Rental. E-book. Chegg. Amazon. Used. New. Bookstore. The quest for the cheapest textbooks takes students to the farthest reaches of the internet. But there is one online source for getting textbooks that many college students might not realize they have access to: interlibrary loan.

It's a service that lets students borrow books from any academic or public library in Illinois (and, in some cases, the world). And through I-Share, the database of books available to borrow in Illinois, students can borrow books up to 16 weeks, said Sandy Harris, interlibrary loan manager at Olivet Nazarene University, which adds up to almost a full semester.

Hanna Rattin, of Beaverville, a senior special education student at ONU, borrowed nine books through ILL for the semester starting this week. She saved $629 if she had bought new, $358 if she had bought used.

"In this time and age, who doesn't want to save money on textbooks?" Harris said. "You pay enough in tuition that this is what it covers."

Olivet receives more than 2,500 books for students per week on average. While not all of those are textbooks, many of them are, Harris said. If a student has questions on how to get started, they should just ask a librarian. "There are a lot of references to support you if you just come into the library and ask," Harris said.

And while many students use ILL services for journal articles, Harris added, many students don't realize they can borrow everything from textbooks to DVDs from 86 participating libraries all over the state.

"Even with all these databases, it's not all that's available to you," said Lauralee Nothstine, reference and periodicals assistant at ONU. "The world is at your fingertips through ILL. A library may have 1,000 books. They really have a million books."

The drawback? Depending on when a student orders the book, they may have to return it before the semester is over. Only older editions of certain texts may be available, and students have to be on top of renewing books every four weeks. But the price tag outweighs the inconvenience, says Rattin and other Olivet students who have used the service: "It's easy. It's free."

Here are a few tips to get you started with ILL, from ONU librarians and students:

Search early. The most popular textbooks, such as ones in the nursing or education fields, get borrowed quickly, so request early.

Double check the edition, volume and author. Sometimes books have similar titles, more than one edition or more than one volume. Double check to make sure you're ordering the correct book.

Look at other editions or years. While the newest edition miight not be available, often older ones will be. This works best in textbooks without homework questions. Ask the professor if it's OK to use an older edition.

Focus your search in I-Share. While databases like WorldCat include books from all over the country and world, students often can't renew books as many time as in I-Share. And, if a book status says reference or special section, it's probably not available.

Borrow from the library closest to you, and books usually will arrive faster. It also helps to borrow from larger libraries, such as at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, which are more likely to lend their specialized textbooks.

Can't find the book you're looking for through ILL? Here are a few other ideas:

Look at multiple sources. Sites like or will give you multiple options such as new, used or rented from a variety of sites, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AbeBooks.

Don't be afraid to look at outside-the-box options, too. Some bookstores offer price matching, and students often organize book-selling groups on Facebook.

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