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The Impact of E-Legal Deposit in the Academic Sector


National Library of Scotland Reading Room in Glasgow


Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist at the National Library of Scotland, and DLF Steering Group member


The National Library of Scotland is Scotland’s largest library and one of the UK’s five legal deposit libraries, along with the British Library, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, and Cambridge University Library. (1)


Rooted in Edinburgh’s history as a legal hub, the Library began life as the Faculty of Advocates Library in 1689. With the financial backing of Sir Alexander Grant and an Act of Parliament, (2) the National Library was formed as a separate, public body in 1925. (3) After work was interrupted by the Second World War, the Library’s purpose-built home on George IV Bridge, in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town and adjacent to the Faculty, opened to the public in 1956.


Since 1710, the Faculty and subsequently the National Library have enjoyed the right to claim a copy of any work published in the UK under the tradition of legal deposit, which enables the creation of crucial archives of published output.  Through legislation in 2003 (4) and 2013 (5), legal deposit was extended to encompass works published in ‘non-print’ formats, including electronic publications and materials made available online (eg web archiving). Although an important and significant advancement, the introduction of ‘non-print legal deposit’ presented new access challenges to legal deposit libraries.



The National Library has historically operated as a reference library. Unlike public libraries, or much of the collections of academic libraries, users of the National Library are not able to remove works from the reading rooms to consult them offsite. Because the Library’s legal deposit collections act not only as a resource for today’s interested researcher, business-person, or family historian, but also as a record of published output, this is a preservation necessity.


Unlike printed works, however, electronic resources can be accessed remotely without presenting a threat to the long-term preservation of the resource or its information. Nevertheless, non-print legal deposit legislation places significant restrictions on how works may be accessed and used, in spite of the technical advantages. Websites, ebooks, ejournal articles, and other non-print sources collected through legal deposit may only be accessed on the premises of one of the five UK legal deposit libraries, the premises of Trinity College Dublin Library, or the the premises of the Faculty of Advocates Library in Edinburgh, which, through its historic ties to the National Library retains certain legal deposit rights.


Coupled with the preservation-based limitations applied to printed works, on-site only access to electronic works presented particular challenges for the National Library.  Not only could users access printed works only if they visited central Edinburgh, they’d also only be able to access legal deposit electronic material through the central Edinburgh facilities.





Irrespective of these limitations, simple service rationale dictated that the Library needed to gain a footprint in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and centre of a city region home to around one third of the nation’s population. (6) In the late 20th Century the Library expanded its Edinburgh estate to take in a second storage and public-access facility, and in 2007 the Glasgow-based Scottish Screen Archive (now the Moving Image Archive) was incorporated into the Library, affording the Library a West of Scotland location, albeit one with extremely limited public access facilities.  Opportunity to expand public access, however, came with the moving of Glasgow’s transport museum to the new Riverside Museum, freeing up space with Glasgow’s historic Kelvin Hall.


With a rich a varied history, including as a concert venue, wartime factory, international exhibition space, sports arena, and transport museum, Kelvin Hall enjoys a prime position opposite Glasgow’s illustrious Kelvingrove Art Museum and in the shadow of the University of Glasgow. (7) The museum sited in this vast and impressive venue moved in 2012 and a staggered regeneration project subsequently saw the facility expanded and reconceived from the ground-up. Stage one of the new Kelvin Hall opened in Autumn 2016 as a collaboration between The University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Glasgow Museums, Glasgow Life sports centres, and the National Library of Scotland.


Kelvin Hall is now a public-facing home for the Library’s rich moving image collections and for many of its electronic collections. In particular, the National Library at Kelvin Hall operates as an access space for non-print legal deposit materials. The space, while a library in name, is conceived of very differently from the traditional library concept. The space is specifically designed  for access to digital resources, whether films, videos, ejournals, or electronic resources. With a meters-wide, interactive video wall at its heart, the space offers armchairs and touchscreen monitors that highlight the moving image collections. Unlike the reading rooms in Edinburgh, and largely because unlike in those rooms original collection items do not circulate in the public space, use of the Library at Kelvin Hall does not require registration. Whenever the space is open, anyone can walk in and engage directly with the digital collections, including non-print legal deposit materials.



This represents real change and opportunity. Although by law access to non-print legal deposit material is limited, through Kelvin Hall the population of Scotland has a greater, more diverse opportunity to engage with this wide and deep range of works.


Edinburgh has been the historic home to the National Library, so the ability to provide on-site, open, public access to collections at the heart of Scotland's largest urban area for the first time is a very significant advancement. To be able to include non-print legal deposit collections in this offering, without the need to register, is particularly exciting.


Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the surrounding central belt regions account for over half of Scotland’s population. So, while there remain many in Scotland who live far from access to legal deposit collections, whether print or non-print, the opportunity to run two access hubs in the centres of the nation’s two largest cities is a major achievement and a significant boost over the geographic and demographic spread of legal deposit access in other parts of the UK.

Notes and References

(1) Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, is the sixth legal deposit library in the UK-Ireland legal deposit system

Seeking Information on Users Seeking Information

Linda Berube, DLF Senior Research Associate


The UK legislated for the collection of electronic resources through legal deposit in 2013. Since that time, UK legal deposit libraries have been providing ebooks, ejournals, and a web archive, indeed a wealth of British intellectual and creative culture, to the public. The Digital Library Futures (DLF) project commenced its examination of e-legal deposit (eLD) in 2017, the year designated for the undertaking of a review of the legislation and its implementation. Although this overlap was coincidental, the two activities have shared some objectives, a key one being: what impact has the delivery of these resources had on those using legal deposit libraries? In the case of the DLF project, the focus is primarily on academic users at Oxford and Cambridge, arguably the user group who would most frequently be exposed to the resources.

Since the project launch in June 2017, during this first year of data collection, the DLF project team has been working towards refining that objective, especially in light of the following questions: how do you analyse the access and use of electronic resources when users themselves are not even aware that they are using them?  Or don’t even know what they are?  When, for a significant number researching remotely, their use is not even an option? These questions have to a certain extent guided our research with users. This post provides a summary of information gathering activities during this first year of the project.

Seeking Information on Information-Seeking Behaviour

All UK legal deposit libraries, and not just the academic ones, balance the requirements of users with those of rights holders, mainly publishers, as identified by regulation. In his previous blog post, DLF Principal Investigator, Dr. Paul Gooding, discussed how the understanding of this relationship has informed DLF data collection over the past months:

 the way that academic deposit libraries must balance their imperative to make collections accessible and useful with their long-term regulator responsibilities;

 the question of how far e-legal deposit collections can and should be used to support contemporary users;

 the challenges of balancing the long-term view of legal deposit provision with contemporary data-driven innovations in research, and in government;

 and the role of e-legal deposit materials in widening participation, while respecting the commercial interests of rights holders.

We have found ourselves down the rabbit hole in a sense: seeking information on the impact of electronic legal deposit by observing the behaviour of academic staff and users in seeking information and possibly using this collection.


With these considerations in mind, the project team has embarked on an ambitious plan of quantitative and qualitative data collection. From July-August 2017, we not only met with staff at Cambridge University Library and the Bodleian Libraries, but also the British Library, for briefings, fact-finding discussions and tours to provide background on the process and systems of e-legal deposit.

Staff Interviews

It is not uncommon for library staff to be missed out in user assessment of library services. True, staff access and use can be different (‘the backroom services’), but they are no less important to an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of any given electronic resource, especially eLD publications. Moreover, the observations of reader services staff, who may only see single users at any one time at a bank of designated eLD terminals (the only way in which access can be achieved), can be important corroboration of evidence obtained by more formal methods. Comments like "Well, we already know that, why are you studying it?", while infrequent, underline the necessity of backing up subjective observation with a firm foundation of empirical data.

Therefore, the project combines observations and perspectives gleaned through semi-structured staff interviews with log analysis, systems statistics, user surveys and focus groups: all providing evidence that can be interwoven resulting in a clear picture of implementation, access and use. In order to start creating this picture,  a wide range of staff has been interviewed from September-December 2017, from cataloguing, disabilities services, readers services, legal deposit, web archiving, collection development, IT services, legal information services, and medical library services. These were semi-structured interviews, in acknowledgement not just of the range of staff, but also of the unique perspectives of individual staff members. For these staff interviews we included the British Library.

British Library

The initial DLF proposal specified interviews with staff from project partners, Cambridge University Library and the Bodleian Libraries. However, it soon became obvious to the DLF project team that the British Library’s staff could provide a unique view on the processes and technical systems, as well as access and use. This is owing to the pivotal role of the British Library in the collection and delivery of e-legal deposit.

While the British Library receives legal deposit print copies directly from publishers, The Agency for Legal Deposit provides the centralised function of acquisition and distribution for the other five legal deposit libraries (National Library of Wales, National Library of Scotland, Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian Libraries, and Trinity College Dublin). However, the British Library is the central organisation for acquiring and providing access to all eLD resources, including ebooks, ejournals and an archive of the British web. The five other legal deposit libraries access eLD resources via British Library servers.

The work of all the legal deposit libraries is coordinated by Linda Arnold-Stratford, the Legal Deposit Liaison Manager at the British Library, who has been instrumental in assisting the project team with information and access to staff. The contribution of British Library staff has been critical to an understanding of technical and legal implementation, as well as acquisitions. Its staff has provided a view on how electronic resources are ‘delivered’ or ‘uploaded’, how websites are harvested, what the metadata considerations are, etc

User Recruitment

Concurrent with conducting staff interviews, the DLF project team worked on user recruitment plans with the Bodleian Libraries and Cambridge University Library. We have had the good fortune to be able to work with staff experienced with user assessment at both libraries-Dr Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment and Secretariat at the Bodleian, and David Marshall, of the Futurelib programme at Cambridge University Library. They have used a mix of approaches (targeted emails, flyer, announcements, posters, departmental communications etc) to attract users to the project from doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers to academic staff.

User Surveys

With all the qualitative data collected through interviews and the quantitative data from system statistics, the project team was still left with the question of how to measure impact on academic users. Most of the user assessment of electronic resources conducted by both libraries, as well as one survey conducted by the British Library, captured user experience of the eLD resources in the artificial environment of computer labs. But with eLD resources, this approach cut out one distinguishing factor of access: that these resources could not be accessed or used remotely. How to capture information-seeking behaviour as it applied to eLD?

In order to capture real-time searching, the project team devised a survey embracing mixed methodologies of empirical questions with search tasks and diaries in order to get a real understanding of how users experience eLD. The information-seeking questions specifically lead them through tasks where they would encounter eLD materials. Crucially, the survey can be completed anywhere-at home, in a dorm room, in an office or in the Library.

The project team piloted the survey with Bodleian and Cambridge staff in February 2018, and it was formerly opened to Bodleian users at the end of February 2018. We anticipate opening it to Cambridge users in April 2018.


DLF: The Next Phase

The substantive work on data collection will be completed by the end of April 2018 in accordance with the project plan. Spring and summer 2018 will usher in the analysis stage of the project.

The Past, Present, and Possible Futures of Legal Deposit

Dr. Paul Gooding (Principal Investigator)

Sir Thomas Bodley casts a long shadow over the history of libraries in the United Kingdom. In 1598, with the library at Oxford University in a state of disrepair, Bodley's offer to lead its restoration was accepted. The resultant library, named in his honour, was formally re-opened in 1602. Eight years later, he created the precursor to legal deposit in the UK. His 1610 agreement with the "Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers", the body representing the UK publishing industry, permitted the Bodleian Library to claim a copy of everything printed in the UK under Royal License. This agreement, according to some, made the Bodleian our first de facto national library.

Image of Sir Thomas Bodley

It wasn't until 1662, though, that legal deposit became part of UK law. The regulations enshrined a statutory requirement that publishers submit copies of their publications to nominated repositories, to ensure that the nation's public record would be preserved. Today, books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps and music are all covered, creating a national collection so large that it's more easily measured in kilometres, and navigated by robots:



The unit of measurement for our libraries is changing again, though. Increasingly, we understand our collections in terms of terabytes, in response to an explosion in the publication of digital materials. In 2013, the UK government empowered libraries to capture these formats, enacting legislation that brought electronic publications under the umbrella of legal deposit. Libraries were required to develop new technologies, and new ways of working, to collect, curate, preserve, and make accessible the new formats. In many cases, the electronic copy is the only copy: to fail to secure it now would be to lose it forever. While legal deposit is sometimes framed as a posterity-driven activity, then, the challenges that the six UK legal deposit libraries face are immediate and shared internationally.

It's here where we, the Digital Library Futures project team, come in. We are interested not just in the regulations, but the impact they have on our institutions, working practices, staff, publishers, and users. We are working with the Bodleian Libraries, and Cambridge University Libraries, to explore these impacts at an institutional level. Our case studies will inform a wider consideration of how the needs of libraries, users and publishers can be balanced in relation to electronic legal deposit.

There are several debates that inform our thinking: the way that academic deposit libraries must balance their imperative to make collections accessible and useful with their long-term regulator responsibilities; the question of how far e-legal deposit collections can and should be used to support contemporary users; the challenges of balancing the long-term view of legal deposit provision with contemporary data-driven innovations in research, and in government; and the role of e-legal deposit materials in widening participation, while respecting the commercial interests of rights holders.

At the heart of Digital Library Futures is our desire to realign these debates towards the user perspective. Empirical research into the users of e-legal deposit, and the institutions that deliver it as a user service, has been almost ignored in comparison to regulatory, technical and strategic questions. To our knowledge, this will be the first public user-centred study of the impact of e-legal deposit. We look to the past to understand how legal deposit came to exist; we look to the present to discover the impact of the 2013 regulations on usage, and on the institutions responsible for serving users; and we look to the future to examine the long-term implications. In doing so, we aim to shed light on how national library collections will be constituted, used, and understood in the coming years and decades.

For now, welcome to the project website, where we intend to keep you updated on our progress. This is just the first blogpost in what we hope will be an informative and exciting series, including contributions from carefully chosen guests. You can also find us on twitter (@elegaldeposit). We would be delighted to hear from you, so do get in touch with me ( or Linda Berube, our Senior Research Associate ( - we look forward to hearing more from you!


Image: The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley written by himself (1894, p.13).