Electronic Media Collections Care for Small Museums and Archives


Electronic Media Collections Care for Small Museums and Archives

Introduction – Step 1 – Step 2 – Step 3 – Step 4 – Further Suggestions and Acknowledgements

Nearly every museum in Canada has a growing collection of electronic media, including audiotapes, videotapes, CDs and DVDs. Unfortunately, many of these media have poor survival characteristics. Information can be lost for a number of reasons.

Survival rates are unpredictable

The longevity of electronic media is affected by a variety of factors:

  • storage conditions
  • quality of products
  • composition of products, which can alter through time as better materials become available and relative costs of raw materials change

These multiple influences make it difficult to accurately predict survival rates.

The values presented in the accompanying table are rough estimates only. It is best to be conservative when predicting survival rates and to take action to preserve electronic media earlier rather than later.

Predicted longevity of electronic media
  Media typePredicted longevity
Magnetic Discs Hard disks 2 to 5 years
Floppy diskettes 5 to 15 years
Magnetic tapes Digital 5 to 10 years
Analog 10 to 30 years
Optical discs CD-R (azo dye) 5 to 10 years
DVD+R DL 5 to 10 years
Blu-ray Disc-R 5 to 10 years
DVD-RW, DVD+RW 5 to 20 years
DVD 10 to 20 years
Blu-ray Disc 10 to 20 years
Blu-ray Disc-RE 10 to 20 years
DVD-R, DVD+R 10 to 50 years
CD-RW 20 to 50 years
CD-R (cyanine dye) 20 to 50 years
Audio CD 50 to 100 years
DVD-R (gold metal layer) 50 to 100 years
CD-R (phthalocyanine dye, silver metal layer) 50 to 100 years
CD-R (phthalocyanine dye, gold metal layer) More than 100 years
Other optical discs MO, WORM, etc. 10 to 25 years
Flash media   10 to 100 years
Equipment becomes obsolete

Technology is constantly changing. For example, it is now difficult to obtain a reel-to-reel tape recorder or an eight-track tape player, although these technologies were once widespread. Likewise, the once very popular VHS videotape recorders and audio cassette players will probably become unavailable at some point in the future, as will CD and DVD players/drives.

Operating systems and file formats change

Operating software is also in a constant state of change. Therefore, it is likely that the operating system software required to read electronic media collections, as well as the file formats for images, audio, video or text information, will become obsolete.

Steps to improve longevity of electronic media

There are some concrete steps that museums can take to improve the longevity of electronic media collections. Taking action now will make it much less likely that information will be lost in the future.

  1. STEP 1 — Collection survey
  2. STEP 2 — Improved storage
  3. STEP 3 — Preparations and practice for reformatting
  4. STEP 4 — Documentation
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