How your book becomes part of history with legal deposit

Legal DepositIf your book has been assigned an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), then once it’s been published and registered with Nielsen, which supplies ISBNs in the UK and has a database used by bookshops and libraries across the globe, you are required to carry out a key piece of admin, which is also bound by law. While this might sound as exciting as mopping the floor on a Saturday night, by getting it ticked off your list you’ll be taking part in a piece of UK history that stretches back more than four hundred years. It is called legal deposit, and it requires publishers to provide a copy, free of charge, of every work they publish in the UK to the British Library. Read on to find out how this law came into being, what you need to do once your book has been published, and the benefits to you.

Where it all began

Back in the late 1500s, Sir Thomas Bodley, an English diplomat and scholar who lectured on Ancient Greece at Oxford University, re-founded the library there at his own expense after it had been stripped and then abandoned during the Reformation. The library was later named the Bodleian Library in his honour. In 1610, Sir Bodley obtained a permit for his library to claim a copy of everything printed by royal license, in effect making it the first library of legal deposit in the British Isles. In 1662, the concept of submitting a copy of a published book to a national library became enshrined in law.

Legal deposit today

These days, the British Library has taken over the Bodleian as the main library where books are collected, stored and catalogued. However, there is a chain of five other UK legal deposit libraries that also hold the right to request your book. Once they do this, you are obliged to provide them with a free copy, too. The other five libraries are:

The National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

The Bodleian Library, Oxford

The University Library, Cambridge

The Library of Trinity College, Dublin

The benefits

One of the main reasons behind legal deposit is to preserve published works for future generations. So, in years to come, perhaps when the word Amazon only conjures up an image of the rainforest and technology has allowed new novels to be directly downloaded into people’s brains (perish the thought), someone could still visit the British Library and access a physical copy of your book. Now, that’s kind of a thrilling thought. The novel or nonfiction book you penned in your bedroom, garden shed or while sitting in a café has now become part of the nation’s heritage. And, in the unlikely event that the print-ready files for your book become lost and you no longer possess a copy, you can always make a trip to the British Library to find it yourself. This means you won’t have to desperately trawl around your local bookshops before turning to the Yellow Pages, as the poor old writer J.R. Hartley did in the classic 1980s TV ad, while searching for his long since published book Fly Fishing.

What you need to do

If you’re working with an independent publisher, then they should be able to either handle this process for you or advise you on what to do. The copy to the British Library needs to be sent off within one month of publication. I advise those publishing with Wrate’s Publishing to reserve six copies of their paperback from the outset, to be sent off to all the libraries in one go. If you don’t do this, you might find yourself scrabbling around for copies if and when the other libraries put their requests in, which they all too often do. Luckily, you only have to send the books off to two addresses, one office that handles legal deposit for the British Library and another dealing with the five others. Finally, don’t worry if you’ve only published an eBook, as the British Library now has a system for cataloguing digital publications.

I hope that I’ve helped to clear up any questions you may have had about legal deposit and made you realise that this is one bit of admin that isn’t so boring. Do contact me if you have any questions or would like to find out more about the editing and publishing services I offer.




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    Merry Go Round was published under my real name, Sarah Toll, by Wrate's Editing Services in November 2020.
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