From 6th April 2013, six legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland will be using the powers of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 to enable them to gather and store a vast amount of digital material, particularly stuff that doesn’t exist in other formats. This includes websites, social media channels and electronic books and journals.
It’s been a long project in the planning (10 years) and is being implemented by the British Library and the national and legal deposit libraries across the UK, including the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
The new law will allow libraries to automatically collect all UK digital publications, including e-books, blogs and websites with a .uk domain (an ‘initial 4.8 million’). Eventually, the British Library hopes to capture UK-generated content from non-country specific domain names, such as .com. Publishers will need to provide a copy of all digital publications to the six legal deposit libraries, although according to the news they will start with 25 publishers in the first year.
Whilst the mind boggles at the attempt to gather and store so much content (well, my mind boggles anyway), it’s hugely ambitious and could be an exceedingly useful resource for historians of the future looking back at this period. A vast amount of activity, discussion, campaigning etc now takes place in a digital format only, and unless such content is gathered, historians in 10 years time are going to find it hard to document this period onwards.
However, it does remind me a bit of my partner accusing me of “trying to index the Internet” when he saw the absolutely immense long list of Internet bookmarks I had (all nicely sorted into folders and sub-folders, thank you very much, I am a professional librarian).
So how are you going to find something under this new policy? Researchers will be able to access the digital archive content whilst physically at a legal deposit library, and there will be a minimum of seven days between the content being transferred to the library and it being available. Thus you will need to be in Aberystwyth, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin to view the content.
The news has been covered extensively by the media, and I even heard it make the 8am news headlines on Radio 4. Coverage includes: