Digital legal deposit consultation: Q&A

A summary of issues relating to the collection of material published in non-print form. The public consultation into the matter by the UK Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport ended on 1 March 2010.

  1. What is the purpose of this consultation?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. What does the consultation cover?
  4. Why does the consultation not cover other forms of digital content?
  5. Is regulation really necessary?
  6. Why not let the market take care of it?
  7. How would the National Library of Scotland collect this material?
  8. How would the National Library of Scotland grant access to this material?

1.  What is the purpose of this consultation?

The National Library of Scotland is one of six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act, we have the right to claim a copy of every print item published in the UK and Ireland.

In 2003, the Act established, in principle, our right to collect material published in non-printed forms. However, there has not, as yet, been enabling legislation which sets out how the Act would be put into practice - in other words, it is agreed that we should do it, but not how we should do it. The consultation, based on the recommendations of the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel, is part of the process to bring that legislation about so that NLS and other legal deposit libraries can begin collecting such material published in the UK.


2.  Why does it matter?

At the moment, we cannot comprehensively collect this material, and so a substantial proportion of the published record of Scotland and the UK is being lost. Like a newspaper, election leaflet, magazine or even Fringe flyer (all of which we collect in print form), most online material is ephemeral. The average life of a web-page is only 44-75 days. Websites and online publications are frequently refreshed, and older versions are rarely kept.

Furthermore, despite having been among the first countries to recognise the issue in the form of the Act, the fact is that Scotland and the UK are now lagging behind many other countries in this area. By way of illustration, there were more than 150 websites for the 2000 Sydney Olympics which disappeared overnight at the end of the games; their only record is in the National Library of Australia's archive. Without legislation, we could lose similar cultural records relating to major events such as London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 as well as equally valuable day-to-day reflections of our society and culture.


3.  What does the consultation cover?

Three categories of digital publication have been identified, as follows:

  • A1 - Offline non-print publications. This basically pertains to CD-ROMs and similar.
  • A2 - Material published on the 'free' web. This is the area under consultation. The 'free web' here means online material with no barrier to access, in other words material which can be accessed without registration, login or subscription.
  • A3 - Material published digitally and available through controlled access, such as registration, login or subscription.

In addition, the above categories do not include online publications which whose primary content is audio-visual, such as You Tube or the BBC i-player.


4.  Why does the consultation not cover other forms of digital content?

For A1 material, a voluntary deposit process is currently in place to cover such materials and is viewed as satisfactory, particularly given the decreasing popularity of such publications. As such, this area is not under consideration.

A3 material carries more sensitivities for publishers and creators and will therefore more complex to resolve. That will take time and so the expedient option is to consider the (hopefully) less contentious legislation on A2 material separately. We see this consultation as part of a process, and we would hope to see the issue of collecting and preserving A3 material addressed in a separate consultation in the near future.

Furthermore, we would accept that, as different media converge, existing definitions of 'publication' are debatable. Separation between the traditional areas of written content, still image, moving image and recorded sound becomes problematic as they are increasingly all made available through the same channel, often as part of the same publication. Accordingly, there is future scope to examine the definition of what constitutes the published knowledge of Scotland with particular reference to the range of material collected and preserved by the National Library of Scotland.


5.  Is regulation really necessary?

We believe so, as the alternatives are unsatisfactory. One would be to rely on a voluntary, permissions-based approach where the Library would have to approach individual website publishers for permission to archive their website. Permission is required as things stand as the material under discussion is protected by copyright. We have undertaken this activity for specific events and projects, such as creating a digital archive record of the G8 Summit and surrounding protest, and we have an agreement to archive the digital output of the Scottish Government and Parliament.

However, securing such agreement is a time- and labour-intensive process - for both Libraries and publishers - which is impractical for large-scale activity. Furthermore, studies and our own experience show that it is often very difficult to identify or find contact details for the owner or publisher of online content. Estimates suggest that the Library could not collect more than 1% of the material that future generations would expect to have under the permissions approach.


6.  Why not let the market take care of it?

It is a resource burden for the private sector (notwithstanding the economic value of archive material to the newspaper industry), as archiving material demands time and data storage capacity. Most individual publishers do not have the time, resources or will to do so and even for those who do, there is no guarantee that this would remain the case, particularly over a timeframe in which the early 21st century in Scotland becomes a subject for history lessons.

The National Library of Scotland has printed material in its collections going back over 500 years, in other words the scope of this goes well beyond short-term commercial considerations. Furthermore, if individual publishers were entrusted with (or even required to) archiving their own publications, they would not necessarily come together to form one central national, searchable record in the way that the legal deposit libraries function for print material, making future research unnecessarily difficult.


7.  How would the National Library of Scotland collect this material?

Web harvesting is the preferred solution: an automated process which will enable us to collect a regular 'snapshot' of websites which, over time, will build a comprehensive record of the development of our culture and society. As currently happens with particular curatorial focus on especially significant collecting areas in print, we would envisage similar focus on certain events or topics, such as Scottish elections, the Commonwealth Games and so on.


8.  How would the National Library of Scotland grant access to this material?

Under the current provisions of the Act, access to this material would only be available on the premises of the legal deposit libraries and, within the parameters of this consultation, we will abide by this as the clear priority right now is legislation which will enable us to begin collecting this material as soon as possible.

However, the Library is of the view that restricting access in this way is contrary to the needs of current and future researchers at all levels, and does not reflect the way in which it was published in the first place, i.e. freely available and on the web. For this reason, we will separately be urging the Secretary of State to seek an amendment to the Act to allow the national collection of archived, freely available websites to be accessible to all via the web itself.



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