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Introduction to legal deposit

Legal deposit has existed in English law since 1662. It helps to ensure that the nation’s published output (and thereby its intellectual record and future published heritage) is collected systematically, to preserve the material for the use of future generations and to make it available for readers within the designated legal deposit libraries.

By law, a copy of every UK print publication must be given to the British Library by its publishers, and to five other major libraries that request it. This system is called legal deposit and has been a part of English law since 1662.

From 6 April 2013, legal deposit also covers material published digitally and online, so that the Legal Deposit Libraries can provide a national archive of the UK’s non-print published material, such as websites, blogs, e-journals and CD-ROMs.

The Legal Deposit Libraries are:

  • the British Library,
  • the National Library of Scotland,
  • the National Library of Wales,
  • the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford,
  • the University Library, Cambridge,  and
  • the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

The legal deposit system also has benefits for authors and publishers:

  • Deposited publications are made available to users of the deposit libraries on their premises, are preserved for the benefit of future generations, and become part of the nation’s heritage.
  • Publications are recorded in the online catalogues, and become an essential research resource for generations to come.
  • Most of the books and new serial titles are listed in the British National Bibliography (BNB), which is used by librarians and the book trade for stock selection; the BNB is available on CD-ROM in MARC exchange formats, and has a world-wide distribution.
  • Publishers have at times approached the deposit libraries for copies of their own publications which they no longer have but which have been preserved through legal deposit.
  • Legal deposit supports a cycle of knowledge, whereby deposited works provide inspiration and source material for new books that will eventually achieve publication.

Frequently Asked Questions

What material is deposited?

Materials covered by legal deposit include printed books, journals, magazines and newspapers, microfilm, publications on hand-held media such as CD-ROMs, websites and material available via download.

Printed publications and works on hand held media such as CD-ROMs must be deposited at the British Library within a month of publication; other Legal Deposit Libraries are also entitled to copies if requested within 12 months of the date of publication.

Legal Deposit Libraries will copy UK-published material from the internet, including freely accessible material on the open web. They are also entitled to harvest copies of password-protected or paid-for material, but are putting alternative arrangements in place for any publisher who prefers to deliver such material to them instead.

For additional detail, see:

How will material be accessed?

Materials collected through legal deposit, including archived websites, are accessible on-site at the Legal Deposit Libraries – usually in the reading room facility of each institution.

A deposited electronic publication may only be displayed at one computer at a time on the premises of each Legal Deposit Library, in compliance with the 2013 Regulations.

For additional detail, see: User Access to deposited websites and electronic publications

What content is available now?

Each Legal Deposit Library has a substantial collection of books, journals and other printed publications, available for consultation within Reading Rooms. With the passing into law of the 2013 Regulations, the Legal Deposit Libraries will be able to collect digital materials extensively for the first time, so the collection is expected to grow over the coming months and years.

Users will be able to access a range of electronic journal articles and other digital materials immediately. Large-scale harvesting of the UK domain websites will begin shortly, with the results of the first harvest becoming available on-site in the Legal Deposit Libraries towards the end of the year.

 
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