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Click to save the nation’s digital memory

Regulations coming into force on 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.

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 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.”

“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,” said Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library.

“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.”

Syr Deian Hopkin, President of the National Library of Wales added:

“With the implementation of electronic legal deposit the National Library of Wales, like the British Library, will possess the means of storing a permanent, comprehensive memory of Wales and its people. Over time a huge collection of digital knowledge will be assembled to complement the major programmes of retrospective digitisation which is already under way at the Library, exemplified by our recently launched resource ‘Welsh Newspapers Online’, which provides free access to over a million pages of Welsh nineteenth and early twentieth century newspapers. Within a few years we shall be the guardian of more electronic items than all the printed volumes we amassed during the past century offering an invaluable source for future historians”.

For further information

Notes for editors

The Legal Deposit Libraries are the British Library; National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; Bodleian Libraries; Cambridge University Library; Trinity College Dublin

The Joint Committee on Legal Deposit includes the Legal Deposit Libraries; Publishers Content Forum; Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers; Association of Online Publishers; PPA Business Media Group (Data & Digital Publishing); International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers; Newspaper Publishers Association; Newspaper Society; Professional Publishers Association; Publishers Association