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Being Keynote Lecture at the Nigerian Library Association Conference

A Preamble

I shall begin with a confession. I do not profess to be an expert in the subject of today’s discussion because I am neither tutored in the jurisprudence of book collection nor in the particular implication of book control. I am neither barrister nor certified archiver of books. As a writer, I have been less concerned with how and where my own published books end, into which library they are deposited or how they are stored. However, having been co-opted to reflect on the subject of “legal deposit and bibliographic control”, I begin to realise that this is a subject in which I have always been involved, as producer and consumer of the book industry.

In an earlier essay entitled “The book and the challenges of knowledge gap in Nigeria” I described the significance of the book as literary and intellectual product in seven symbolic orders. In discussing the subject of legal deposit and bibliographic control, it might just be appropriate to signify on the fifth order of my general definition:

5. The book is the receptacle of the wisdom and ingenuity of civilisations…; where it is absent, a nation with the history of its intelligences, is committed to forgetfulness, or rather a civilization without the evidence of a sacred text is soon condemned or diminish; the book is an important material of the HDI, the Human Development Index, the measure of a nation’s intellectual development.


Definition of Terms

“Legal deposit” is the term used to refer to both the legislation and the activity of mandatory or statutory submission of every publication by every publisher in a designated library or accredited institution in a country.

It involves an organised collation of all printed materials in an approved facility for the primary purpose of storage or safekeeping.

The facility of a legal deposit is known as a depository or repository. Although I will use these two terms interchangeably, my preference is clearly for the word “depository”. A depository can be a national, state or university library and any institutions including national archives, museums, and other national institutions so accredited for the purpose.

Such things to be deposited and which qualify as legal deposits include books, journals, magazines, gazettes, newspapers, pamphlets, postcards, maps, microfilms, architectural or regional plans, sheet music, and posters; and more recently, film, video and audio recordings on CD-ROMs, as well as other electronic materials are included as materials for depositories.

As contained in a report by Library and Archives Canada, by January 1, 2007, acquisition was extended to  “online or Internet publications as well as cartographic materials, in addition to all the formats previously subject to deposit.”[1]

The Origins of Legal Deposit

In modern history, the official collation of published materials by a state is over 470 years old, dating back to 1537 when François I of France established the concept of “Dépôt Lêgal”. Created under theOrdonnance de Montpellier”, Dépôt Lêgal was a directive to all publishers to provide a copy each of their publications to one or more repositories in the country. The purpose of the ordinance was to encourage the preservation of the published material and to use the material as a form of registration, a condition for further publication.

In Nigeria, the story of legal depository began formally in April 1950, exactly four hundred and thirteen years after the Ordinance of Montpellier. It was known as Nigeria Publication Ordinance No. 13 of 1950, later amended to Publication Act 29 of 1951, which culminated in the promulgation of the National Library Act No. 29 (section 4) of 1970.

The Dividends of Depositories

Briefly, the value and function of legal deposit can be summarised under four key points which emphasise the significance of the practice for the individual and the collective benefits of a nation.

1. Collection/Acquisition: By its very naming, Legal Deposit is the indiscriminate collection and acquisition of the available totality of a nation’s publication as provided by the publishers in the country. In collection, the depository becomes the bank of the intellectual activity of both writer and publisher.

2. Cataloguing/Archiving: It is the duty of accredited institutions for legal deposits to engage in the systematic filing and notation of acquired materials. After collection, the primary significance of a legal depository is the dual function of archiving and cataloguing. Storage

3. Access: By extension, the secondary function of the legal depository is that of access and eventual use by researchers and other visitors to the library. Most national or state libraries take on the duty of depositories, functioning invariably as reference portals to the general public.

4. Preservation: Finally, the ultimate function of the typical legal depository is that of preservation.  The depository is both the physical bank of the nation’s intellectual production and the metaphoric memory bank of a people’s cultural and scientific contributions to world civilisation. As a site of preservation, the depository or repository contains materials for both present and future generations of a nation. The typical depository is the crucial sum of a country’s national bibliography.

The Value of Depositories

Thus, legal depositories can be referred to as the corporeal collective of a nation’s cultural and scientific intelligence, the bibliographic sum of national identities, imagination and heritage.

Here then is the absolute value of depositories: in collecting, cataloguing, providing access and preserving, the depository is the official conclave of the nation’s intellectual productions, the input house where the collective output is deposited. It contributes to the immortalisation of both product and producer of the original work; it makes the publication of a directory of the country’s publishers easy, and it is the crucial point of reference when the originality or legal reference to a publication is in doubt or in need.[2]

The Process of Bibliographic Control

There is a developing bibliography on primary and secondary references to the subject of legal deposit in Nigeria. From the critical work of Adetoun Ogunsheye (1969) to more recent essays by C. O. Ola and Oseghale Osagie, and A. A. Igbashal and J. F. Tsegba, especial focus has been on the status of depository, the nature of acquisition as well as problems and prospects related to the collection of published materials.  

Writing on the procedure, implication and benefits of legal deposit, W. Fola Adio notes that published materials are collected…

by visits   to   publishers   or   delivery   by   the   publishers. New   publications   are identified by the Depository library through casual visit to the bookshops, printing and publishing houses, book stands [sic] at airports, hotels and conferences. (7)  

A. A. Osunkoya (2008), quoting J.O. Gbadamosi (2005) highlights the two steps usually taken as process or procedure of legal deposit obligation, viz (a) the issuance of claim or demand letters to publishers by the National Library, and (b) a visit, or visits to the publisher for the collection of publications (29). In their own essay, Christopher O. Ola and Oseghale Osagie addressed the dual challenges of accessibility and retrieval of information by users of Nigerian University libraries.

The Demands of Depositories

All said, if we are to summarise the demands of depositories in precise terms, these will be adequate infrastructure, including appropriate storage facility and adequate space; absolute dedication to record-keeping; special training in the preservation of flimsy or brittle materials and rare collections; and a twenty-first century awareness of advancement in information literacy which must pay adequate attention to “translational resource”, that is the digitisation of books, and the formatting and upgrading of electronic materials. Ref. My Inaugural Lecture of February 14, 2013.

Of Depositories’ dead-ends, dark sides and other dilemmas

On the problems or challenges of legal deposit and bibliographic control…

Anthony A. Igbashal and Jacob F. Tsegba (2011) have noted a number of problems confronting the work of bibliographic control among which are “slow pace in embracing ICT”, “publishers and printers non-compliance”, “lack of suitable automation software”, “weak legal deposit laws”, “poor funding of ICT projects”, and “poor format” (3-4).

To these, I will add

-underfunding or insufficient budgeting,

-the unwieldy nature of the publishing industry, the mushrooming of publishing concerns and printing presses

-the non-compliance of publishers and distributors, aided or arising from officialdom and the cost implication of delivery (esp. of bulky publications).

In another essay, A. A. Igbashal and Jessica A. Agoh pointed at this limitation of the 1970 Act: publishers and printers are required to “deposit rather than sell (their) publications…at their own cost…without any “incentives to encourage depositors” (6).

However, one dark side of depositories which experts have not addressed is the issue of how legal deposit can be used as exhibits or as profiling and surveillance materials by state agents, either to positive or negative ends. This was a major part of the amendment of legal deposit laws in France under Napoleon I in 1810.[3]

Others include:

-the centralisation of depository,

-the duty of appropriate formatting/text translation, and

-the problems associated to the warehousing of online publications (crucial matters like the categories of electronic materials for inclusion, the appropriate repositories for electronic publications and the handling of online publications are part of the issues treated in a document produced by the Working Group of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL), sponsored by UNESCO and chaired by Brian Lang, the Chief Executive of the British Library). 

[With the ascendancy of the open book and the open web, what extraordinary value is the collection of hard copies of materials that are better saved, served and preserved as soft copies?]


Going through available essays on ways of improving and sustaining the country’s legal deposit, I have found that there are no shortage of recommendations and suggestion by experts in the field. The problem of limitations or failure is therefore a matter of a general lack of adaptation and translation of words into action.

For this reason, I will not refer to my suggestions for improvement here as “recommendations” for it seems that any thing recommended for execution only remains a deposited or archival material. I will therefore charge that these suggestion be taken as statements-for-action to all those in the information and book industry. Concerted action can only move things and change behaviour; recommendations cannot act on their own.

LDD: Legal Deposit Drive

-Decentralisation: the revival or establishment of local government area libraries as reading centres and designation as first ports of legal deposit

-Training of workforce in information literacy: harnessing the advantage of the digital divide - appropriation of the positive means of the Information Age

-Encouragement of publishers through the institution of special national certification and merit awards for compliant publishers and distributors

-Special consideration should be accorded to publishers who contribute to legal deposit awareness by means of special announcement or advertisements of new publications in both local and national newspapers, and on their webpages.

-Enforcing the submission of publishers’ annual stocklists for ease of reference and collection.

-Review of the National Library of Nigeria Decree No. 29 of 1970 (which requires defaulters to pay a paltry fine of N100…).

 -Tax waiver, the aggregate of a publisher’s legal deposit should be considered as integral part of the company’s CSR to the community which it serves.

For an optimal achievement of the benefits of legal deposit and bibliographic control in Nigeria, a mass mobilisation of the various and concerned publics of the nation becomes necessary. The individual, the collective of publishers, authors’ organisations, as well as the publishing arms of government at the local, state and the federal levels must collaborate in the sensitization project.

 Aderemi Raji-Oyelade, Ibadan, NIGERIA.


Adio, W. F. “The Three Ps of Legal Deposit Obligation: Nigerian Experience.” International Library Movement 28.1 (2006): 16-33.

Igbashal, A. A. and Agoh, J. A. “Universal Bibliographic Control of Publications in Nigeria: The Journey So Far.” Library Philosophy and Practice (2011): 1-8. Paper 650.

Igbashal, A. A. and Tsegba, J. F. “Bibliographic Control of Publications: The Impact on African Countries.” Library Philosophy and Practice (2011): 1-7.

Library and Archives Canada. “Legal Deposit: Preserving and Providing Access to Canada's Published Heritage”.

National Library of Nigeria Decree No. 29 of 1970. Section 4 (1-4). P. A133.

Ogunsheye, F. A. “Problems of Bibliographic Services in Nigeria.” Nigerian Libraries 5.2 (1969): 62-68. In Pearson, J. O. and Jones R. eds. The Bibliography of Africa: An International Conference on African Bibliography (Nairobi, December 4-8, 1967), London, 1970.

Ola, C O. and Osagie, O. “Accessibility and Retrieval of National Information in Nigerian University Libraries”. The African Symposium: An Online Journal of the African Educational Research Network 11.1 (June 2011): 146-157.

Osunkoya, A. A. “The Relevance of Legal Deposits to the National Library of Nigeria.” In Book Publishing & the Reading Culture in Nigeria. Proceedings of the Seminars & Workshop organised by the National Library of Nigeria, Oyo State Branch, Ibadan. Eds. Ajibola, Adejumo S. and Esther Oluyide. Ibadan: Manifold Grace Publishers, 2008.  25-32.

Working Group of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL). “The Legal Deposit of Electronic Publications”. General Information Programme and UNISIST, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, CII-96/WS/10, 1996.



[2] Osunkoya informs that the deposited material is the only acceptable document “whenever there is a subpoena from the law courts to the National Library of Nigeria” (30).

[3] Under Napoleon, all publishers were required to send their materials to the Bibliothèque Nationale's through the Ministry of Police, and later through the Ministry of Interior. The main purpose was to monitor the press.