Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Open Archives Forum

Susanne Dobratz, Friederike Schimmelpfennig and Peter Schirmbacher introduce the new Open Archives Forum project to promote the ideas of the OAI in Europe.

The Open Archives Forum: Mission and Goals

The Open Archives Forum provides a European focus for the dissemination of information about European activities in Open Archives. A particular focus is on the Open Archives Initiative (OAI). The Open Archives Forum aims to promote the idea of globally distributed digital archives within Europe, to support the establishment of new digital archives and their related services, and to initiate European special interest groups. It is important to add particular European interests to already existing models such as the Open Archives Initiative. Doing this, the different approaches, standards and technologies can be evaluated in terms of their feasibility and their limitations.

The Open Archives Forum will serve as the European web-portal for initiatives, technologies, and communities within digital archives activities. It will enable a web based information space where communities can store information about their repositories and services and the technology used in those, e.g. the protocol, the internal partition of the repository, and the metadata sets supported. Descriptions of European projects looking into different aspects of open archives will be held in the Open Archives Forum databases.

The website (http://www.oaforum.org) itself will work as an entry point for discussions, workshops, reports and reviews on different topics of questions related to open archives over the Web. Interested parties can register with the site for receiving the newsletter, giving information about their repositories and participating in email discussions.

Open Archives Issues

There are now plenty of libraries on the Web with their catalogues, full text and other digitised resources, as well as e-print archives, archives and museums. This gives rise to questions of how to build a heterogenous digital library that provides access to all those different resources via a single Web portal.

However, the realization of those ideas often has its technical limits.

Often different and diverse metadata standards for description of electronic resources are used to build up those archives. This makes it much more difficult to establish a comprehensive platform for providing retrieval and service for all archives. Not only the heterogeneity of metadata standards but also the implementation of different harvesting and exchange protocols is one of the major reasons why establishing services using different types of archives becomes so difficult. Different systems, transfer protocols, and retrieval mechanisms are in use that are anything but compatible. In libraries these are mostly the Z 39.50 protocol, with NCSTRL it is the DIENST protocol , with other models such as Harvest it is the HTTP protocol.

The Open Archives Initiative

To bring something to bear on this dilemma the Open Archives Initiative (OAI)(1) was established in the USA. In July 1999 the founders of the initiative, Paul Ginsparg, Rick Luce und Herbert Van de Sompel, initiated a meeting of the world’s biggest pre-print archives [2]. This meeting took place in October 1999 in Santa Fe and finally led to the foundation of the “Open Archives Initiative“.

The OAI deals with how document archives, pre-print servers, and digital libraries can be connected with a common and easy-to-use interface, and how to develop related services like distributed retrieval options, expert information systems and other services [1].

Having its roots in the pre-print area, the original aim of the initiative was to re-organise communication between different scientific pre-print servers. For this it was necessary to build a organisational and technical framework that could be used as a basis for free and commercial services.

The major archives that took part in the OAI from the beginning are: arXiv.org(2), the pre-print server at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which specialises in high energy physics and other related fields; CogPrints(3), which archives publications in psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience ;NCSTRL(4), a distributed system for servers within the computing sciences; NDLTD(5), the world’s largest virtual archive of electronic dissertations and theses; and RePEc(6), a distributed archive of pre-prints in economics.

Within the development of the initiative, libraries and commercial institutions were invited to take part in this distributed model. Today a considerable number of archives and also some commercial services are involved.

The OAI website is based at Cornell University, USA. Here information about the standards developed, participating archives, repositories and service providers as well as dates for presentations, workshops and standards releases are given. A short overview of archives registered with the OAI can be seen on the server(7).

The Open Archive Interoperability Framework

According to the OAI’s interoperability framework there are two different user groups within a distributed system:

By implementing the OAI protocol, archives (i.e. the data providers) make metadata for their digital contents accessible. Requests using the OAI protocol are answered in a standardised way.

Service providers harvest metadata made available by the data providers and thus implement further services like special information options, document delivery services, or search engines. These services can be free or charged. Part of the OAI idea is that the service provider observes the legal policies of the referring archives.

The OAI has suggested the usage of the Dublin Core metadata set (as a minimum) encoded in a special XML syntax developed by the Initiative.

Standards, Communities and Open Archives

The openness of the OAI specification offers two options for communities to adapt the standard to local, domain-specific requirements and rules.

These are:

To establish community-specific standards (in spite of the flexibility of the Initiative’s requirements) information about and coordination of developments is urgently needed. It is also important to inform new projects such as those involved in digitisation activities about interoperability solutions. And it is also important to evaluate the feasibility of the OAI Interoperability Framework and whether or not it provides a low-barrier solution for interoperability - one of the main motives behind the creation of the Initiative.

Which role does the Open Archives Forum play within the context of web based open archives?

The Open Archives Forum is a new EC 5th Framework Accompanying Measure for supporting the dissemination of information about European activities that adopt an open-archives based approach. OA-Forum will build a framework where European and national initiatives that use this approach can share their experiences and co-ordinate the development of software tools and infrastructures. Special attention will be dedicated to those initiatives which are implementing or using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting.

The project will facilitate a critical evaluation of the potential of the open archives approach in a wider context, as well as validating a European experience of OAI specifications. Open archives offer a low cost means for disseminating content now ‘hidden’ in cultural heritage and learning institutions. If this promise is fulfilled there may be a significant impact on providing new services. It is essential that European data and service providers are prepared to participate in such innovations. The Open Archives Forum will facilitate the exploration of the benefits of the OAI as a framework for low cost access to content. It will consider benefits of access to ‘hidden’ data surfaced (by deployment of OAI) to the citizen and learner.

The Open Archives Forum will encourage European readiness to exploit commercial opportunities offered by low cost entry to interoperability. It will investigate different business models for open archives that have been developed so far and will encourage communities to set up new business models and develop new ideas.

The Open Archives Forum will provide a focus for projects funded under the IST Programme, but it will also encompass national initiatives and commercial interests especially publishers. The open archive approach is relevant to a number of domains and the project will encourage participation from cultural heritage institutions, research organisations, the public library sector, community services and commercial organisations.

The Open Archives Forum’s core objectives are

  1. To provide a European-based focus for dissemination of information about European open archive activities. A series of workshops will enable communities to share experience and to promote good practice targeted at current and potential implementors, as well as at service and data providers, commercial, cultural heritage, research and educational initiatives. The project’s web site will become a central information portal for information concerning the implementation of open archives in Europe. Information regarding the implementation of OAI will be published through a variety of different publishing channels. The Open Archives Forum will facilitate communication and collaboration with the OAI in the USA and beyond.
  2. To stimulate the building of an open archive infrastructure in Europe, the Open Archives Forum will co-ordinate the evaluation of OAI specifications. It will consider alternative technical and organisational solutions, communicate information about software tools and added value services. The project will also explore sustainability issues arising from the OAI approach.
  3. To encourage the provision of new services the OA-Forum will facilitate groupings of European OAI Data Providers and Service Providers as well as the co-operation on infrastructural issues, agreements on metadata extensions, common partitioning of archives, etc. One of the project issues is to facilitate a consensus approach to IPR issues and to evaluate the benefits of the open archive approach in different domains and sectors.
  4. To exploit synergies between projects and reinforce the combined effort of projects. It will present integrated results of related projects by means of reports and a database. The projects web site provides a platform for exchange of experience between projects in Europe. Within the projects focus is the interaction with the international open archive community.

Under these main topics the activity of the Open Archives Forum is organised along three main tracks:

1. Technical Validation:
An inventory of software products in use and under development in Europe and elsewhere will be kept in order to encourage European projects to share software solutions. In addition, a forum for examining technical issues that need to be addressed in building a viable service delivery infrastructure will be maintained.
2. Organisational Validation:
The potential business models for sharing metadata, publishing and archiving will be reviewed. The added value that the open archives model might offer in these contexts will be explored.
3. Workshops and Expert Reviews:
A series of four workshops which will enable face-to-face sharing of open archives experience among IST and other European projects and initiatives will be organized. Reviews of the potential of the open archives approach will be commissioned from domain-specific experts.

Further Information

For further information, see the project web site at http://www.oaforum.org

Please contact:

Susanne Dobratz – Humboldt University
E-mail: susanne.dobratz@rz.hu-berlin.de
Rachel Heery - UKOLN
E-mail: r.heery@ukoln.ac.uk
Donatella Castelli – IEI-CNR
E-mail: castelli@iei.pi.cnr.it


[1] Van de Sompel, H. & Lagoze, C.: The Santa Fe Convention of the Open Archives Initiative. D-Lib Magazine. Band Vol. 6. 2000, no. 2, http://www.dlib.org/dlib/february00/vandesompel-oai/02vandesompel-oai.html
[2] Ginsparg, P.; Luce, R. & Van de Sompel, H.: The Open Archives initiative aimed at the further promotion of author self-archived solutions. 1999, http://www.openarchives.org/meetings/SantaFe1999/ups-invitation-ori.htm
[3] Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting - Version 1.1. 2001, http://www.openarchives.org/OAI_protocol/openarchivesprotocol.html
[4] Lagoze, C. & Van de Sompel, H.: The Open Archives Initiative: Building a low-barrier interoperability framework. 2001, http://www.openarchives.org/documents/oai.pdf
(1) http://www.openarchives.org
(2) http://www.arxiv.org
(3) http://cogprints.soton.ac.uk
(4) http://www.ncstrl.org
(5) http://www.ndltd.org
(6) http://www.repec.org
(7) unter http://www.openarchives.org/Register/BrowseSites.pl und http://www.openarchives.org/service/listproviders.html

Author Details

Susanne Dobratz, Friederike Schimmelpfennig and Peter Schirmbacher
Humboldt-University Berlin,
Computing Centre
10099 Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
Contact: dobratz@rz.hu-berlin.de