Digital Repository Certification

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

Objective: This project helped to identify digital repositories capable of reliably storing, migrating, and providing access to digital collections.

Overview: The project was the responsibility of a joint task force between RLG and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These experts were asked to define certification requirements, to delineate a process for certifications, and to identify a certifying body (or bodies) that can implement the process.

Robin Dale, RLG's digital preservation expert, was the task force co-chair and project manager.

In 2005 the task force published a draft checklist for certifying digital repositories. The task force invited community comment on this draft document. Its final version reflected this feedback plus additional work done in a related project organized by the Center for Research Libraries.

The final report is available from the Center for Research Libraries: (pdf).


Bruce Ambacher, Co-Chair
National Archives and Records Administration
Kevin Ashley
University of London Computing Centre
John Berry
Internet Archive
Connie Brooks
Stanford University
Dale Flecker
Harvard University
Marie-Elise Fréon
Bibliothèque nationale de France
David Giaretta
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, UK
Babak Hamidzadeh
Library of Congress
Keith Johnson
Stanford University
Maggie Jones
Digital Preservation Coalition, UK
Nancy McGovern
Cornell University
Don Sawyer
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Johan Steenbakkers
Koninklijke Bibliotheek
Taylor Surface

RLG staff liaison:
Robin Dale, Task Force Co-Chair
Program Officer


The challenge: Digital information is so complex and vast that no one institution—or even a hundred institutions—can be responsible for the preservation of the world's digital cultural heritage. In a world bound by a complex array of legal, ethical, cultural, and economic obligations, the imperative of long-term access to information further complicates the roles and responsibilities of digital repositories.

These challenges plus others were documented by an influential North American report in 1996: Preserving Digital Information, from the Task Force on the Archiving of Digital Information. Since then, RLG, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and many other organizations have worked on a large array of projects to address the problems and barriers identified in this report. These efforts have helped to advance the digital archiving infrastructure called for in the report and have contributed to the development of national—and even international—digital repositories.

A critical component of infrastructure is not yet in place. Effective digital archiving services require a shared understanding across stakeholders of what is to be done—and how—by known and trusted organizations. We need a process of digital repository certification in order to rely on a repository.

A digital repository certification process should address the range of functions associated with repositories while providing layers of trust for all involved. It should yield a high degree of confidence that the information a repository disseminates is the same information that was ingested and preserved. And the certification process must also address the consequences of failure, including fail-safe mechanisms that would enable a certified archival repository to perform rescue of endangered digital information.

The task force & its charge: RLG and NARA were the joint creators of this task force. This effort was based on the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) model, and RLG and NARA intended the results to go into the standardization process via the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) Archiving Series.

The Task Force on Digital Repository Certification was charged with the following:

  • Review recent literature and consult with appropriate organizations regarding certification standards, criteria, and mechanisms.
  • Review and address applicability of existing certification options to digital repositories; address concepts of self-certification, objective (third-party) certification, and domain-specific requirements.
  • Identify a list of certifiable elements (attributes, processes, functions, activities) of a digital repository or types of repositories.
  • Create a standard certification process or a framework that can be implemented across domains or types of digital repositories.
  • Develop a certification plan: Identify certifying body/bodies, timetable for execution and adherence, frequency or cycle of certification, create technical models and economic models for sustainability of independent certifying program/body, and create implementation scenarios.
  • Define the conditions for revocation of certification and suggest appropriate action plans for endangered digital information.