Spotlight on Video, CD & DVD
Videotape is a type of magnetic tape that records images on metal oxide-coated polyester tape. Each time you play the tape, the VCR wears away at the metal oxides and degrades the images. Dirt adds to the problem. You should look for several types of damage: blocking (where tape sticks together), dropout (missing magnetic material) and deterioration of the base. Remember that videotape is a temporary storage medium; all tapes are unplayable in less than a decade. And the cheaper the tape, the less likely it will last that long. Your only solution is to make a preservation copy of the tape and store it away from magnetic sources. For maximum longevity, the University of Michigan’s Clarke Library www.lib.cmich.edu/clarke/pres.htm suggests buying brand-name tape, checking it once a year for damage, rewinding your preservation copy and making sure you regularly clean your VCR.
While CDs and DVDs are more stable than video, their longevity hasn’t been clearly established. Initially, CDs lasted only as long as videos, but manufacturers now report that their products last 100 years. (Of course, who knows if the equipment to play them will still exist?) Light, heat and abrasion damage these discs. Like film and photographs, you should handle them by their edges and store them in a cool, dry environment.
Contributing editor Maureen A. Taylor is the author of Preserving Your Family Photographs (Betterway Books, $19.99). She helps solve readers’ family photo mysteries in her online column at www.familytreemagazine.com/photos/current.htm.