Emerging Formats

A hand holding a phone

UK digital publications are innovative, diverse and exciting. This project builds our ability to collect publications designed for mobile devices that respond to reader interaction or are structured as databases.

Published date:

The purpose of the project

The term 'emerging formats' refers to types of publication that are in scope to collect under the UK’s Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations, but whose content and structure are more challenging compared to those currently collected.

Working with the UK legal deposit libraries, the British Library needs to build its knowledge and capability before it can collect these publications and make them available onsite to readers.

This project focuses on three emerging formats

The Emerging Formats project is focused on three format types:

  • eBook mobile apps
  • web-based interactive narratives
  • structured data.

These format types are ones that we interact with on a regular basis, but pose challenges to support within a library context.

eBook mobile apps

eBooks created for mobile devices take advantage of the functionality of mobile technology. They cover many genres of writing, from horror and science fiction to documentary and memoir. They are accessed through a web browser or delivered as a stand-alone app. These publications commonly respond to environmental information gathered by the viewing device (e.g. an iPad). This is triggered by a reader engaging with content using a touchscreen, internal gyroscope, or camera. This relationship between content and device also means that these works are dependent on specific hardware, software and operating systems to provide access.

Web-based interactive narratives

Similar to some eBook apps, interactive narratives commonly ask the reader to make decisions as the text unfolds and influence how the narrative develops. This format is largely made up of works of fiction, but also consists of other genres as well as publications for training purposes. The British Library is focusing on web-based interactive narratives, and will test how well it can collect these publications using web archiving solutions.

Dedicated special collections were built in the UK Web Archive:

Structured data

Databases are used to provide information that previously would have been available in a printed publication. Examples include directories as well as publications of statistics or current affairs. These publications include the data itself as well as interfaces that are needed to organise and access the data.

For these three formats, the British Library needs to:

  • understand how the UK digital publishing landscape is evolving
  • gain a better understanding of existing publications
  • anticipate emerging trends and what methods could standardise.

Challenges for the project

For long-term collection management, the Library needs to identify, securely collect, preserve, and describe each publication. These works also need to be made discoverable and accessible in Reading Rooms across the legal deposit libraries. The challenges presented by these types of publication are not unique to these libraries, but organisations worldwide, as digital publications will increasingly be produced and acquired at a rate and complexity that are yet to be fully understood. A large part of Emerging Formats involves identifying where the project has common challenges with other collecting organisations in the UK and abroad.

Emerging Formats develops our ability to build, curate, and preserve the UK’s national collection of published digital content under legal deposit.


Pyke, T. “Quality Assurance in the New Media Writing Prize Collection” PhD Placement Research Report (2021)

Clark, L., Rossi, G.C., Wisdom , S. “Archiving Interactive Narratives at the British Library” Proceedings of ICIDS 2020: International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (October 2020)

Clark, L., “Archiving Interactive Narrative: UK Tools Usage (1.1)” Post-doc Placement Research Report (2020)

Clark, L., “Archiving Interactive Narrative: Technical Report (1.3)” Post-doc Placement Research Report (2020)

Tope, A., Kayukala, M. “Bunnyfoot British Library Emerging Formats Report” User Experience Report (March 2019)

Smith, C. and Cooke, I. “Emerging Formats: Complex Digital Media and its Impact on the UK Legal Deposit Libraries.” Alexandria: The Journal of National and International Library and Information Issues. August 2018.

Day, M., Pennock, M., Smith, C., Jenkins, J., and Cooke, I. “Preservation Planning for Emerging Formats at the British Library,” Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres) (September 2018).


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Case studies

…Working with the British Library has enabled me to get my research out there beyond academia.…

How smartphones are changing storytelling: Alastair Horne, PhD student.

…I have particularly enjoyed developing new knowledge of the Library’s web archiving work.…

Exploring the challenges and opportunities of collecting interactive web-based works.