Reacquainting myself with OAIS

Hands up if you have read ISO:14721:2012 (otherwise known as the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System)…..I mean properly read it…..yes, I suspected there wouldn’t be many of you. It seems like such a key document to us digital archivists – we use the terminology, the concepts within it, even the diagrams on a regular basis, but I'll be the first to confess I have never read it in full.

Standards such as this become so familiar to those of us working in this field that it is possible to get a little complacent about keeping our knowledge of them up to date as they undergo review.

Hats off to the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) for updating their Technology Watch Report on the OAIS Reference Model last year. Published in October 2014 I admit I have only just managed to read it. Digital preservation reading material typically comes out on long train journeys and this report kept me company all the way from Birmingham to Coventry and then back home as far as Sheffield (I am a slow reader!). Imagine how far I would have had to travel to read the 135 pages of the full standard!

This is the 2nd edition of the first in the DPC’s series of Technology Watch reports. I remember reading the original report about 10 years ago and trying to map the active digital preservation we were doing at the Archaeology Data Service to the model. 

Ten years is quite a long time in a developing field such as digital preservation and the standard has now been updated (but as mentioned in the Technology Watch Report, the updates haven’t been extensive – the authors largely got it right first time). 

Now reading this updated report in a different job setting I can think about OAIS in a slightly different way. We don't currently do much digital preservation at the Borthwick Institute, but we do do a lot of thinking about how we would like the digital archive to look. Going back to the basics of the OAIS standard at this point in the process encourages fresh thinking about how OAIS could be implemented in practice. It was really encouraging to read the OCLC Digital Archive example cited within the Technology Watch Report (pg 14) which neatly demonstrates a modular approach to fulfilling all the necessary functions across different departments and systems. This ties in with our current thinking at the University of York about how we can build a digital archive using different systems and expertise across the Information Directorate.

Brian Lavoie mentions in his conclusion that "This Technology Watch Report has sought to re-introduce digital preservation practitioners to OAIS, by recounting its development and recognition as a standard; its key revisions; and the many channels through which its influence has been felt." This aim has certainly been met. I feel thoroughly reacquainted with OAIS and have learnt some things about the changes to the standard and even reminded myself of some things that I had forgotten I said, 10 years is a long time.


Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


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