OAIS Reference Model Part I: Background and Influence

The OAIS model is an international standard that has been adopted for guiding the long term preservation of digital data and documents.  In fact, the OAIS model is an ISO standard (ISO 14721:2003): it was developed by the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) in 2002, and was adopted as an ISO standard in 2003.  The document is freely available, despite the fact that most ISO documentation is usually sold as a service.  It’s a hefty 148-pages, available in PDF form here.

oais
Photo by OliBac licensed under Creative Commons

The OAIS model is a standardized model describing a way that digital repositories intended for preservation purposes can be run.  Within this model, you will not find a standard for metadata.  It also does not endorse any particular repository platform, software, protocols or implementation procedure.  The OAIS model is simply a set of standardized guidelines intended to aid the people and systems behind a repository that has been designated with the responsibility of maintaining documents for archival purposes over a long period of time.

OAIS stands for Open Archival Information System, the word open referring to the open and public process under which this model was developed.  Participation in its initial development was encouraged by the CCSDS, and as an ISO standard, it will go under review every five years.

Because the OAIS model is a recognized standard, its users have formed a default sub-community within the digital preservation community.  But it has also been very beneficial to the digital preservation community at large and has helped promote progressive thinking and discussion.  Here are some key reasons why the OAIS model is so helpful to the digital preservation process and community:

  • It has standardized the terminology associated with digital preservation
  • It has outlined the duties and services of a preservation repository
  • It has outlined a way that information should be attributed and managed within a repository
  • It has mobilized community discussions about repository standards and certification
  • It has included preservation metadata as an important part of the preservation process
  • It focuses on long-term preservation, but lets “long-term” be defined by the repository managers
  • OAIS-type archives are committed to a set of defined responsibilities

As a final note, is important to make it clear that the OAIS model is by no means a requirement for a digital repository; while it is a recognized way of running a repository, it is not the only way.  It may not fit for some repositories, depending on their intended size, resources, and designated communities.  But admittedly, when a repository chooses not to follow the OAIS recommendations, it cannot fall under the umbrella of the most widely-used and understood digital archive standard.

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Here are some resources that were incredibly useful for me while writing this post and the one to follow:

  • I really benefited from reading this post by John Mark Ockerbloom, the editor of the blog Everybody’s Libraries.  I almost considered forgoing my own entry and just directing readers directly to his!
  • And then I found this post and was blown away by how thorough it is.  It’s really well done and I’d encourage you to check it out.
  • This page is a brief run-down of OAIS from the JISC Standards Catalogue.

Continue on to Part II

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