British Library outside

Six libraries in the UK, including the British Library in London, will start collecting, preserving and providing long term access to the nation's digital output - including blogs, e-books and the entire UK web domain.

The other five libraries involved with the project include the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Library Dublin – all of which will have the right to receive a copy of every UK electronic publication.

Regulations coming into force on April 6, known as legal deposit, will ensure that ephemeral materials, such as websites, can be collected and preserved for hundreds of years to come.

“Legal deposits remain vitally important. Preserving and maintaining a record of everything that has been published provides a priceless resource for the researchers of today and the future,” said culture minister Ed Vaizey.

“So it’s right that these long-standing arrangements have been brought up to date for the 21st century, covering the UK’s digital publications for the first time.”

He added: “The Joint Committee on Legal Deposit has worked very successfully in creating practical policies and processes so that digital content can now be effectively archived and our academic and literary heritage preserved, in whatever form it takes.”

Access to digital materials, including archived websites, will be offered via on-site reading room facilities at each of the legal deposit libraries. The libraries admit that the initial offering will be ‘limited in scope’, but will gradually increase as their capability for managing large scale deposit, preservation and access over the coming months and years improves.

The changes in regulation to get this project underway were developed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Legal Deposit.

“Ten years ago, there was a very real danger of a black hole opening up and swallowing our digital heritage, with millions of web pages, e-publications and other non-print items falling through the cracks of a system that was devised primarily to capture ink and paper,” said Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library.

“The regulations now coming into fore make digital legal deposit a reality, and ensure that the Legal Deposit Libraries themselves are able to evolve – collecting, preserving and providing long-term access to the profusion of cultural and intellectual content appearing online or in other digital formats.”