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The Impact of E-Legal Deposit in the Academic Sector


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.