Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the National Library of Wales


  1.  This evidence is submitted by the National Library of Wales to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in response to an invitation from the Committee secretariat (21 January 2004).


  2.  The National Library of Wales is located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion. It is an Assembly Sponsored Public Body and receives the bulk of its funds from the Welsh Assembly Government. It is one of the five legal deposit libraries (LDLs) in the United Kingdom. It has the right to claim one copy, free of charge, of every printed item published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

  Under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (and secondary legislation yet to be introduced) it will also have the right to claim cognate material in non-print formats, including electronic.

  3.  The National Library's mission is "to collect, preserve and give access to recorded knowledge, in all documentary forms, with an especial emphasis on the intellectual record of Wales, for the benefit of all engaged in research and learning, or with other information needs". Researchers form a very significant proportion—up to 60%—of those using our Reading Rooms (we also have an increasing number of visitors who are not necessarily studying items from the collections).

  4.  As well as being a library the National Library is Wales's chief archive repository, it holds substantial collections of graphic materials of all kinds, and it houses the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.


  5.  What follows concentrates strongly on the fourth of the questions posed by the Committee in its invitation to give evidence:

    "How effectively are the Legal Deposit Libraries making available non-print scientific publications to the research community, and what steps should they be taking in this respect?"

  6.  We are not submitting detailed evidence on the other four questions. This is partly because they are of wider range and not specifically directed at libraries such as the National Library of Wales, but chiefly because we would tend to concur with the evidence submitted jointly by the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL). The National Library is an active member of both of these representative bodies.


  7.  Until very recently the scope of "legal deposit" was restricted to material published in print form only. The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 extended its scope to non-print material, including that in electronic formats. It is expected that a series of regulations will be introduced under the Act over a period of years, giving effect to the legislation format by format.

  8.  Among this new, electronic material will be periodicals and other material of direct relevance to scientific researchers—provided they are published in the United Kingdom or Ireland (there may be more uncertainty about "place of publication" than in the case of printed publications).

  9.  One of the most obvious benefits of a unit of digital information is that it is swiftly and cheaply transportable by electronic networks to users, wherever they might be. It is clear that this benefit will not be realised under the new legal deposit regime. This is because the Act and its Regulations will prohibit the networking of legal deposit material outside the walls of the LDLs themselves. (This is a particularly severe restriction in the case of the National Library of Wales because of its remote geographical location.)

  It will be necessary for the researcher to travel physically to the legal deposit library to consult the material.

  10.  The researcher, however, increasingly expects scientific information to be available virtually immediately, and to the desktop. This is clear, for example, from the user studies conducted as part of the work of the Research Support Libraries Group[270].

  11.  In the case of scientific researchers, therefore (except for the lucky few within very easy reach of an LDL), the value of the LDLs' collecting electronic material through legal deposit is likely to lie in their duty to preserve that material into the future.

  12.  In an age when most research libraries, even large university libraries, place much less emphasis than in the past on future use than on present use, and when only a few institutions will have the financial and human resources to preserve digital material, the LDLs are likely to have a crucial role to play in this area.

  13.  It is essential, in our view, that an effective electronic legal deposit system is put in place as soon as practicable, so that valuable research material is not irretrievably lost. This will require:

    (1)  a speedy programme of regulations to give effect to the new Act;

    (2)  the introduction and maintenance of technical and administrative systems within the LDLs to manage the regime;

    (3)  the rapid development and planning of the "secure network" that will enable deposited material to be shared by the five LDLs;

    (4)  adequate funding for the LDLs to carry out their responsibilities.

  The responsibility for achieving this aim must be shared: by the UK Government, working with the statutory Advisory Panel created by the new Act, on which the LDLs and the publishers will be represented (Requirement 1), by the LDLs themselves (Requirements 2 and 3), and by the funding administrations: the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in England, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales (Requirement 4).

  14.  One of the critical areas in this activity is that of digital preservation. The National Library is working, alone and in combination with other institutions, towards practical methods of ensuring the continued availability of digital publications to future generations. Although the costs of this are not fully known, they will be substantial.


  15.  All the LDLs also acquire research material by means other than legal deposit: mainly by purchase or subscription, but also by donation, deposit and exchange.

  In the case of the National Library of Wales this extra-legal deposit material is selected according to the terms of the Library's Collection development policy (2003). Partly because of historical patterns of collecting and of use, and partly because of the sums of money available for purchasing for the collections, the Library concentrates on buying material in the humanities and the social sciences rather than in science, engineering and medicine.

  16.  The annual budget available to the Library to purchase material is very limited. In 2004-05 it will amount to no more than £711,000 (£611,000 in Grant-in-Aid from the National Assembly, supplemented by £100,000 from other sources). This sum must suffice to buy items for all the collections: not only research publications but also manuscripts, archives, art works, photographs and the other materials.

  17.  Among the purchases—many of them are licences rather than outright purchases—are many electronic sources. They include generic resources, such as indexes and abstracts, but little material that is directly scientific or technical in nature. All these items are retrievable via the online catalogue, but are at present available for use within the Library building only.

  18.  The Library is currently considering introducing offering networked access to some of these resources, probably in most cases to registered readers of the Library only. This is likely, however, to increase the cost of taking out licences.

  19.  We are also exploring the possibility of purchasing electronic publications for networking in collaboration with other Welsh libraries, in order to reduce the overall costs.

  20.  The prospects of the Library making a substantial improvement in its provision of networked information resources depend on the answers to a number of questions:

    —  would such an extension of provision and access offer real and substantial benefits to those in Wales in search of research information?

    —  how would such provision relate to similar provision by other libraries (eg in universities or the health service) to their user groups?

    —  would additional finance be available to the Library to fund an extended provision?


  21.  In all of these areas the National Library is an active collaborator in a number of partnerships, alliances and joint projects in the UK. This is because we see sharing the responsibility of researching and developing new systems in this field as essential. Among these are:

    —  the Legal Deposit Libraries Committee;

    —  the Digital Preservation Coalition;

    —  the Research Libraries Network (to start work in 2004).


  22.  The National Library of Wales has two rather separate roles in "making available non-print scientific publications to the research community":

    —  collecting, preserving and ensuring the continuing availability (within the Library) of such material, on the basis of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, and in collaboration with the other LDLs.

    —  offering access, within the Library and (possibly) increasingly to Library readers via the internet, other such material of value to the Library's users.

  Both of these are mainly functions for the future. The extent to which they can be realised depends not only on the LDLs themselves, but also on the availability of adequate resources, especially from government.

February 2004

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