What are they?
When you publish a book you are usually required to send a copy (or number of copies) to your national library/repository. The rules on this vary between countries. Wikipedia provide a helpful list of legal deposit rules per country, here.
Below are instructions for the UK.
Technically, you’re legally obliged to send a free copy of your print book to the British Library within one month of publication. The address is:
Legal Deposit Office
The British Library
It’s a common misconception that you only need to do this if you purchased an ISBN. In fact, simply printing your book and making it available to the public is enough to activate the legal requirement. In reality, there are thousands of self-publishers ignoring this rule and I’ve never heard of any of them suffering the slightest consequence.
If you’re publishing via an all-in-one package provider, they usually deal with legal deposits for you but do check this.
If publishing with Lulu, CreateSpace or another similar company then the situation is complicated. Legal deposits are usually the publisher’s, not the author’s, responsibility. Technically, the publisher is CreateSpace/Lulu. However, in a case like this, The British Library requests that the author themselves send a print copy of their work, along with their address so that a receipt can be issued. It doesn’t matter that CreateSpace/Lulu is the publisher of record or that their headquarters are in the United States. In a recent email, The British Library confirmed with me that books published in this way still fell ‘within the criteria of the Copyright Act of 2003, which basically states that anything that is distributed in the UK, regardless of where it is published/printed, is liable for deposit.’
In addition to the British Library, there are a number of other legal deposit libraries including Oxford’s Bodleian, Cambridge’s University Library and one each for Scotland, Ireland and Wales. You’re not legally required to send these a copy of your book unless requested to do so. This is unlikely to happen unless you really hit the big time!
To find out more about legal deposits in the UK, go to http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/legaldeposit/printedpubs/
The British Library only needs your work in one format and currently prefers that to be print. Therefore, if you’ve already sent a copy of your print book, you don’t have to provide an eBook as well.
If you’re only producing an eBook then, technically, they will require a copy of it. However, according to their website, they’re the ones who’ll get in touch with you to discuss transfer. This gives you the green light to basically sit tight and do nothing. In the unlikely event they do contact you, you must, of course, comply. For further information, visit: http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/legaldeposit/websites/elecpubs/
Next time: The Three Routes to Print Book Production