News from the British Library

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "News from the British Library", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 38 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

News from the British Library

News from the British Library

Secure electronic delivery service

A two million pound investment in new technology will bring faster desktop access to over one hundred million items for researchers worldwide. For customers this means that almost anything from the British Library’s huge collections – whether born digital, in print or microform, can be delivered to a desktop within two hours. The Secure Electronic Delivery Service is based on Adobe Reader 6.0 software (set to become the industry standard) and Relais International scanning and delivery technology. Relais International Inc. is based in Ottawa, Canada and has been selling systems to support interlibrary loan and document delivery services since 1996 ( Since the Library launched the world’s first fully compliant secure electronic delivery service (for digital documents) in December 2002, it has succeeded in obtaining extensive agreements for secure electronic delivery with many of the world’s leading scientific publishers. Over 3,800 journal titles are available for instant electronic delivery.

The Library’s collections include over 280,000 journal titles, 50 million patents, five million reports, 476,000 US dissertations and 433,000 conference proceedings. It also houses one of the world’s best selections of US Government documents, and a collection of over 2,000 miles of microfilm. The whole collection is truly international with over 30 per cent published in the USA and 70 per cent of total stock collected from outside the UK.

The Library’s reputation for copyright compliance has enabled it to secure agreements with the world’s major publishers. It provides an electronic delivery service that matches the highest standards of security and copyright compliance and ensures that individual publisher’s guidelines are scrupulously followed. Some publishers will allow the customer to retain the electronic file and view it on a computer screen, others will not permit this. All will allow a single copy of the article to be printed but none will permit the article to be copied or forwarded to another person. Publishers know that by working with the Library they will receive timely payment of 100 per cent of copyright fees collected.

Historic change in UK Legal Deposit Law

A Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Chris Mole MP in December 2002 passed all its parliamentary hurdles and became law in the UK in late 2003 when it received royal assent. The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 extends previous legal deposit legislation passed in 1911. The Act enshrines the principle that electronic or e-publications and other non-print materials will be deposited in the future under secondary legislation. It ensures that these publications can be saved as part of the published archive and become an important resource for future generations and scholars.

The 1911 Act required publishers to deposit with the British Library a copy of all published items produced in the UK and Ireland within one month of publication. The five other legal deposit libraries have the right to claim copies of the same material within 12 months of publication. Together the six legal deposit libraries (the British Library, the National Library of Scotland and the National Library of Wales, Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Trinity College Library, Dublin) maintain a world-class national published archive, which has benefited generations of researchers from industry, academia and the general public. The existing print legal deposit arrangements have enabled the British Library alone to collect and save, in perpetuity for the nation, more than 50 million items. During 2002, the Library acquired 95,286 books, 248,686 journal issues, 1994 maps and 2,357 newspaper titles through legal deposit. Once acquired, the Library stores and catalogues these items and provides facilities for researchers to access them. In this way millions of unrelated items, which form the National Published Archive, are transformed into organised knowledge and secured for posterity.

Since 1911 the six legal deposit libraries have been able to collect copies of all printed material published in the UK. However, an increasing volume of important material had begun to be published in electronic and other non-print formats. These fell outside of the scope of the 1911 Act and were not therefore being comprehensively collected. A study in 2002 forecast a massive increase in online publications, predicting a near quadrupling (from 52,000 to 193,000) in the number of electronic journal issues published in the UK between 2002 and 2005. With the new Act, a piece of “enabling legislation”, it will be possible to establish a systematic arrangement for the collection and reservation of non-print publications. These will include CD-ROMs and non-commercial publications, and will include the selective harvesting of information from the 2.96 million Web sites which originate in the UK. The generic nature of the new law means that new formats and information carriers can be included within legal deposit, through regulations, as they emerge and become widely used.

The major categories of non-print materials include:

  • publications accessed over the Internet, e.g. electronic journals;

  • Web sites – a limited and well-defined range of sites, judged to be research level, will be regularly harvested for addition to the national archive;

  • publications on media other than paper, such as microfilm or fiche; and

  • hand-held electronic publications on media such as CD-ROM or DVD.

The types of material include: records of key events of national life; resource discovery tools; major directories; current awareness services; news sources; professional “bibles”; important local and national government documents; and conference proceedings.

A number of other nations have already addressed, or are investigating, the extension of legal deposit. In Germany, new legislation has been drafted to cover all types of material whilst a voluntary scheme to obtain online material and Web sites, in operation since March 2002, has been generally well received by publishers and users alike. In France, the government has issued a directive to ensure that the national library will collect all electronic material. Norway and Denmark have similar schemes and are actively collecting digital material in all information carriers, including Web sites. In Finland, legislation was introduced in March 2003 to extend legal deposit to Web sites (current legislation includes other electronic material) whilst in New Zealand legislation has also been enacted this year.

Amazon teams up with the British Library for dramatic category extension of rare and antiquarian titles, the UK’s leading online retailer, has announced a unique alliance with the British Library. The British Library has made available its extensive bibliographic catalogue records to for the first time, so that rare, antiquarian and pre-ISBN books can be made easier to identify and to buy online. The British Library had added details of over 2.55 million unique bibliographic records to the books catalogue, with 1.7 million of these dated before the 1970 introduction of ISBN. This is seen as advantageous, not only for customers who will benefit from the increased selection, but also for sellers. Sellers of used, specialist and antiquarian books will now be able to list a far wider selection of their titles on In addition, as the selection introduced through the British Library includes out-of-print titles, this agreement has dramatically expanded the number of titles available for third-party sellers to list against those for which does not provide a retail offering. All of these titles will be available only through’s third-party Marketplace service. Marketplace is a unique feature that allows customers to buy and sell new, used and collectable items from third-party sellers.

For further information please contact: Press and Public Relations, British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB, UK. Tel:+44(0) 20 7412 7111; Fax:+44(0) 20 7412 7168; E-mail:; URL:

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