OAIS.reference.model.2016.jpgThe Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model is an international standard (ISO 14721:2010) developed in an open forum that provides a framework for the understanding of archival concepts needed for preserving electronic records and information over the long term.

Digital preservation ensures that electronic information requiring retention due to its value or the need to stay compliant to laws and regulations is authentic, accessible, and useable for years to come despite technology changes. The OAIS model is a conceptual framework for digital archiving and therefore doesn’t require any specific platform or system. 

As such, it is likely that the OAIS will be a highly visible component of the ongoing effort to address the challenges of preserving digital information.

OAIS.reference.model.key.functions.2016.jpgHere is an overview of the 7 functional entities of the OAIS reference model:

  1. Ingest: Ingest is the process of preparing digital objects to be archived with accompanying metadata, then adding them to the digital archive. Data has already been appraised and determined to be in need of long term digital preservation prior to Ingest. The Submission Information Package (SIP) is the digital object it be archived and its corresponding metadata. The Archival Information Package (AIP) is generated from the SIP as the final step of the Ingest process. The AIP contains not only descriptive metadata but also technical metadata, information about the creation of the records, rights about access and use, documentation of any actions taken prior to archiving the information (virus scans, how information was extracted), etc. Ingest moves information from the creator (SIP) to the archivist/archives (AIP).
  2. Archival Storage: Following Ingest the AIP is stored, maintained, and able to be retrieved from the archive. Archival storage includes permanent storage, checking the integrity of the bit stream on a regular basis, and disaster recovery.
  3. Data Management: This function supports search and retrieval of archived content through the use of descriptive metadata.
  4. Administration: Administration refers to the daily operations and maintenance of the archive and coordinating with the other functions. This includes working with those sending records to the archive, providing support to archive users, implementing and maintaining the archive’s policies and processes.
  5. Access: The interface that enables users to retrieve data from the archive. The information requested by the user is received as a Dissemination Information Package (DIP) which is generated from the AIP stored in the archive.
  6. Preservation Planning: The archive must have an ongoing digital curation strategy. Digital archives must be monitored regularly for risks that could prevent them from properly preserving and maintaining access to digital objects. The archive’s policies and procedures should be updated to keep up with any technology or environment changes in order to mitigate risk.
  7. Common Services: These are services that any IT system, such as a digital archive, needs to in order to operate. Examples include hardware, software, data, processes, people, feedback for improvements, etc.


Digital information affects institutions of all kinds, from libraries and archives to corporations and government agencies. Since digital preservation affects such a diverse community, it is useful to distill the issue down to an elemental set of concepts, relationships and processes common to a wide cross-section of digital preservation activities.

The OAIS reference model elucidates the functions and processes common to nearly all digital preservation environments.

The development of standards in support of the OAIS reference model may serve to promote interoperability among digital libraries, archives and other institutions maintaining digital information over the long term. This is especially significant if it can achieve cooperative efforts between institutions that in the past saw no opportunities for such activity.

Widespread adoption of the OAIS framework could also have potential economic benefits.

Standardization across common entities and processes opens the door for cost reduction through shared system components. In addition, standardization promotes the development of broad markets for vendors to support, as systems move from costly customized products and services toward less-expensive standardized versions.

OAIS is laying important foundations for a coordinated solution to the challenges of digital preservation. 

Originally developed as part of a broader effort to develop formal standards for the long-term storage of digital data generated from space missions, the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) has since formed the foundation of numerous architectures, standards, and protocols, influencing system design, metadata requirements, certification, and other issues central to digital preservation. 

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