Tuesday 31 January 2012

The Legal Deposit Libraries – curse or blessing

At first glance these seem a bit of a bugbear. Publishers have to absolutely by law deposit one copy of every book they produce with the British Library. That isn’t the rather grand building in London, but a little obscure office somewhere you probably wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. The other Legal Deposit libraries, the Bodleian of the University of Oxford, Cambridge University Library, The National Library of Scotland, The Library of Trinity College, Dublin and The National Library of Wales are entitled to request copies. The big publishers tend to send copies as a matter of course. Smaller indie publishers rather hope the libraries don’t ask – though comfort themselves if they are asked by telling themselves they must be getting important. It all costs money and eats into the scant profits.
You would think that if you send five books to the collecting agent one book would then be passed on to each library. Oh no. It’s all done alphabetically. Depending on where you are in the alphabet, your books go to one particular library. And there they sit, piled up in a room where it’s almost impossible to move, let alone find books, it would seem.
It seems such a waste.  Why can’t they be content with electronic copies? Incidentally, there is no depositing of e-books, though if they have an ISBN a record that they exist should be made known to Nielsen.

But here’s an interesting thing. We’d do well to remember the Doomsdays Books. The first one can still be read. The second more modern one, produced on BBC computer, is lost forever.

The physical book will probably endure. If a disaster happens, and all of our technology is wiped out, those books, tightly packed as they are so that they protect each other, will still be there. People will still be able to read or will find the books interesting enough that they will relearn. It may not be that dramatic. If we haven’t learnt by the BBC’s disregard for history (they lost episodes of Doctor Who for goodness sake) it may simply be that in the future we do not have the technology to read them.  

Recently the Legal Deposit libraries’ agent has requested two of our titles. They are both anthologies of short stories and were also produced for Kindle just before Christmas. Is this because we are worth preserving? We hope so: it costs us £20 a time to deposit these books.