The Global Digital Format Registry (GDFR) will provide sustainable distributed services to store, discover, and deliver representation information about digital formats.
The format of a digital object must be known in order to interpret the information content of that object properly. Without knowledge of its format, a digital object is merely a collection of undifferentiated bits. Thus, format typing is fundamental to the effective use, interchange, and preservation of all digitally-encoded content. In terms of the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model, the format typing of a digital object is representation information about that object; that is, it provides "information that maps the Data Object into more meaningful concepts." [ 1 ] However, in order to implement that mapping it is necessary to have complete representation information about the format itself: its syntactic and semantic rules for encoding information into digital form. As noted in the recent NSF-DELOS report, Invest to Save, "Registries of digital formats provide keys to understanding the nature of digital objects, guide the managing of their transition from one state to another, and inform the choice of preservation method for material in specific formats." [ 2 ] In so doing, format registries fall directly into the scope of the digital preservation research agenda identified in the NSF/Library of Congress workshop report, It's About Time, playing a key role in enabling and supporting technical architectures and tools "to acquire archival data, prepare data for long-term storage, and manage data over several generations of technology." [ 3 ]
The wide diversity and rapid pace of adoption and abandonment of digital formats present an ongoing problem for long-term preservation efforts. As noted in the Library of Congress planning report, Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP), "Longevity of digital data and the ability to read those data in the future depend upon standards for encoding and describing, but standards change over time." [ 4 ] The purpose of the GDFR project is to address this concern by providing a sustainable resource for managing format-critical representation information necessary to the preservation function.
[ 1 ]
ISO 14721:2003, Space data and information transfer systems - Open
archival information system - Reference model, February 24, 2003.
[ 2 ] National Science Foundation/DELOS, Invest to Save: Report and Recommendations of the NSF-DELOS Working Group on Digital Archiving and Preservation, 2003.
[ 3 ] National Science Foundation/Library of Congress, It's About Time: Research Challenges in Digital Archiving and Long-term Preservation, August 2003.
[ 4 ] Library of Congress, Preserving Our Digital Heritage: Plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program, October 2002.