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The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

3.5 Legal deposit

Legal deposit refers to the statutory requirement that publishers of books, newspapers, magazines, maps, sheet music and a number of other printed products in the United Kingdom should deliver a free copy of each such publication to the British Library and, on request, to each or all of five other major libraries. Only printed materials are covered, although a few floppy discs, for example, have been acquired by deposit when enclosed in and supplied with printed texts, as is sometimes the case with computer magazines or computer-related textbooks. Presumably the CDs distributed with some music magazines are also acquired, but as far as is known no special treatment is given to these associated electronic materials by the libraries in which they are deposited, and the works with which they are associated are treated as normal printed works. What used to be called non- book materials, such as films, microforms, videotapes, recorded sound, computer programs or text in electronic form are not required to be deposited, but some, such as sound recordings on vinyl, tape or Compact Disc, are collected on a basis of voluntary agreements with the manufacturers.

The reasons for legal deposit (which originated partly as a means of controlling the printing of unlicensed material, and was related to copyright) are not implicit in the legislation, but are generally assumed nowadays to include the preservation of material for present and future scholarly use. It being impossible to predict the interests of scholars yet unborn, everything acquired by deposit is in principle kept for ever. Although the law does not prescribe the uses that can be made of deposited material, the usual practice in the United Kingdom (unlike some other countries) is that it is kept for reference only, and not lent out, since lending would risk its loss.

When virtually all publication was as print on paper, the present system of legal deposit was adequate for the creation and preservation of a comprehensive scholarly and cultural resource. The recent appearance and rapid growth of publication in electronic forms means that the system is no longer adequate. If collection of the products of scholarship and creative imagination is to be continued, additional means must be developed and installed. Failure to implement some system for capturing and preserving electronic publications will inevitably result in increasing unavailability of the archive.

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