The other week I received a letter from the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries (ALDL), based in Edinburgh, to send them five copies of The Sleeping Angel which they will then distribute to the Bodleian Library Oxford University, The Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales and Trinity College Dublin. The British Library is also entitled to a copy but for some reason ALDL don’t handle their claims. I sent them one anyway, not wanting them to feel left out ;).
According to the British Library website, Legal Deposit has existed in British Law since 1662, so from the reign of Charles II. I don’t know what the punishment is for non-compliance but probably being locked up in the Tower of London or a public beheading for repeated offences.
In Oxford, Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613) rescued the university library after it had fallen into a state of decline. Apparently he married a rich widow whose husband had made a fortune from trading in pilchards and he used the money to, in his own words, “set up my staff at the library door in Oxon.” A wonderful example, I think, of the interface between commerce and culture!
In 1610 he entered into an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London under which a copy of every book published in England and registered at Stationers’ Hall would be deposited in the new library.
It’s very exciting to think of my modest literary offerings being housed in the Bodleian Library and other Legal Deposit Libraries. In Oxford miles of book stacks extend under the ground. My books are probably housed off-site in their storage facility in Swindon, but still :).
However, the only reason the ALDL knows I exist is because I purchased my ISBNs from Nielsen (the British equivalent of Bowker.) Nowadays anyone can publish a book in digital or paperback format and you don’t need to buy an ISBN like I did. Createspace will issue you one automatically and free of charge. The Legal Deposit Law has not kept pace with the revolution in indie publishing and is starting to look rather antiquated.