Travelling words : the InterLibrary Loan service (ILL)

When you need a book or article not available in Geneva, you should consider using our interlibrary loan (ILL) service. Our colleagues Martine Basset and Marc Le Hénanf are in contact with libraries all around the world and can provide you with documents within days. 

Is this a new service?

Long before the Internet, remote library catalogues, phones and postal services already allowed interlibrary loans, even internationally. Wikipedia will tell you they already existed as a service at the end of the 19th century in some American libraries.

We do not know when the Institute started offering them, but we could trace the service at least back to the 1980s. While it isn’t new, it certainly remains necessary to cover some of our user needs.

So how does it work?

Is it on RERO?

You first need to check the RERO catalogue. If the document is in a Geneva Library, you can just get it yourself – your card is valid there, and it’ll be much faster. If it’s not on the Geneva catalogue, check the complete RERO catalogue.

If the document is available from a library in Western Switzerland, you’ll have the option to use the “Interlibrary loan” (“Prêt entre bibliothèques”) button. To log in, enter your student card barcode number, and your RERO password. If you don’t know your RERO password, it might still be the last 6 digits of the same barcode (default password).

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What if it’s not?

If it’s not in the RERO catalogues, just fill in the interlibrary loan request form. To log in, enter your student card barcode number, and your RERO password. If you don’t know your RERO password, it might still be the last 6 digits of the same barcode (default password).

Then, enter the author and title of the document. Things that help: adding the book’s ISBN or a URL in the comments field, along with any useful information you may have. Our librarians will then locate a copy of the document and order it from the best possible source library.

How fast can I get that book/article? How much does it cost?

Documents we can get from a Swiss library are generally available within 10 days – even books long out of print, and articles can arrive much faster. For books from European libraries and beyond, it can take longer (2 weeks or more). It’s generally a good idea to request an “ILL” rather than a purchase for books published before digital printing (i.e. before the 2000s).

The costs listed on the form are inaccurate: interlibrary loans are free for Graduate Institute students and staff. There will, however, be a 10.- CHF fee if you do not pick up the item we provided you with.

Where do the documents come from?

Most of the 628 books and articles we received last year came from Swiss libraries: often the Zentralbibliothek Zürich or university libraries such as Basel and St Gallen.

Many documents also come across the borders. Last year, we received books and articles from libraries in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the USA. We can also work with more exotic libraries if needed – even as distant as Australia, where we have ordered books from the University of New South Wales, for example.

Of course, interlibrary loans go both ways: last year, we fulfilled 1175 requests from other libraries – again, mostly in Switzerland. Being a reference library in specific subjects means we’re of course a net supplier for many institutions. The Swiss Institute of Comparative Law in Lausanne and the Fribourg cantonal and university library stand among our main customers and suppliers.

Things we can’t do

If a document is available in a Geneva library, we expect you to go get it yourselves. Most libraries are well-connected to the public transports and you’ll get the document much faster this way.

In addition, it is usually impossible for us to provide you with digital copies of articles for legal and technical reasons (DRM). When we receive them, we will usually print them and they will be waiting for you at the loan desk.


If you have any questions about our interlibrary loan service, feel free to contact peb@graduateinstitute.ch for more information.

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