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The Impact of E-Legal Deposit in the Academic Sector

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Legal Deposit and the Digital Humanities: Digital Library Futures hits Mexico City!

Dr. Paul Gooding (Principal Investigator)

Now that the jetlag has worn off, I thought it time to update you all properly on the recent Digital Library Futures trip to Digital Humanities 2018. DH2018 was the latest of the annual international conference, organised by the Association of Digital Humanities Organisations, which took place in Mexico City from 26th to 29th June 2018. The conference brings together a broad audience of DH researchers, library professionals, and others in related roles, from around the world. As such it was the perfect opportunity to meet researchers affected by the legal deposit of electronic materials - otherwise known as Non-Print Legal Deposit (NPLD).

First things first, though - as the official representative of the project at DH2018, I'm pleased to confirm that a large quantity of churros were indeed consumed:

Churros and a drink in Mexico City

We presented a conference poster on Wednesday 27th June, entitled Legal Deposit Web Archives and the Digital Humanities: A Universe of Lost Opportunity? The poster introduces the ways in which non-print legal deposit regulations and digital scholarship in the humanities interact, focusing on the case study of the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive (UKLDWA). We focused on two key issues: first, how the framing of the regulations affects usage among scholars; and second, what effect the restrictions on reuse of NPLD materials might have upon DH researchers and in particular the emerging culture of DH/Library collaboration models in the form of Library Labs. 

The question, of course, is not simply whether access and usage arrangements for NPLD materials are sufficient to supprt work in the Digital Humanities: even at this stage of our analysis, it is clear that the regulations constrain usage. The portability of data is essential for DH scholars (Winters, 2017, p.246), and is made impossible by current legal deposit regulations. Similarly the usage statistics for the UK Web Archive confirm the following comment from one of our interviewees: "very few people are sitting down and... doing a piece of academic research with it." Limitations on access and usage ensure that very few people currently use the UKLDWA, while barriers for text and data mining challenge the ways in which DH researchers and libraries are increasingly collaborating to secure research datasets.

This said, the unique role of legal deposit in preserving in-copyright materials requires us to carefully consider not only usage, but to pose difficult questions that address the very concept of what legal deposit does, and how it is theorised, in the digital age. Constraints around usage are only problematic if the purpose of legal deposit assumes a paradigm built around contemporary research. We will therefore be trying to unpack some of the followng questions in the coming months: do we need to reconsider the conceptual framework of legal deposit in light of the differing affordances of the born-digital record? Or do we need to consider alternative ways of providing born-digital materials that don't interfere with this carefully constructed framework? And, given the posterity-driven objectives of legal deposit, what does success even look like when we frame the debate in terms of usage? 

The poster is available for posterity on the Open Science platform, Zenodo - please do check it out! If you're interested in any of the issues raised here, then please do get in touch. Keep an eye out for future updates from the project - for the rest of the summer we'll be hard at work analysing our datasets with the intention of addressing these questions, among others.

For those unfamiliar with DH2018, this conference was the first AHDO conference to take place in the Global South, and this undoubtedly shaped the nature of the debates that occured. I was particularly struck by the theme of social justice and archives, and the ways in which the global information economy shapes our national and local contexts in terms of access to digital resources. I also noted the calls for more representation of voices from the Library and Archival communities in work on digital libraries and archives. This point is something we hope to address in our forthcoming edited volume, which I am co-editing with Melissa Terras. Entitled Electronic Legal Deposit: Shaping the Library Collections of the Future, the book will represent perspectives from historians, library and archival professionals, digital preservation experts, and beyond, to explore the unique ways in which NPLD converges with digital materials in a broader sense. More on that soon, but in the meantime please think of us while we slave away over these datasets all summer!

References:

Gooding, P., Terras, M. and Berube, L. (2018) ‘Legal Deposit Web Archives and the Digital Humanities: A Universe of Lost Opportunity?’, in. Digital Humanities 2018, Mexico City. doi: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1300011.

Winters, J. (2017) ‘Coda: Web Archives for Humanities Research - Some Reflections’, in The Web as History. London: UCL Press, pp. 238–248.