Until recently, the popular belief was that information stored on audio and videotape would be permanent. Magnetic tape has become the archival storage medium of our age. In the short term, magnetic tape has allowed us to save and replay history at will, whether a major national event or important personal moments.
Now we realize that with audio and videotape there is no long term. Magnetic media has a very limited life span and priceless sounds and images are in danger of being lost forever.
Audio and video collections require specific care and handling to ensure that the recorded information will be preserved. Special storage environments are necessary to ensure that the recorded information is preserved for longer than 10 years. For information that must be preserved indefinitely, periodic transcription from old media to new is necessary, not only because the media are unstable, but also because the recording technology will become obsolete.
The magnitude of the problem of magnetic tape deterioration is just starting to be realized. Virtually all of the magnetic tape ever recorded older than as little as 10 years may be in serious jeopardy. The threat comes from several sources, but the largest threat is chemical in nature, coming from the breakdown of the binder, or glue, that holds the magnetic particles to the polyester base of the tape. As this hydrolysis process occurs, (sometimes known as "Sticky Shed Syndrome"), the tape often gets coated with a tenacious adhesive that makes it extremely difficult to play. In some cases the problem can be so severe that the magnetic material literally falls off or sheds from the base leaving a pile of dust and clear backing. The problem of hydrolysis has been known for some time, but the extent of both the problem and catastrophic effect it has on magnetic media is just now reaching widespread public visibility.
At risk is virtually the entire inventory of recorded media, from master audio recordings of symphonies to videotape recordings of the news gathered over the last 40 years. Virtually our entire audio and visual heritage from the 1940's to the 1980's is in serious jeopardy. No tape is safe from the multiple threats that vary from accidental erasure and physical loss due to fire and flood, to the slow disappearance of the machines that are required to replay the tapes. Coupled with Sticky Shed Syndrome, the threat is far greater than anticipated. Realistically, some of the vast inventory of tapes are of little value being copies of other materials, but many others are masters, original recordings, that cannot be readily duplicated. And the amount of tapes needed to be restored is so huge, that it would take decades, even if facilities, techniques, and funding were readily available.
Facing the challenge
The question is: "What to do to face this problem that has been described as 'a tidal wave at our shores'?"
The problem is immense indeed. Over the last few decades more than 10 billion blank audio tapes were sold worldwide. Assuming that only one percent of these tapes contains really unique recordings (like family events, interviews, meetings, live recordings etc.) we are talking about 100 million audio tapes that are in potential jeopardy. At an average length of 70 minutes per audio tape 87.5 million CDs would be required to save the entire collection and about 20,000 man-years to do the actual conversion work. This is assuming that all tapes can still be recovered and conversion is to a CD. Given the 10 year period in which this needs to happen it is obvious that there is a major challenge ahead to preserve our legacy recordings.
There are various ways to preserve unique audio and video data. For information that must be preserved indefinitely, periodic transcription from old media to new is necessary, not only because the media are unstable, but also because the recording technology will become obsolete.
Converting audio tapes to CD and videotapes to DVD using a reputable transfer company is a most viable and cost effective option to save recordings for consumers. At Digital Transfer we can preserve your precious recordings.
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