The Sustainability of Collecting Everything (Parallel Paper)

25th May 202311:15Harbour Suite 5


In April 2023, the legal deposit libraries entitled under UK legislation (the British Library, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Library of Trinity College Dublin, and the National Library of Wales) are marking 10 years of collecting digital publications: e-books, e-journals, geo-spatial datasets, e-scores for music, and websites. To some extent, this development marked a shift in format: many publishers who previously deposited print copies with the six libraries were transitioned to submitting the e-versions into a shared digital infrastructure. But it also represented a significant increase in the overall collecting remit, particularly through web archiving. And yet, it excludes much of the intellectual and artistic creations that are released every day online, particularly games, music and videos. The 10-year anniversary of the UK legislation, therefore, invites reflection on what has been achieved, how sustainable this huge undertaking is, and how it should evolve.

The UK is one of the world’s major publishing markets, with an annual output of over 150,000 titles, and a vast historic corpus: legal deposit has been around for a long time – since 1801 in the case of Trinity College Dublin, and back to the 17th century for the Bodleian Libraries of Oxford. When the ‘Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013′ were introduced, the cost of physical storage was at the forefront of many libraries’ concerns, yet carbon footprint was not an active consideration.  

As a result of the Regulations, the six libraries have created a seventh transnational e-library on an enormous scale. Against the backdrop of the 10th anniversary, this paper proposes to focus on the economic as well as the environmental sustainability of UK legal deposit, inevitably exploring and probing its value to researchers and to wider society in the process.