One of the most important aspects of research is using interlibrary loan to access materials that would not be available to you locally. Not every item in a library can be borrowed through interlibrary loan but for the most part you can use it to borrow non-reference books. You can even borrow microfilmed records through some societies, through inter-library loan at your local library. Interlibrary loans also include photocopies of periodical articles. Typically there is a fee for interlibrary loan that covers the cost of shipping the item to your home library. For more information on interlibrary loan check out the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interlibrary_loan.
Need to find a library for the area your ancestor lived in or to find where you can check out a specific book? Check out the following web sites:
World Cat, WorldCat, according to their web site, World Cat is the world's largest network of library content and services. Their web site provides information on one billion items found in 10,000 libraries. World Cat allows you to search for a book, audio CD, or movie through thousands of libraries. You can enter your location and the site will provide you with information about what library collections include the book you are looking for.
For an example, I did a search on Elizabeth Shown Mill's book, Isle of Canes]]. The result page for this search is here [[http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/54046150&referer=brief_results|http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/54046150&referer=brief_results]] . From the results page, I can click on a library and it automatically takes me to the listing in that library's catalog. Sometimes these libraries will be close to you and other times they will be far away. A search I did for a book on vintage feed sacks resulted in hits from over 1500 miles away. But in those cases you can consider interlibrary loan from your own nearby library. Like any search engine, you may have to try different phrases to find the results you are looking for. I typed in the name of a locality and the first three pages of results had nothing to do with the subject I typed in.
An added bonus to World Cat is that once you find a listing for a book, you can click on the "cite this source" link and it will show you citation styles including APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, and Turabian.
For those in California, Cal Cat is a very similar program to World Cat. Cal Cat, the California Libraries Catalog at [[http://www.calcat.org/|http://www.calcat.org/]] allows you to search for resources public and private libraries within the state of California.
Libcat, [[http://www.librarysites.info/|http://www.librarysites.info/]] , is a directory of libraries on the Internet. You can select a state and then receive links to government, public, academic, other and library associations. There are also links to web sites for presidential libraries and foreign libraries.
Libraries on the Web [[http://lists.webjunction.org/libweb/Public_main.html|http://lists.webjunction.org/libweb/Public_main.html]] is a web site of links to United States public libraries. Once you choose the state, you can then scroll through links to public libraries within that state. The National Center for Educational Statistics library finder at [[http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/librarysearch/|http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/librarysearch/]] allows you to use a search engine to find a United States public library.
The Library of Congress receives over 60,000 requests for books and article copies throughout the world. Some restrictions do apply when seeking an item from the Library such as materials sent to a library have to be used at the library and cannot be checked out by the patron. For more information on the Library of Congress' interlibrary loan program see their web site at [[http://www.loc.gov/rr/loan/|http://www.loc.gov/rr/loan/]]. Some small items to fragile to be circulated are available through digital interlibrary loan.