OASIS: A ‘back to basics’ reminder

With the HERALD questionnaire being sent out to all sections of the community this week the OASIS team here at the ADS thought it would be timely to give you all a potted history of the OASIS system and try and dispel some popular myths.

The OASIS system first came into being in about 2000, but it’s genesis really dates from 1998 when a concordance exercise tried to ensure that the English heritage excavation Index  was as complete and comprehensive as possible, giving a clear national overview of  excavation work. After this concordance had been completed the OASIS form was produced to provide data to continuously update an on line index to the mass of archaeological grey literature that has been produced as a result of the advent of large-scale developer funded fieldwork and a similar increase in fieldwork undertaken by volunteers. So the OASIS system was all about the data contained within the fields of the form.

The Grey Literature Library didn’t come along until years later (2005) when we realised that the data acted as a fantastic set of resource discovery metadata for a report hosted on line. It’s funny that many current users think that OASIS is just about getting grey literature on line, but that’s not how things started and is, even today, only part of what the system does. It was in 2007 we welcomed Scottish users to the system and we made a few changes to the form to accommodate them, this also enabled us to include a module within the system to record geophysical survey events in more detail. The benefits from recording the geophysics surveys came to fruition when in 2011 we archived English Heritage’s Geophysical Survey Database; we designed the database in such a way that as new records on geophysical survey came into OASIS we could eventually include them in the larger corpus, keeping alive what would have been a static database as English Heritage ceased to update it in house.

Because of the longevity of the OASIS system and the way in which it has developed organically, with us taking advantage of reuse opportunities when they have arisen, we find that parts of the sector have some common misconceptions about it’s origins and purpose. Here we try and dispel some popular myths:

OASIS is just about the ADS getting things into the Grey Lit Library!

No! As you can see from the OASIS timeline described above getting fieldwork reports into the ADS library was a fortunate happen stance.  There’s no denying that we have come to treasure this part of the process and it has spawned many grateful comments from users and indeed facilitated some really good research projects. But just as important to us is being able to reuse all the OASIS records (the content of the fields that OASIS users fill in). As we described in other blogs this data feeds, HERs, NMRs, the Geophysical Survey database, the MEDIN portal and other outlets.  We are open to ideas for where else we may be able to reuse this.

OASIS should only be used for commercially funded projects!

No! While we started by working with HERs, focusing on those working to local authority development control briefs, there has never been any reason why the form can not be used by  other parts of the sector undertaking archaeological fieldwork in England and Scotland including community archaeologists and academics. While the proportion of records from these parts of the sector remains small, it is significant, and we are working hard to try and reach and engage these sectors with the wonders of OASIS recording.

OASIS can only be used for terrestrial fieldwork!

No! You have always been able to record maritime events and since 2012 the data from signed off OASIS records has been fed in to the MEDIN portal. MEDIN (see previous blog post) is the Marine Environment Data Information Network that aims to records everything from sea slugs to canon balls.

OASIS can be searched directly by researchers!

No! This is a very common misconception; OASIS could be thought of as a private pool of data. You have to be registered or register yourself to use OASIS and once in the system, as a fieldworker you can only see the records you have created, as an HER you can only see records in your county area. It is only when the records have been signed off by the HER and NMR that the records become ‘public’ via all the channels we have discussed before, but not in the OASIS database itself.  This misunderstanding of the system and the questions arising from it has led us to include in the HERALD (OASIS redevelopment) questionnaire a question about the stage at which you may want the records to become ‘open’ ; we’ve had a mixed bag of responses to that so far so do have your say!



3 thoughts on “OASIS: A ‘back to basics’ reminder

  1. This is a very useful blog that will clarify many questions posed by members of the various Archaeological and History Societies in the greater York area. I will use it to brief our Timeline York Plus group at our next meeting (in September). Many thanks!

  2. ADS is not an easy site to negotiate for a community group such as ours. I do not find it intuitive and have to rely on advice from Tony Austin. Tony has submitted Ceramic Reports on our behalf but I am reluctant to pester him now he has retired. If the site was more user-friendly to non-academic groups I am sure you would have more take-up.

    1. Thanks Brian for your input; trying to understand your requirements for OASIS to enable you to use it without relying on Tony (!) is exactly the sort of information we are hoping to pull together, so please do fill in the questionnaire or contact us directly with your specific comments and we’ll add them into the mix. Catherine

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