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GPO Gets OAIS Certification!

Congratulation to GPO for getting govinfo.gov certified as a Trusted Digital Repository! This is an important step for ensuring long term preservation and access to the contents of the GPO digital repository. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) announced today that it has received this certification.

(For those unfamiliar with certification, check out the “core criteria for digital preservation repositories” that four preservation organizations wrote in 2007. These are a consensus guide auditing and certifying repositories and will give you a general idea of the concepts of certification.)

The certification was awarded to GPO by PTAB (The Primary Trustworthy Digital Repository Authorization Body). This was the second certification completed by PTAB and the first in the United States.

PTAB used the international standard known as ISO 16363, Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories. This is the newest and official version of the standard also known as OAIS ("The Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System"). (The standard is available for free from CCSDS and for a fee from the International Organization for Standards ISO.)

PTAB is accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies of India (NABCB) to conduct ISO 16363 audits worldwide utilizing ISO standard 17021 (Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems) (freely available from CCSDS).

PTAB uses a two stage ISO 16919/17021 audit process.

Waiting for details…

As far as we can tell, neither GPO nor PTAB have made any detailed information about the audit available yet. PTAB does provide two important details on its website:

The Scope of the Audit

The scope of the audit is limited to the operations, development, procedures, policies, and digital preservation activities directly associated with the Organizational Infrastructure, Digital Object Management, and Infrastructure and Security Risk Management as these aspects pertain to FDsys/govinfo, a content management system, preservation repository, and public access website.

The Designated Community

The Designated Community for the system includes staff in Federal depository libraries, the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and the Office of the Federal Register. Members of the Designated Community are familiar with the organizations, documents, publications, and processes of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States Federal Government. The Designated Community is able to access content information from the system and render it electronically. PTAB’s evaluation considers the repository to be sufficiently usable for those who are "familiar with the organizations, documents, publications, and processes of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States Federal Government."

The concept of "Designated Community" (DC) is, perhaps, the most important component of the certification. The standard ties preservation of information to the DC which is defined in the standard as "An identified group of potential Consumers who should be able to understand a particular set of information." To be trusted, a repository must insure that the information it stores is “understandable” by the Designated Community.

It is interesting that for this audit, the DC does not specifically include the General Public. It does, however include libraries, but only FDLP libraries. Apparently, govinfo is certified as a trusted repository for those who "are familiar with the organizations, documents, publications, and processes of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States Federal Government."

The qualification that govinfo.gov is “sufficiently usable” for those who are familiar with government and its information is important. It releases GPO from having to provide services to those who are not familiar with government. This limited audience is consistent with the current law. While Title 44 section 1911 specifies that "Depository libraries shall make Government publications available for the free use of the general public", Chapter 41 of Title 44 ("Access To Federal Electronic Information") only requires that the Superintendent of Documents make the online repository "available to depository libraries without charge" while allowing fees to be charged to others. Chapter 41 does not mention the General Public.

This is all technically and legally consistent with the paper-based way of distributing information (GPO provides access to FDLP libraries and FDLP libraries provide access to the General Public). It seems inconsistent, however, with current GPO and FDLP implementation. As a matter of practicality, the public accesses govinfo.gov directly.

When the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) did similar Trusted Digital Repository audits of HathiTrust, Portico, CLOCKSS, and other repositories, it made reports publicly available. Those reports provided detailed audit findings, scores, and listed any concerns. It is in such reports that we learn important details. For example, the CRL report on HathiTrust noted that the quality assurance measures for HathiTrust digital content did not support policies of discarding print volumes available through the repository. In some cases, (e.g. Scholars Portal), the audited body made their own reports and audits available.

One of the “mandatory responsibilities” of a trusted repository is that it “ensure that the information is preserved against all reasonable contingencies, including the demise of the Archive.” The standard says that “The Archive should have a formal Succession Plan, contingency plans, and/or escrow arrangements in place.” Given the current government shutdown and the inability of GPO to guarantee its own adequate funding, we would assume that certification included a specific Succession Plan, but we do not know of one.

We hope that GPO or PTAB will offer detailed reports soon. It is important that the community know exactly what areas were audited, the rating of each of the categories audited, and any issues that GPO needs to address going forward.

James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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