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The purpose of this section is to motivate and describe several key high-level OAIS concepts. A more complete view, and a formal modeling of these concepts, is given in section 4.

The term ‘Archive’ has come to be used to refer to a wide variety of storage and preservation functions and systems. Traditional Archives are understood as facilities or organizations which preserve records, originally generated by or for a government organization, institution, or corporation, for access by public or private communities. The Archive accomplishes this task by taking ownership of the records, ensuring that they are understandable to the accessing community, and managing them so as to preserve their information content and Authenticity. Historically, these records have been in such forms as books, papers, maps, photographs, and film, which can be read directly by humans, or read with the aid of simple optical magnification and scanning aids. The major focus for preserving this information has been to ensure that they are on media with Long Term stability and that access to this media is carefully controlled.

The explosive growth of information in digital forms has posed a severe challenge not only for traditional Archives and their information providers, but also for many other organizations in the government, commercial and non-profit sectors. These organizations are finding, or will find, that they need to take on the information preservation functions typically associated with traditional Archives because digital information is easily lost or corrupted. The pace of technology evolution is causing some hardware and software systems to become obsolete in a matter of a few years, and these changes can put severe pressure on the ability of the related data structures or formats to continue effective representation of the full information desired. Because much of the supporting information necessary to preserve this information is more easily available or only available at the time when the original information is produced, these organizations need to be active participants in the Long Term Preservation effort, and they need to follow the principles espoused in this OAIS reference model to ensure that the information can be preserved for the Long Term. Participation in these efforts will minimize the lifecycle costs and enable effective Long Term Preservation of the information.

The explosion of computer processing power and digital media has resulted in many systems where the Producer role and the Archive role are the responsibility of the same entity. These systems should subscribe to the goals of Long Term Preservation discussed in this document. The design process must realize that some of the Long Term Preservation activities may conflict with the goals of rapid production and dissemination of products to Consumers. The designers and architects of such systems should document the solutions that have been reached.

A major purpose of this reference model is to facilitate a much wider understanding of what is required to preserve and access information for the Long Term. To avoid confusion with simple ‘bit storage’ functions, the reference model defines an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) which performs a Long Term information preservation and access function.

An OAIS Archive is one that intends to preserve information for access and use by a Designated Community, and it meets the requirements given in section 3. It includes Archives that have to keep up with steady input streams of information as well as those that experience primarily aperiodic inputs. It includes Archives that provide a wide variety of sophisticated access services as well as those that support only the simplest types of requests. For the remainder of this document, the term Archive and OAIS are equivalent and understood to refer to an OAIS Archive, unless the context makes it clear otherwise (e.g., traditional Archives).

The OAIS model recognizes the already highly distributed nature of digital information holdings and the need for local implementations of effective policies and procedures supporting information preservation. This allows, in principle, a wide variety of organizational arrangements, including various roles for traditional Archives, in achieving this preservation. It is expected that organizations attempting to preserve information will find that using OAIS terms and concepts will assist them in achieving their information preservation goals.

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These wiki pages are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. Attribute as "Community forum for digital preservation and curation standards http://wiki.dpconline.org/". The content on this wiki represents the opinions of the author and not the Digital Preservation Coalition. This wiki is not associated with ISO, the OAIS Standard or the CCSDS.