Monday, August 25, 2014

AV Preservation at the Library of Congress, Part II: "There is no average life span for a CD"

Same CD, different results. From the Library of Congress report discussed below.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about IRENE, a tool used by the Library of Congress to lift the audio from vinyl discs and wax cylinders without actually touching them. This week, NPR documented another research project of LOC's preservation arm: CD longevity research.

While CDs will last longer than magnetic tape media, many types of CDs are not built to last. To complicate preservation more, CDs (like other digital media) are hardware and software dependent (I'm sure many of you have noticed that many laptop computers do not even have CD drives in them any more). But laying the access problem aside, this study for the Library of Congress attempts to answer the questions: How long can the physical compact disc last before becoming corrupted? How well and it what way does the CD age? 

The short (and unfortunate) answer is this: it depends. There happens to be a wide range in the quality of CDs produced. Climate control and limiting use, however, does make a difference in increasing longevity. Click here to read the full report, or here to read the LOC summary. Obviously, more studies are needed. I was able to meet one of the people mentioned in the NPR article, Fenella France, as she told our tour group about this research, and I got to see in person the CDs shown above, both artificially aged to very different results. While CDs are more likely to become completely obsolete than vinyl, there are still vast stores of information that are only on CDs, and a huge part of some libraries' collections are on CD. In other words, these questions will only get more important.

Vocab: magnetic tape, compact disc, vinyl

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