Victoria picks 'open' formats for digital repository

The Public Record Office in Victoria (PROV) on Tuesday unveiled a digital archive of government documents dating back almost 200 years, with the project using 'open' formats to store data and avoid reliance on any particular software or hardware vendor. Justine Heazlewood, director of the Public Record Office in Victoria, told ZDNet Australia that her mandate is to look after the records for at least 100 years.

The Public Record Office in Victoria (PROV) on Tuesday unveiled a digital archive of government documents dating back almost 200 years, with the project using 'open' formats to store data and avoid reliance on any particular software or hardware vendor.

Justine Heazlewood, director of the Public Record Office in Victoria, told ZDNet Australia that her mandate is to look after the records for at least 100 years.

"We are interested in long term retention… our digital archive is designed to maintain [the records] in a software- and hardware-independent form and to maintain all the metadata necessary to migrate them in the future," said Heazlewood.

Heazlewood explained that documents would be stored in open formats such as text and tiff files and then put in an XML 'wrapper' before being digitally signed. Adobe's PDF format, which has already been accepted by many governments as an open standard, is also being accommodated, she said.

We have a standard for long term records based on XML... it is basically an XML wrapper and inside that wrapper we have a number of long term formats that we allow our agencies to capture their long term records in. That is mainly PDF but also text and tiff at the moment. As we require them we will expand that range but we are limiting the number of long term formats that we allow," said Heazlewood.

According to Heazlewood, restricting the formats used for long term storage does not affect the software used by the government or its agencies on a day to day basis.

"This is not stopping people from using [Microsoft] Word in their everyday use but it is saying that if you have a record that you need to preserve for the long term, you need to capture it in one of these long term formats," said Heazlewood.

The PROV's digital archive, which has the capacity to store the equivalent of more than 40km of paper records and was designed and build with the help of vendor Fujitsu, can be accessed by the public through the organisation's Web site.

In the United States earlier this year, the state of Massachusetts said it would standardise on the OpenDocument format - which has been ratified as a standard by OASIS - to ensure that state documents are preserved for 'hundreds' of years. The state also considers Adobe's PDF as an acceptable standard.

Since that announcement, Microsoft has applied to have its XML format ratified as a standard and confirmed that the next version of its Office productivity suite will fuly support the PDF file format.

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