In praise of interlibrary loans

I am blessed to study at the University of Toronto, which has a world-class library system.   In fact, U of T’s libraries were recently ranked third among research libraries in North America, behind only Harvard and Yale.   The theological collections are strengthened by the fact that students have access to the libraries of the seven TST seminaries, as well as theological books held in Robarts Library, and special collections such as the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies library.   The U of T library system has just about everything you could need as a researcher.

However, when you get into a doctoral disssertation, you are often dealing with subjects that are so obscure that even U of T libraries can’t meet your needs.  That’s where interlibrary loans come in.

I think many students aren’t even aware of the amazing service that is available to them through interlibrary loans.    If my library does not have a particular book, but it can be found in another library (anywhere in the world), interlibrary loans will get it for me, free of charge.

I’ve received dozens of rare books through interlibrary loans in the past two years.  Most have come from North America, but the 1921 book Les Charismes De Saint-Esprit by Bernard Maréchaux was sent to me from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands!

Earlier this fall I was able to get a copy of the 1917 Paulist Constitutions, sent from the Catholic University of America.   Twice I have accessed a two-volume unpublished official history of the Paulists by James McVann, which came from the U.S. Library of Congress (I had to read that one on-site in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library).   Without interlibrary loans, I would have only been able to access those materials in Washington, either at the Library of Congress or the Paulist Archives.

Today I picked up an 1883 book attacking The Salvation Army, Read and Judge the (So-Called) Salvation Army, written by a Swiss Countess and translated from the French.  This one came from Duke Divinity School.

Every time I receive something on interlibrary loan, I say to myself, “I can’t believe this service exists.”  And I wonder how long it has been since anyone else has picked up this obscure book that I’m holding in my hands.  I guess I am a total geek, since I find interlibary loans so exciting, but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do the research I’ve done without the help of the interlibrary loans staff.

9 thoughts on “In praise of interlibrary loans

  1. I am really curious about the book, Read and Judge the (So-Called) Salvation Army, especially because of how early it was written. What did you think of it?

  2. Just read it – it was a pretty vicious attack, mostly objecting to Booth’s autocratic authority, but also about the Army’s extravagant and irreverent methods and the use of women preachers. The first half was just excerpts from the Army’s own publications, with the occasional sarcastic comment. The second half was more of a criitque. She compared the Army to the Jesuits and other Catholic leaders several times.

    As I suspected – it’s way over the top. There is some validity to the critique of Booth’s authority of course, but this book is just nasty. She basically says the Army is of the devil.

    Here are some quotes, to give you a sense of the tone of the book:

    p. 27: “What monastic rules! We shall see reappearing (oh, charming spectacle!) those battalions of petty spies, petty despots, petty vermin, trained to craftiness and insolence, which Savonarola let loose on his Florence, transformed into one vast convent.”

    p. 32: “Military despotism carried into the spiritual domain, – and extended into the temporal, – battalions, battles, conquests, all existed before Mr. Booth. It was called then monastic spirit, monastic organization, monastic power, monastic encroachments. And there was one, long before Mr. Booth, who was called a General – of the Jesuits.”

    p. 34: “Ignatius de Loyola, in all sincerity, wished to save the world, and in order to do so created the Order of the Jesuits. Dominique, in all sincerity, wished to save the world, and in order to do so founded the Inquisition.
    Military despotism, autocracy, subjection; these two saints declared that nothing less could save the world.
    Mr. Booth says the same. The Bible says the contrary.”

    p. 38: “The recruiting having taken place, we know what follows – they are enlisted, inscribed in the register, subjected to orders, placed under the surveillance of a sergeant, and an “S” is marked on their collars. “S” that means Saviour, so you tell them. “S” also means Serpent, it means Satan; you have forgotten that.”

    p. 44: “The Army! – What has it brought us? Trouble – Which is no awakening. Fever – Which is not life. Noise – Which is not faith. Words – Which are not loyalty. Notoriety – Which is not edificaiton.”

    p. 50: “….though ten thousand anathemas were hurled at my head, I would call the rules by which the army is governed a masterpiece of Jesuitism.”

    One of the readers for my dissertation is a Jesuit. I wonder what he’ll think of this comparison!

    • That is definitely inflammatory language. Not exactly a thoughtful critique. I was talking with Gilles M. about your dissertation at the last F&W meeting, maybe I should have thanked him for the apparently huge influence the Jesuits had on militant masterpiece that is The Salvation Army today.

      • Glad to know you were at the F&W meeting. I miss those meetings. Yes Gilles has been parachuted in to be a reader on my dissertation after Margaret O’Gara passed away. I’m looking forward to his comments on my draft. Who knew William Booth was a crypto-Jesuit? I’m not sure who would be more insulted by that idea, the Jesuits or the Salvationists.

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