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MMD > Archives > March 1996 > 1996.03.07 > 05Prev  Next

Disks As Conservation Medium
By Matthew Caulfield

Jim Heyworth worries whether the disks used for archiving paper roll data will last any longer than the rolls themselves. Conservationists have to start with the premise that no medium of data recordation (whether paper, film, magnetic coating, or stone) lasts forever, but some last longer than others. Even if floppies ultimately prove to be relatively short-lived, they have the advantage as a storage medium over paper rolls that they can be faithfully and easily replicated, thereby giving them a whole new lifespan.

The Conservation Laboratory here at the Library of Congress has done much research on paper and film, the causes of their deterioration, and their probable shelflife. I don't know how far along they are in investigating the same questions for magnetic or optical disks, which are the newest data storage mediums to come along. A couple of my old reel-to-reel tapes can't be played because the magnetic coating peels off as the tape passes over the playback head, while others of the same age are fine. Quality of manufacture is one big variable in shelflife; but who can do quality control on the disks he buys? Storage conditions (temperature, humidity, atmospheric pollutants, lighting and radiation factors, packaging) also affect shelflife. It may be simpler to re-copy the archive periodically than to try to optimize these factors. What we need advice from the conservators on is what the periodicityfor the re-copying cycle should be. Does anyone on the list know?

It is amazing to me how well most music roll paper manufactured this century has lasted. A lot of twentieth-century printing paper self-destructs in a matter of years or decades because of its high wood pulp and lignin content and its high acidity (due to modern manufacturing techniques). Most paper of the 15th-18th century is still in fine condition today, due to its high rag content and low lignin and acidity quotient. I think we can count ourselves lucky that music roll paper has lasted as long as it has.

(Message sent Thu 7 Mar 1996, 23:28:18 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  As, Conservation, Disks, Medium

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