Digital Gov

Library of Congress to collect every e-book

The Library of Congress in Washington. Shutterstock ID: 269901899 By Sean Pavone 

The main reading room at the Library of Congress. (Photo credit: Sean Pavone /

The world’s largest collection of literature is expanding into e-books.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking to be published April 16, the Library of Congress will begin including published e-books under its mandatory deposit rule, but only on a by-request basis.

Mandatory deposit requires publishers to submit two copies of the work’s "best edition" — the edition determined by the Library to be most suitable for its purposes — within three months of publication.

Previously, the mandatory deposit rule specifically excluded electronic-only works from the collection of copyrightable works.

The motivation for changing the rule was simple, said Cindy Abramson, assistant general counsel at the Library of Congress: to update the Library’s definition — and collection — of books to match an increasingly digital environment.

"More and more authors and publishers are creating electronic-only books and not putting them in physical format," Abramson said. "And the quality and content of those books is such that the Library would like to maintain copies of them and offer them to its users."

However, even if the final rule is approved, one key difference will remain in place: Unlike print books, which must affirmatively submit two copies within three months of publication, e-books are subject to the rule only if demanded by the library.

The rule covers anyone, even self-publishers, who distributes published works within the United States. By the legal standard, a book is considered “published” if it’s distributed by sale, rental, lease or other transfer of ownership.

Other digital-only publications — such as podcasts, audiobooks, serials, computer programs, websites, blogs, social media posts and emails — are not subject to this rule.

As it stands, electronic-only serials, which include periodicals, newspapers and journals, are already subject to the mandatory deposit by demand requirements.

A 45-day public comment period follows the publication of the notice before the library issues a final rule.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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