Vol. VIII, No. 2

August, 1995

Digital Shelf Life

In the May, 1995, issue of the CSA Newsletter was an article about the problems of maintaining electronic files. A recent publication of The Commission on Preservation and Access (1400 16th St., NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20036-2217) and the National Media Laboratory (Building 235-1N-17, St. Paul, MN 5514-1000) provides helpful additional information about the life of data stored on tape. Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling: A Guide for Libraries and Archives, by John W. C. Van Bogart of the National Media Lab, includes information about influences on media life and recommendations for long-term storage of important data. There are even tables to show the effects of temperature and humidity on data life.

The report also includes this sobering assessment: "As an information storage medium, magnetic tape is not as stable as film or paper. Properly cared for, film and nonacidic paper can last for centuries, whereas magnetic tape will only last a few decades." (p. 1.) Other forms of magnetic storage offer little more security.

This report is a valuable resource for anyone who intends to use magnetic tape for data storage, and it should caution anyone who is considering magnetic storage for important material over a long period of time.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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