Digital Library Futures: The Impact of E-Legal Deposit in the Academic Sector

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Art, Media and American Studies


This research will answer the following main question: what is the impact of e-legal deposit changes upon UK academic deposit libraries and their users? The project's principal contribution will be to provide a detailed account of the impact of e-legal deposit, applied to the specific case of academic deposit libraries. Legal deposit plays a significant role in ensuring the systematic preservation of the world's published written heritage. In the UK, it provides a regulatory framework for a trusted group of national and academic libraries to collect published textual materials in print form. The 2013 introduction of electronic legal deposit incorporated digital materials for the first time, taking steps to secure the UK's "Digital Universe." Despite this expansion, legal deposit is still conceived primarily as a way to preserve collections for the long term, with restrictions on how the materials can be used by contemporary researchers. However, published research into legal deposit often focuses on its regulatory and long-term preservation aspects. There is relatively little research into how e-legal deposit has affected the UK academic institutions tasked with enacting the regulations, or indeed their users. As a result, there is a need for user-focused research which explores how legal deposit collections are accessed and used, and to what extent these collections should support contemporary research in academic libraries.

We will produce two case studies, in collaboration with two major libraries: The Bodleian Libraries, and the Cambridge University Library. We will focus on two specific groups which are directly affected by the outlined changes: academic libraries with regulatory responsibilities for legal deposit; and the academic and non-academic users of these libraries. While both groups have been the focus of discussion during the conception and implementation of e-legal deposit, this research will shed light on the wider social, cultural and institutional implications of the legislation. It will provide insights into how researchers in academia uses electronic legal deposit collections, and apply these to wider social and cultural issues including digital inclusion, information democratisation, and the role of libraries in addressing the digital divide in access to knowledge. In doing so, it will interrogate the benefits and challenges of legal deposit in the digital age, and will address the tension between a regulatory framework designed with long-term preservation in mind, and developments in academia and society which have made digital scholarship and digital inclusion vital for full participation in civic life.

The project will engage with key figures involved in policymaking, implementation and collection development, as well as including the voices of contemporary users whose information behaviour incorporates these important collections. We will produce a series of journal articles and conference papers, provide a strong online presence for non-expert audiences, and engaged with users and creators of digital resources. The research will culminate in a white paper, to be presented a public symposium, providing a forum to build momentum for further research into the use of legal deposit collections. A central aim is to provide insights into how e-legal deposit in its current form interacts with emerging trends in digital scholarship and digital inclusion, and with existing library services. The UK is one of the nations leading the way in e-legal deposit, and this research has the potential to provide a vital and timely intervention for the international community as they face similar challenges. It will contribute not only to understanding and developing digital collections for academic deposit libraries, but also to international debates on the future of libraries in the digital age.

Planned Impact

This study will benefit the following groups: the international library sector; users of academic libraries in the United Kingdom, including non-academic users who rely on academic libraries for physical and digital collections; and policymakers and strategic legal deposit role holders. They will benefit from direct involvement with the project, knowledge exchange at symposia and events, and access to project findings.

UK deposit libraries will, for the first time, have access to a robust evaluation of the impact of e-legal deposit on their institutions and users. The following institutions will benefit directly as project partners: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; and Cambridge University Library. They jointly employ around 900 FTE staff, who will gain insights into the use of their collections, and benefit from knowledge exchange with academic researchers and the international library community. They will improve their knowledge of methods for undertaking impact assessment of their collections, and strengthen communication channels with their user community. This will lead to an increased ability for academic deposit libraries to serve their users more effectively through a deeper understanding of their needs and behaviours. It will also allow them to develop outreach activities which will expand long-term access to their collections.

The international library community will benefit from the project's contribution to legal deposit best practice: they will receive access to the white paper, and a clear set of guidelines and recommendations for developing e-legal deposit collections. By addressing a hitherto neglected area of digital library practice, the project will hold global relevance for nations yet to implement similar regulations. The UK is one of few countries to implement e-legal deposit to date, and is unique among them because it involves academic libraries. This perspective will hold relevance for nations such as Sweden which are formally introducing e-legal deposit in coming years, and others such as the US and Australia which currently rely on informal agreements for electronic materials. While the scope of the project is specific and national, then, the findings have the potential to influence international debates on e-legal deposit implementation.

Internal and external users of academic libraries will also benefit. These users are not solely drawn from the academic community: the Bodleian served around 31,000 external users in person in 2014, 40% of all its readers, while the Cambridge UL recorded 235,000 unique visitors to its free digital library. Both aim to increase participation by providing free digitised collections which are actively promoted through outreach activities, and reach audiences of hundreds of thousands. This project will therefore benefit current and future users of the partners' premises and digital collections. The long-term benefits to users could include improved collection development policies, recommendations for interface development, and addressing the limitations around access to e-legal deposit materials, which will improve library collections for users and widen participation.

There are associated benefits for individuals and groups involved in formulating legal deposit regulations, either in an advisory or advocacy capacity. The project will provide a timely opportunity to reflect on the impact of the 2013 legal deposit regulations, providing evidence for future consultations that could help such individuals to help shape policy. Our plan to work with the Joint Committee for Legal Deposit through our project partners will directly benefit areas of their remit, including: evaluating the effectiveness of non-print legal deposit regulations; and assessing the regulations in practice. We have recruited a broadly experienced steering group, which has overlap with the groups outlined above and will help to secure benefits for the major stakeholder communities.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/P005845/1 01/06/2017 31/08/2018 £202,186
AH/P005845/2 Transfer AH/P005845/1 01/09/2018 31/05/2019 £96,403
Description Article for specialist library press 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I wrote an article for CILIP Update (since renamed Information Professional Magazine), the leading publication for the library and information community in the UK, with a readership of approximately 10,000. The article introduced the Digital Library Futures project, and sparked discussions, offers of involvement and requests for further information via email.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Blogpost for Digital Library Futures website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I wrote an introductory blogpost for the Digital Library Futures website, which will act as the first of a series to be published during the project. It was intended to engage a broad audience of researchers and practitioners, and to increase traffic to the website to promote the project more broadly.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018