five years after adoption of this policy
  3. Each institution will identify a staff member as contact person for any request related to borrowing of archival material from that institution, as well as a staff person (whether the same or different) whose responsibility it will be to monitor the receipt and use of material borrowed from another institution. Ideally such people will be appropriately trained and experienced in the care and handling of special collections materials.
  4. In order for clear and consistent communication and decision-making with regard to loan requests,
    • Borrowing and lending institutions should determine which staff members are authorized to decide whether materials will be lent and to negotiate the terms of loan agreements. Institutions then must ensure that only authorized representatives make loan decisions and sign loan agreements.
    • Borrowing and lending institutions should ensure that loan decisions are communicated in a timely manner and that the rationale for denying any loan request is provided whenever possible to help the borrowing institution determine alternative courses of action.
  5. Loan transactions should be carefully, consistently and thoroughly documented. All loan arrangements will be specified in a written loan agreement that is accepted and authorized by appropriate representatives of both the borrowing and lending institutions.
  6. Borrowing and lending institutions should use appropriate means to safeguard loan documents and information contained therein, such as confidential user information. Loan documentation should be maintained according to institutional policies governing user privacy and retention.
  7. The standard loan duration will be two months, with renewal possible at the discretion of the lender.
  8. Any loan is subject to recall prior to expiration of the standard loan duration at the discretion of and according to the needs of the lending institution. Ordinarily such a recall will occur in careful consultation with the borrowing institution and with sufficient advance notice for the borrowing institution to make necessary arrangements for return transport at a cost similar to the expected costs of a return occurring at the end of the expected duration.
  9. The condition of the materials should be documented at all appropriate stages of the loan process, especially prior to the shipment/delivery and return of materials.
  10. Loaned materials should be kept secure and handled and maintained under appropriate environmental conditions during all stages of the loan process and term.
  11. MCAN members will promote access to special collections materials through the most suitable means, whether this be a loan of original materials, onsite use, support for travel to collections, microfilm or digital surrogates, other more readily accessible copies or editions, reference consultation or other available options.

Additional Guidelines for Borrowing Institutions

Borrowing institutions assume responsibility for the security and care of loaned materials from the time they leave the lending institution until they are returned to and received by the lending institution.

  1. Exercise at least the same level of care toward loaned materials as the institution exercises toward its own special collections materials.
  2. Document the receipt of loaned materials and immediately inform the lending institution of any irregularities or damage.
  3. Follow carefully all instructions stipulated by the lending institution in the loan agreement.
  4. Such instructions may pertain to care and handling, research use or display, rights and reproductions, citations, publications, legal responsibilities, and other relevant matters. The borrowing institution should not allow any photocopying or other reproduction of loaned materials without the explicit permission of the lending institution, except as needed for internal documentation, as for example, in the case of creating condition reports or exhibit mounting specifications.
    • The borrowing institution should not alter, clean or repair materials without explicit permission from the lending institution.
    • The borrowing institution should not affix any labels or other markings directly upon the loaned materials. Identifying information should instead be applied to protective containers or sleeves or included on removable slips; materials used for such enclosures and slips should meet relevant conservation standards.
  5. Return the loaned materials by the date requested.
  6. Communicate in writing any requests to extend the term of the loan in accordance with the terms of the loan policy or agreement.
  7. Return the loaned materials in the same condition as received and use the same or equivalent packaging materials and shipping methods.
    • Staff responsible for the packing, unpacking and shipment of the materials should be instructed in the proper handling and packing of special collections materials.
    • Prior to packing, staff should inspect and verify that the loaned materials have not suffered any damage during the term of the loan period and document the results of the inspection in a condition report and/or in the loan record or agreement.
      • Any damage suffered during the time the loaned materials are in transit or held by the borrowing institution must be reported to the lending institution as soon as the damage is discovered. Damaged materials should not be packed for return without the lending institution’s knowledge and authorization.
      • The borrowing institution must also cooperate in reporting and investigation by any insuring agency and otherwise meet its responsibilities with regard to costs for repair, replacement or appropriate compensation, in accordance with the terms of the loan agreement and the preferences of the lending institution.

Additional Guidelines for Lending Institutions

Lending institutions bear the dual responsibility of making their holdings as accessible as possible while setting conditions and methods for lending materials that minimize the risks to the materials. In balancing these responsibilities, lending institutions generally should give priority to the safeguarding and long-term preservation of the materials requested for loan. In determining whether materials should be loaned and for how long, lending institutions may also consider the needs of users who may expect to have ready access to materials locally.

Final authority regarding whether to lend the requested materials, to provide or allow reproductions, or to accept any specific loan arrangement or terms rests with the lending institution in keeping with its ultimate responsibility as the owner or legal custodian of the materials.

  1. Review requests to borrow special collections materials with due regard for the access, security, and preservation needs of the requested materials.
    • Lending institutions should evaluate the condition of the requested materials prior to making a commitment to lend them.
    • Individuals who exercise direct curatorial responsibility for the requested materials should be involved in the approval process.
  2. Ensure that the institution has proper ownership or authority to lend the requested materials. This is especially important in cases in which loaned materials are owned by a depositor or third party, or when materials will cross international borders and be subject to customs inspections.
  3. Indicate copyright status (known owner/who?, unknown, orphan)
  4. Determine whether any measures are needed to safeguard the materials throughout the loan process and term.
    • Such measures may include conservation repair or stabilization, special packaging and shipment, insurance, specific environmental conditions and special instructions for handling and display.
    • The measures should be adequately described and documented in the written loan agreement.
  5. Inform the borrowing institution in writing of any legal requirements or other restrictions and conditions concerning the use, display, reproduction or citation of the loaned materials.
  6. Respond to all loan requests in a timely and professional manner.
  7. Offer to provide appropriate substitutes, such as reproductions or related materials, if the original materials cannot be lent.

III: Interlibrary Loans For Research Use

The following guidelines are specific to inter-institutional borrowing and lending of special collections for research use. They should be understood and applied in concert with the principles and general guidelines stated above.

These guidelines primarily address situations in which researchers who require use of original source materials managed by an MCAN repository cannot travel to the repository to consult the collections onsite, or for whom alternative means of access, such as digital reproductions, photocopies, or microfilms, are not adequate to their needs or cannot be provided.

Guidelines for Borrowing Institutions

A. Initiating a research loan request

  1. Requests shall be mediated by staff at the borrowing institution, and initial communication may be made with the designated contact person at the potential lending institution, by whatever means seems practical. The borrowing institution should verify with the researcher whether access to the original materials is required or whether an alternative form or means of access is acceptable.
  2. In cases where the researcher directly contacts the lending institution, the lender may advise the researcher to consult with the contact person at the borrowing institution.
  3. Encourage researchers who need to work with original source materials to travel to the repository holding the desired materials. Onsite research avoids the risks and costs associated with loans and ensures that the materials remain available for other researchers locally. It also allows researchers to take more immediate advantage of the expertise of local staff and other related research materials.

B. Handling the loaned materials

  1. The borrowing institution will bear all costs related to the transport of materials from and back to the lending institution. The borrowing institution may pass such costs on to the researcher if it desires.
  2. Abide by all loan conditions specified by the lending institution.
  3. Upon arrival of the materials, verify immediately that the loaned materials did not suffer any damage in transit (with reference to a condition report, if supplied). If any damage is suspected, staff must follow protocols outlined in the loan agreement to immediately notify the appropriate contact people at both institutions.
  4. Store the loaned materials in a secure, environmentally controlled special collections storage area.
  5. Ensure that the materials remain in the secure storage area except for the sole purpose of providing research access for the designated researcher.
  6. Provide the researcher who requested the materials access to them in a contained, secure, supervised reading room equipped for the use of special collections materials.
    • The researcher must agree to and abide by the conditions of use prescribed by the reading room’s policies and procedures and must also abide by any additional requirements specified by the lending institution, as stated in the applicable loan agreement or policy.
    • Access to the loaned materials must not be provided to anyone other than the designated researcher without the prior written permission of the lending institution.
    • Materials loaned for research use must not be publicly displayed or exhibited without the prior written permission of the lending institution.
  7. Follow the lending institution’s instructions regarding reproduction of the loaned materials.
    • If reproduction is permitted, it should be performed by or under the supervision of special collections staff at the borrowing institution in compliance with United States or other applicable copyright law and any other specifications stated in the lending institution’s loan policy or loan agreement.
      • The borrowing institution may however, decline to make reproductions and may instead refer the researcher to the lending institution to negotiate arrangements for reproduction following the return of the loaned materials.
      • The borrowing institution may permit the researcher to photograph loaned materials for personal use using a personal digital camera only when the lending institution explicitly specifies that such use is permissible.

C. Returning the loaned materials

  1. Adhere to the specified loan period unless the lending institution has granted a renewal.
  2. Promptly return the loaned materials in accordance with any specifications stated in the loan request or agreement.

Guidelines for Lending Institutions

A. Responding to research loan requests

  1. Respond to all requests as quickly as possible while allowing time for those charged with direct curatorial responsibility for the requested materials to adequately review the request.  If desired, discuss with the borrowing institution suitable alternate means of access.
  2. When it is determined that a request can best be fulfilled with a reproduction, the lending institution should provide reproductions at a cost equal or comparable to the institution’s standard rate, when possible.
      • Lending institutions may develop a fee schedule with rates for specialized reproduction and handling of special collections materials (e.g., for special formats and fragile materials). It is advisable to make the fee schedule public.
      • If requested, a cost estimate should be provided to the borrowing institution before reproductions are made.
      • The lending institution may require prepayment before processing the reproduction order. In such cases, it may be more practical to handle the request as a routine reproduction order between the researcher and the lending institution’s special collections unit and to cancel the initial interlibrary loan request.
      • Unless reproductions are specifically delivered as loans, neither the borrowing institution nor the researcher should be placed under an obligation to return the reproductions to the lending institution.
  3. Indicate any special conditions governing the use of loaned materials, clearly stating in the written loan agreement any restrictions or limitations on research use, citation, reproduction, publication, or other forms of dissemination.

B. Preparing and delivering materials

  1. Determine the means that are required to safely pack, ship and unpack the materials.
  2. When possible, work with the borrowing institution to arrange for acceptable ad hoc couriers.  It is the lender’s prerogative to decide the acceptable means of transport.
    • If special means of transport, such as a fine arts handler or courier service, are required, or if special precautions must be observed in packing or handling the materials, the lending institution should specify those terms in the written loan agreement and ensure that the borrowing institution is willing and able to comply with all such special arrangements and instructions.
    • The lending institution may require the borrowing institution to pay for special insurance or provide a certificate of insurance coverage.
  3. Prepare and pack the materials appropriately, and require that all the materials be repacked in the same or equivalent manner as when they were sent to the borrowing institution.
  4. Document the condition of the materials before shipment and advise the borrowing institution in writing of any defects for which it should not be held responsible upon return.

Approved by the Mennonite College and University Archives Network
November 2014