Act to fix black hole in national memory

September 8, 2011

Helen Hockx-Yu, head of web archiving at the British Library, comments that it is "about time that the measures needed to implement rules for the legal deposit of web publications are put into place. There are websites that we haven't been able to collect that have disappeared" ("Memory failure detected", 1 September).

To ensure a national archive of digitally published material and avoid a "digital black hole" opening up in the national memory, the British Library and the UK's legal deposit libraries have been working hard to support the government's processes for delivering non-print legal deposit regulations, which we understand cannot be implemented before April 2012 at the earliest.

This is well over a year later than was planned in the winding up of the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel and nine years after the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 was passed. At the time the Act received strong cross-party support and was seen as a matter of urgency by the Scottish and Welsh governments.

The libraries have supported the government's work towards securing the regulations but ask that it now expedite this work and ensure that no further time is lost in unnecessary administrative processes or in further discussion of technical standards. This is especially in view of the fact that most of our overseas peer institutions have - according to a 2011 survey of 55 national libraries - had such legal provision for years.

Since 2004, the UK Web Archive has managed to collect a mere 0.1 per cent of UK websites through a legally mandated, manual permissions-based process. We owe it to future researchers to ensure that the "massive number of websites on the internet...are safeguarded for future scholars to explore".

Dame Lynne Brindley DBE, chief executive of the British Library; Martyn Wade, national librarian and chief executive, National Library of Scotland; Andrew Green, librarian, National Library of Wales; Anne Jarvis, university librarian, Cambridge University Library; Sarah Thomas, Bodley's librarian, The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford; Robin Adams, librarian and college archivist, Trinity College Dublin

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