Digital Obsolescence Case Study - Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada

Written by Gord Carter, photographer, Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada.

Fall 2007


The Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada manages and displays portions of the National Currency Collection. In 2001, the Museum decided to digitize the collection to facilitate auditing and collection management, and work began in earnest in 2002. Thus, work will continue for some time since there are approximately 100,000 artifacts in the collection. We have two concerns about the digitization process. One involves the entries in our database, which include small versions of images, and the other is the large versions of the images themselves. This case study will only address the images.

Digital Obsolescence and Digital Assets Stored On Media

Imaging studies prepared at the beginning of the Museum's digital project touched briefly on digital obsolescence. One paper proposed saving images to two DVDs and storing one version off-site or at least in another part of the building. It also mentioned the longevity of CDs, DVDs, and hard drives. Other situations weren't considered, such as the long-term availability of equipment to read the media, quality of the media, and eventual large storage capacities and migration. The recommended technology was updated before the equipment was purchased, since it became cheaper in the interim.

One of the initial steps of the Museum's imaging venture was the scanning of colour slides onto Kodak PCDs. In the few years since this was done, they have become obsolete and have been replaced with digital images of the original artifact.

We currently capture images of the artifacts with digital cameras and scanners. These images are changed from their raw format to TIFFs and are then burned onto DVDs.

The first problems emerged when we had multiple errors while burning images onto a specific brand of DVD. We immediately changed brands (we are having to migrate those now) and eventually started burning the two copies to two different brands, one being Delkin Gold DVDs. For now, that seems to be working, and the data are retrievable.

A migration plan is also being examined. All things are under consideration, including timing. Should we skip the next level of technology to save a little money and then reconsider later technology? Is our image collection stable enough to handle that? At the present time, we think so.

Investment And Financial Implications

Cost will be a factor in the next migration. This will have to be planned for and options researched thoroughly. If we stay with the current technology and strategy for the time being, it will become cheaper, since the cost of the Gold DVDs will drop. However, any new technology (storage and accessibility) will have to be studied when it becomes available. Since we are financed directly by the Bank of Canada, we will be going through budget processes to ensure that we adapt the most cost effective and sustainable option.


I think the original plan was fundamentally sound, but more research can still be carried out into product selection and eventual migration. The long-term implications must always be considered regarding the stability of the data and financial needs. Strategies such as meeting with other institutions doing the same work -- for example members of the inter-governmental Digitization Discussion Group -- will help us to learn from the experiences of others.

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