Electronic legal deposit

Click to save the nation's digital memory

Six major libraries poised to capture the digital universe, including the entire UK web domain

Regulations coming into force tomorrow (6 April) will enable six major libraries to collect, preserve and provide long term access to the increasing proportion of the nation’s cultural and intellectual output that appears in digital form — including blogs, e-books and the entire UK web domain.

From this point forward, the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Library Dublin will have the right to receive a copy of every UK electronic publication, on the same basis as they have received print publications such as books, magazines and newspapers for several centuries.

The regulations, known as legal deposit, will ensure that ephemeral materials like websites can be collected, preserved forever and made available to future generations of researchers, providing the fullest possible record of life and society in the UK in the 21st century for people 50, 100, even 200 or more years in the future. Martyn Wade, Chief Executive of the National Library of Scotland, said:

'In the UK we have an outstanding written heritage built up in library collections over centuries. These new regulations allow us for the first time to archive valuable digital information and save it for future generations. This is a day to be celebrated.'

The UK Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, said: 'Legal deposit arrangements remain vitally important. Preserving and maintaining a record of everything that has been published provides a priceless resource for the researchers of today and the future. So it's right that these long-standing arrangements have now been brought up to date for the 21st century, covering the UK's digital publications for the first time. The Joint Committee on Legal Deposit has worked very successfully in creating practical policies and processes so that digital content can now be effectively archived and our academic and literary heritage preserved, in whatever form it takes.'

The principle of extending legal deposit beyond print was established with the Legal Deposit Libraries Act of 2003 — the present regulations implement it in practical terms, encompassing electronic publications such as e-journals and e-books, offline (or hand-held) formats like CD-ROM and an initial 4.8 million websites from the UK web domain.

Access to non-print materials, including archived websites, will be offered via on-site reading room facilities at each of the legal deposit libraries. While the initial offering to researchers will be limited in scope, the libraries will gradually increase their capability for managing large-scale deposit, preservation and access over the coming months and years.

By the end of this year, the results of the first live archiving crawl of the UK web domain will be available to researchers, along with tens of thousands of e-journal articles, e-books and other materials.

The regulations were developed by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Legal Deposit, which includes representatives from the legal deposit libraries and different sectors of the publishing industry. They establish an agreed approach for the libraries to develop an efficient system for archiving digital publications, while avoiding an unreasonable burden for publishers and protecting the interests of rights-holders.

Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council, Chairman of the UK Publishers Content Forum and Joint Chairman of the Joint Committee on Legal Deposit said: 'Capturing our digital heritage for preservation and future research is essential. As publishers were among the first to embrace the opportunities of digital publishing, recognising advantages of dissemination beyond traditional outlets and the potential of technology to drive innovation, we welcome the extension of legal deposit to digital formats and web harvesting.'

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: 'Ten years ago, there was a very real danger of a black hole opening up and swallowing our digital heritage, with millions of web pages, e-publications and other non-print items falling through the cracks of a system that was devised primarily to capture ink and paper.

'The Legal Deposit Libraries Act established in 2003 the principle that legal deposit needed to evolve to reflect the massive shift to digital forms of publishing. The regulations now coming into force make digital legal deposit a reality, and ensure that the legal deposit libraries themselves are able to evolve — collecting, preserving and providing long-term access to the profusion of cultural and intellectual content appearing online or in other digital formats.'

Full details of how the new regulations will be implemented are available on the British Library website.


See also: Our short quide to e-legal deposit


5 April 2013

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