People are struggling to access a treasure trove of the UK’s modern digital archives due to physical, technological and legal barriers, academics have warned in a White Paper.

The paper says that unless regulations are changed to take account of user needs in the fast-paced modern world then this priceless national digital resource could become obsolete for future generations.

By law since 1662 in England, and from 1710 throughout Britain, a group of legal deposit libraries have been entitled to receive a copy of every book, map, sheet music, newspaper, magazine or journal that is published. In 2013, this system evolved and was expanded to digital form – including blogs, e-books, e-journals and the entire UK web domain.

This has allowed, for example, UK-based websites to be preserved for posterity with regular snapshots and updates taken so future historians can track how webpages evolved over time.

These regulations – now covering both print and electronic materials – have ensured our nation’s publications, our intellectual and cultural history, and our national life, are collected and preserved for future generations.

Ironically, under the terms of current legislation based on access to the original printed formats, this digital treasure trove can only be accessed by visiting the reading rooms of the copyright libraries, despite its electronic form.

Now in the first research on this topic, a team led by the University of Glasgow have today published their Digital Library Futures White Paper, looking at how to make the nation’s e- publishing memory more usable in today’s digital universe.

The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, researched how e-legal deposits affected the UK academics institutions tasked with enacting the regulations and their users.

The paper says: “Access protocols for NPLD (Non-Print Legal Deposits) fail to support information seeking behaviour and user needs in respect of digital library collections. Users increasingly rely upon personal devices and specialist software, and remote access to materials, whereas NPLD was designed to mirror access to print legal deposit collections.”

Dr Paul Gooding, a Lecturer in Information Studies at the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts, led the Digital Library Futures research, said: “For deposit libraries they now have access to digital collections in unprecedented depth and breadth. However, we want to see the nation’s digital memory more usable for the public, scholars and future generations.

“All this digital material is being preserved, but it’s not really being accessed and the way it’s being accessed doesn’t work for users. Obviously, we’re not in charge of changing the regulations, but we’re hoping our recommendations will help to make the non-print legal deposit collections more usable, and more in line with people’s expectations for digital content.

“We need to address the tension between a regulatory framework designed around paper and printed collections with long-term preservation in mind and developments in our society and academia which have made digital library collections a vital and vibrant source of knowledge.”


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