Next Phase OAIS Review

In 2017 is was time for the regular ISO 5-year review of the OAIS standard. The preservation community has been warned for this via several channels. We started a discussion platform, the OAIS Community, on the Digital Preservation Coalition website. At iPRES 2015 we submitted a poster on this topic “Evolving practice, evolving standards!” and presented this initiative.

A bit later the CCSDS  Data Archive Interoperability Working Group (DAI) started an official website where people could drop proposals to improve the OAIS standard. Everyone could join the mailing list and participate in the discussions and follow the progress. The perceived lack of transparency in previous reviews was mitigated.


Many preservationists took the opportunity and over 200 changes were suggested. In the past years they all were discussed in the DAI Working Group and a decision was made. This work has been finished almost by now and it is expected that soon the updated OAIS standard will be handed over to CCSDS and ISO for final approval.

In ISO the Technical Committee 20/ SC13 Space data and information transfer systems is responsible for the OAIS standard. However, this TC has a liaison with TC 46/SC 11 Archives/records management and representatives in this last group can access the documents of TC20/SC13.  It is to be expected that the National Standard Bodies soon will get the chance to have an extra look at the suggested changes, from a broader perspective, as the Technical Committees will not only have preservationists among them.

Over 200 changes were suggested and most of them were accepted. The main part of the changes concerned terminology. In some cases, this meant clarification, for example the definition of Transformation Information Property has now a note referring to the much more often used term “Significant property” albeit carefully phrased as “Significant Property is sometimes used in a way that is consistent with it being a Transformational Information Property.”

In other cases, the consistent use of terminology was examined, like the difference between an Archive (in the OAIS sense) and an archive. Also development in preservation practice led to changes, for example “migration” is no longer the only possible preservation action and in several places, where in the past a “migration” was the suggested solution, there is now a reference to the more neutral “preservation plan”.

Some concepts got a more extensive description, for example the much-debated concept of Designated Community. The definition is extended with “An identified group of potential Consumers who should be able to understand a particular set of information in ways exemplified by the Preservation Objectives.” This last concept is also new: ” Preservation Objective: A specific achievable aim which can be carried out using the Information Object.”

Other concepts have changed, so for example the Content Information is in many places in the standard now restricted to the Content Data Object, while in the current OAIS 2012 version, Content Information includes both the Content Data Object as well as the Represention Information. What are the consequences of this change?

But I’m very proud and satisfied that my concept of Preservation Watch, developed in the EU Planets project, was accepted and is now part of OAIS.

Equally proud will be Eld Zierau and Nancy McGovern, with their Inner OAIS-Outer OAIS concept, which is now reflected in chapter 6 “Distributed Archives”.

International standards always have a limited possibility to introduce changes, as the standard need to stay compatible with previous versions. But the new OAIS standard shows that a transparent process can lead to a standard that reflects the current practices. All preservationists that are a member of a National Standard Body and will see the new OAIS concept on the agenda of their working group in the next few weeks, have a final opportunity to ventilate their opinions and decide whether all suggested changes are clear and implementable.

© 2024 Barbara Sierman