OAIS Introduction.

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I’ve been wrestling with the OAIS document/standard (Open Archival Information System) for about 18 months and have only recently, finally been able to understand its real-life application in detail. It’s a ‘functional model’ for digital preservation archives, developed collaboratively by institutions from all over the world, led by NASA and originally meant to provide a model for the preservation of their own space programme data. It became an approved ISO standard in 2002.

Here is an OAIS on the most general functional level:

OAIS Functional Entities

The tutor did an excellent job of showing how this relates to real world archiving and then discussed the model on a slightly deeper level, breaking down each ‘actor’, ‘object’ and ‘action’. It was reassuring to hear that the model is not meant to dictate each and every function of a ‘compliant’ archive, but rather serve as a very thorough checklist for the design and functionality of a digital archive of any size (it’s a ‘standard’ after all). It is obvious when you read the standard that some of the functions are essential and any archivist would naturally expect to find them in any archive. Other functions might be useful to some archives and not to others, often depending on the size and remit, but each function does serve to stiumlate archive managers into questioning whether their digital archive is serving the ‘designated community’ (users) correctly. When thinking of how ADAM v2.0 should function, I’ve used the OAIS standard as a model of ‘best practice’ and though we’ve got some way to go, it remains a useful benchmark to work with. At the highest level, it’s just acquisition, storage and access. And then, as you drill deeper into the detail, it raises many questions about workflow, authentication and validation of digital objects, ability to audit each service correctly and fully, and ultimately ensures the archive is designed to serve the community of people it functions for.

It’s also about people, the archive staff and users. Clearly some areas of the functional model suggest a level of automation through the use of computing but other sections of the standard are about decision making processes and strategic planning.

We finished with a quick exercise to test our understand of the OAIS model at its highest level. I scored four out of five. Not bad. I learn from my mistakes.

More OAIS tomorrow (and the next day and the day after that…)

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