Archive Reference Model Gains Wide Acceptance

By John Garrett and Donald Sawyer

A number of men and women have willingly committed themselves to a series of meetings lasting several years, and they have committed themselves to writing, reading, rewriting and rereading several versions of the same large document. They've done this in order to create for their organizations, and for others, an important text to aid in understanding and performing digital data preservation functions.

Don Sawyer/NSSDC and Lou Reich/CSC, have been the primary authors and editors for the "Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS)" ( They've been supported by another dozen or so core members and many other occasional members of a team of authors, editors, and reviewers that have brought the OAIS Reference Model to its current state. And that state is that it has become an increasingly recognized and used reference for those interested in preserving and sharing information in the digital age. It has generated considerable interest among various international and national library and scientific groups. We continue to become aware of organizations that have used the concepts developed in the OAIS Reference Model. Although these organizations are seeking additional updates, they have found the current or earlier drafts of this document to be very useful.

For example, the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI) ( is an international affiliate of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) whose mission is to promote and enhance the communication of scientific information worldwide. In its "Review of the ISO Draft Standard for an Open Archival Information System Reference Model", ICSTI has said,

"The Reference Model was well received and well understood by the major stakeholders represented by ICSTI. The ICSTI members were most surprised at the broad applicability of the Model and believe that this will go a long way to ensure that digital archives will not only be certifiable, but transferable, and persistent. ICSTI recommends that as much as possible within the ISO framework, the draft standard should be reviewed for adoption by not only the spatial data community but by the broader information community. This community would include the technical committees and bodies at the national levels that deal with libraries, information processing, computing and databases.

ICSTI commends the CCSDS for taking a broad view of the problem and for keenly identifying that without a basic Reference Model, with definitions, there would be little hope of standards for digital archiving, whether of data or any other information type."

Another example of its adoption is the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB) (the National Library of the Netherlands) which in its "An Experiment in Using Emulation to Preserve Digital Publications" by Jeff Rothenberg states

"The OAIS is a proposed "reference model" for archival preservation of digital information. It has been of great value in providing a comprehensive and consistent frame of reference that encompasses many of the issues surrounding the creation of digital repositories."

And Networked European Deposit Library (NEDLIB) project in "Applying the OAIS Reference Model to the Deposit System for Electronic Publications (DSEP) said "The OAIS Model is applicable to any archive. It is specifically applicable to organizations with a responsibility to make information available for the long term."

Consequently the NEDLIB consortium in 1998 adopted the Reference Model as a basis for modeling the DSEP because by that time it had already "developed into a mature conceptual framework, providing a coherent and consistent view of functions and data flows pertaining to digital archives." They state that all work on the NEDLIB project has been related to OAIS and that "NEDLIB is keen to help progress the OAIS standardization process and to provide feed back in order to ensure that generic deposit library requirements are catered to by the Reference Model."

Due to its wide audience, the OAIS reference model is unable to adapt to the particular vocabulary of any of its users - scientific databases, deposit libraries, traditional archives, mission archives, etc. However as the OAIS Reference Model comes into more wide-spread acceptance, crosswalks between the OAIS terms and the vocabularies of individual domains will become more common. As use of the OAIS increases, we agree with NEDLIB that "On the longer-term it is hoped that IT-vendors and system developers will adopt the OAIS-framework as a basis for implementing deposit system and for developing ready-to-market products."

And for one more example, in its comments on the OAIS draft, the National Library of Australia has said "We have found the OAIS Reference Model to be an extremely valuable framework for the development of requirements for our digital archive. In its current form, it has reached a high level of maturity. The concepts are well developed and requirements from a range of different communities are addressed."

To provide some context for how we've reached the point where our efforts are applauded and where our concepts are being put to use worldwide, a brief history is given.

In 1995, the ISO requested the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) to develop standards for data archiving as a natural extension of its work in standardizing data interchange structures.

The team assessing this effort, in attempting to identify the general requirements for data archiving, quickly found several critical factors which needed to be addressed. First a large number of organizations (both large and small) were working in many areas related to data archiving. Next, a dynamic environment existed that included both the rapidly evolving media standards and technology and the growing volume of various types of data needing to be archived. Added to this there was no generally accepted understanding of just what constituted a long term data archive. The team decided early that some type of consensus reference model was needed to provide focus for this global effort.

To initiate this effort, an international symposium was held in the United States in October 1995. This event was attended by about 60 people from over 30 organizations representing commercial, governmental, and academic areas; about 20 papers were presented followed by a day of working group discussions. The highly successful first meeting reached agreement that the lack of common terminology was severely impacting inter-archive communication and development of a high level reference model for a generic OAIS would be a first-priority effort. The model was conceived to provide a framework for understanding significant relationships among the entities of an archival environment and for the development of consistent standards or specifications supporting that environment.

In the following years, a number of international OAIS workshops have been held. These include regular international meetings of CCSDS Panel 2 plus the Digital Archive Directions (DADs) Workshop ( and the Archival Workshop for Ingest, Identification, and Certification Standards (AWIICS) ( And the majority of the development work has taken place in several national OAIS workshops. France, Britain, and United States are examples of countries where contributions are solicited through national workshops. These workshops have individually and collectively progressed the OAIS Reference Model (RM) to a point where it is receiving wide review and has been released as a Draft International Standard (DIS) through ISO TC20/SC13 and as a Draft Recommendation (also known as a Red Book) of the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS).

We've now reached the point where we need your help to continue to increase the quality of the document and to continue to make it applicable to wider audiences. We need your comments on the draft. The ISO review period for the OAIS Reference Model draft ends November 15, 2000 but everyone is strongly encouraged to submit comments by September 30th. Comments may be submitted by following the instructions at

  For further information about the OAIS Reference Model or other archiving issues, please contact one of the authors of this article.

Mr. John Garrett
Goddard Space Flight Center
Code 633
Greenbelt, MD 20771
United States
Telephone: +1.301.286.3575
FAX: +1.301.286.1771

Mr. Donald Sawyer
Goddard Space Flight Center
Code 633
Greenbelt, MD 20771
United States
Telephone: +1.301.286.2748
FAX: +1.301.286.1771

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Author: Miranda Beall
Curator: Natalie Barnes
Responsible Official: Dr. Joseph H. King, Code 633
Last Revised: Wednesday, 15-Aug-2001 08:54:27 EDT [NAB]