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Physical & Digital Collections

Electronic Legal Deposit: British Library Outage Update

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Please see the Knowledge Matters blog for updates from the British Library following the cyber-attack in October 2023.

On 22nd February, the British Library published this update about eLD access:

Another priority will be the restoration of on-site access to the digital collections that we have acquired through non-print legal deposit (NPLD), including e-books, e-journals and other digital published content. Lack of access to this collection has had an impact on the other legal deposit libraries (the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin) and the researchers that rely on them, and we are working closely with these partners to enable access to this content, in some form, by the middle of the year.

Like our physical holdings, this is a collection that continues to grow, year on year, and so we will aim to have a means to capture and store new NPLD content within a similar timescale. We expect that it will take longer to restore access to the UK Web Archive because of the scale and complexity of this collection, and we will provide further details on our plans for this as soon as we can.


Information symbol   Read on for helpful hints and tips

Tip 1

A ‘read-only’ version of the British Library catalogue is now available here – it gives a snap-shot as of April 2023.

Finding alternative copies

Researchers can obviously double-check iDiscover for alternative copies, but may also want to consider HathiTrust or for older and out-of-copyright material. You can also still check for British Library published material in Library Hub Discover. This resource is a database of 204 UK and Irish academic, national & specialist library catalogues. If you want to easily find a copy in another library in the UK, then make friends with Library Hub Discover!

Recommend a purchase for the Cambridge University Libraries (Cambridge staff and students only)

The university library has a policy which allows for some purchasing of materials which usually are available via non print legal deposit terminals in the libraries. This policy is available here. If, when you check iDiscover, an item is not held in Cambridge or it is not accessible because it is a Non-Print Legal Deposit item, you can suggest a book for purchase using our Recommendation form.

Document Delivery Services

These alternatives are available to Cambridge University staff and students. Although Interlibrary Loan services mediated by the British Library have been impacted by the cyber attack, there are alternative sources of materials such as RapidILL.

The Scan and Deliver service can also provide copies of materials from within Cambridge University Libraries. You can find out more about what is available Document Delivery Services.

Tip 2

Finding and accessing BL collections

A searchable online version of the main catalogue is now available, and it is possible to access the majority of books and special collections held at the St Pancras site, with limited collection items available at Boston Spa. You’ll need to go on-site to order collection items, to confirm availability before you visit you can email

The BL can only issue temporary reader tickets at the moment. If you already have a card and it needs renewing, this will probably be slightly easier than those who need to register for the first time. Contact if you need help but be prepared for a delayed response as our colleagues will be terrifically busy with enquiries.

Tip 3

Accessing British Library website content

BL websites will have been archived, probably to varying degrees of depth, by the Internet Archives Wayback Machine. If you have the URL of the webpage you want to access, just type it into the search box and you will be presented with a calendar indicating the days and years when a snapshot of the webpage was taken. Some formatting may be a bit odd and, depending how deeply the content was crawled, you may not always get the full content. It also loads quite slowly.

So, how do you find the URL of a BL website? This becomes a little more ‘interesting’. The easiest is to Google, hopefully find the webpage you are interested in, make a note of the URL string and put it into the Wayback Machine. Please note that this may not always work, if e.g. names of URL were changed over time. You may also come across links to the BL webpages from other sources. This can of course include the BL’s own Blogs which don’t appear to be affected by the cyber-attack.

A list of BL blogs is web-archived at the Wayback Machine, you will need to enter into the search bar. Please note that this technique will not work for URLs of content in databases with dynamic content such as library catalogues, archive catalogues, etc. none of these are crawled by the Wayback Machine.

Tip 4

Looking for the ESTC?

The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) is the definitive union catalogue for early British or English language books, covering publications printed before 1800. The BL website for ESTC is down. A temporary version of the pre-1700 ESTC is hosted at However, if you are fortunate enough to have access to a library which has Early English Books Online and the Eighteenth Century Collections Online, then that is a great alternative because you can then also look at the digital copy.

Tip 5

Looking for BL Special Collections?

You may be able to use other sources to find descriptions of BL Special Collections. It can be a bit tricky but here are some suggestions: Both The National Archives and The Archives Hub describe collections held in repositories in the UK, including the British Library. You can limit your search to just the British Library and get some description and shelfmarks. In some instances, the description also mentions microfilmed versions which may be accessible in another library. Many BL archival and rare book materials have been digitised in source databases, such as the East India Company. You can get a list of these databases by searching our A-Z Databases (in iDiscover) for “British Library”. Current staff and students can then of course access these, using Raven for remote access.

Tip 6

Looking for Web Archives

The British Library say

"Despite the disruption to access to the UK Web Archive, we continue to crawl or acquire copies of websites, as well as add new websites to our acquisition process which is being undertaken with Amazon Web Services in the Cloud, ensuring that the UK Web Archive collection is updated and preserved as usual.

We appreciate that for regular users of the UK Web Archive, the temporary unavailability of this valuable resource is inconvenient and disruptive. There exist several alternative openly accessible web archives that can serve as sources of information while the UK Web Archive is offline." 

Several alternative sources are listed on the British Library blog here: Exploring Alternative Access: Making the Most of Web Archives During UK Web Archive Downtime - UK Web Archive blog

Additional Information

Additional Information:

If you are an external reader and would like to register with the Cambridge University Libraries, check out our information who can use the library.

Do you have a BL Login?

Reset your password Following last week’s confirmation that this was a ransomware attack, we now have evidence that indicates the attackers might have copied some user data, and additional data appears to have been published on the dark web. We will continue to work with cybersecurity specialists to examine what this material is and we will be contacting our users to advise them of the practical steps they may need to take. If you have a password for British Library services that you use on other websites, we recommend you change it elsewhere as a precaution. NCSC provides guidance on staying secure online, including how to create a strong password: You can also find specific guidance for individuals who may have been impacted by a data breach: 

Accessing material held at college libraries

Access to material held at college libraries is by appointment only for non members. If the material you seeking to use is only available at a college, please contact the library directly.

(GDAS) – Legal Deposit Map Data:

Please note that Geospatial Data Application (GDAS) – the viewer on which the legal deposit digital map data is viewed – is not directly affected. Normal service is available from a single PC in the Map Room.


If you need any help, do get in touch by emailing your subject librarian, details can be found on this list. If you have a disability, you can also contact to ask if we can find an alternative.


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