By Arlene Whetter
Along with highly visible improvements to its public website and research tools, LAC is making changes behind the scenes to how it adds new digital publications to its library collection. One example is our new submission methods for digital legal deposit. Legal deposit is the way that we build our library collection of published materials. Federal laws in place since 1953 require Canadian publishers to send copies of every publication to the national library. Over the years, the law has changed to include not only printed books but also new formats entering the publishing landscape. Digital publications have been subject to legal deposit since 2007.
No one is ever surprised to hear that the growth in the number of digital publications submitted for legal deposit since 2007 has been extraordinary. Not only is almost every trade publication now available in both print and digital versions, but the number of self-publishers submitting materials for legal deposit has grown exponentially as well. The ease of online publishing and distribution via self-publishing platforms, such as Amazon, allows many more Canadians to join the ranks of published authors. To cope with the influx, we’ve developed more efficient ways to collect and process digital publications.
Our new submission methods
In December 2021, LAC launched new online forms for low-volume submissions of digital publications, such as those from self-publishers who may have only a few books to submit. We’ll soon launch a new way for large commercial publishers to submit publications in high volumes, with hundreds of titles in a single submission. The new methods are convenient for publishers, and they allow us to acquire and catalogue the publications more quickly. The short-term impact for Canadians is that LAC can acquire more digital publications and provide timely access to them. The long-term impact is that we preserve more of Canada’s digital publishing heritage for the generations to come. We offer two types of public access: open or restricted. Access to trade publications and publications for sale is always restricted. These publications can be viewed onsite at LAC for research purposes.
To reach our goal of acquiring and providing access to more digital publications, we took a two-pronged approach. We needed to revise the submission methods and data requirements for publishers, and we needed to revise the internal processing methods for LAC staff. Our old methods, from publishers’ perspective, were simple: they transferred the files to us, either through bulk file transfer or by attaching files to a short online form. We did not request additional data such as lists of titles, author names, and ISBNs, because our systems were not set up to automatically transfer this data to our own records. After receiving the files, LAC staff would manually type all of the data into our library catalogue. We decided to develop new workflows that would take advantage of publisher-supplied data to give us a head start with catalogue records and reduce internal processing times.
Different methods for different publishers
We knew from the start of our planning process that a one-size-fits-all submission method would not work for Canadian publishers. We acquire digital publications from self-publishers, from associations, from government bodies, and of course from large commercial publishers and producers. Each type of publisher has specific needs. For example, commercial publishers create records about their publications in the form of ONIX data, the industry standard used to share information between publishers and booksellers. Since commercial publishers already have this rich source of data, it makes sense for LAC to build a workflow that can accept ONIX data and use it to create the first draft of a library catalogue record. We’re currently in the midst of the final testing for this workflow. We plan to launch it with trade publishers in 2023.
Another submission method is the one we’ve already launched for self-publishers, associations, and smaller publishers who typically do not use ONIX data. Since the efficiency of our new workflows depends on the receipt of additional data from publishers along with their publication files, we needed to develop a way for these publishers to provide the data via forms on our website. Filling in forms for every title is more time-consuming for publishers than our previous method. As a result, we thoroughly assessed our decisions at every step in the design process, looking for a happy medium that would not place a burden on publishers but would still allow us to create efficient workflows.
We set up quality control functionality in the forms where possible, using drop-down boxes and rules to highlight data entry errors. We included instructions and examples that explain what information to include and how to format it. Once we had prototype forms ready for testing, we sent them out to variety of publishers and received a lot of useful feedback, which we incorporated before launching the forms last year.
Striking a balance
In the early stages of the project, we researched the methods used for digital legal deposit at every other national library we could find. We contacted many international librarians to find out more and to learn how, with hindsight, they might have done things differently. We found ideas to inspire us and gained confidence in our planned approaches. The British Library shared the data specifications for its ONIX workflow, which have been very helpful as a foundation for our own workflow.
In general, other national libraries use a variety of approaches. At one end of the spectrum, we found some that accept files without any data as we did with our previous workflow. At the other end, we found libraries with deposit requirements sufficiently complex that private companies have built niche businesses to help publishers meet their legal deposit obligations. At LAC, we set out to strike a balance between these two approaches.
The introduction of these new digital legal deposit workflows at LAC is a big improvement behind the scenes. There is no doubt that we are now more efficient. In addition, we are able to acquire and provide access to more digital material than before. We continuously monitor how publishers are using the forms and make improvements based on our experience and publisher feedback. We’re always happy to hear from publishers and encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arlene Whetter is the supervisor of the Digital Legal Deposit team at Library and Archives Canada.