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For printed material, Cambridge University Library and four of the remaining Legal Deposit libraries may claim copies of material up to one year after publication and publishers are required to deposit within one month of receiving such a request. For over a century, the five libraries covered by this part of the 1911 Act have co-operated by jointly funding an Agency, known as the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries. This Agency, based in Edinburgh following its relocation from London in March 2009, is where material is received and recorded before being sent on to the libraries in regular deliveries, and where material that has not been deposited is claimed from the publishers. The British Library’s rights under legal deposit legislation are slightly different from those of the other legal deposit libraries: publishers are required to deposit a copy of the best edition of their publications with the British Library within one month of publication.

Around 85,000 monographs are currently received by Cambridge University Library under legal deposit each year. In addition about 33,000 serial titles are deposited, representing over 100,000 issues a year. Following the extension of legal deposit to electronic publications, the printed intake of the Library will decline and electronic deposit will increase as publishers are not required to deposit in both formats. The legal deposit collections form one of the cornerstones of this Library’s strengths and a major duty is to ensure the widest possible coverage of material beneficial to its users, both present and future, working in close cooperation with the other libraries as well as with the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.

There are some exemptions from the legal deposit regulations: publishers do not need to deposit reprints of publications unless they include major changes; some publications published only for members of a society with restricted access are also excluded. Coverage by the libraries can never be total, as smaller publishers of local material cannot always be easily identified and may not be aware of the legal deposit system.

Practical implications for readers

The likelihood that an item published in the United Kingdom or Ireland has been received by the Library is very high. However, the amount of printed material received means that there are inevitably delays in processing it. Material judged likely to be in demand is accorded a high priority for cataloguing, and readers are encouraged to check the catalogue before requesting assistance from staff. However, items that have been received but not yet catalogued can be retrieved and either made available in a reading room or processed quickly if readers need them. If the item has not been received, it can be recommended for claim via the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries or for purchase. Staff in the main Reading Room will help with any of these enquiries.