Genealogy: Digital media storage requirements

Genealogy: Digital media storage requirementsPhysical Threats
Digital storage media and hardware are subject to numerous internal and external forces that can damage or destroy their readability:

  • Material instability
  • Improper storage environment (temperature, humidity, light, dust)
  • Overuse (mainly for physical contact media)
  • Natural disaster (fire, flood, earthquake)
  • Infrastructure failure (plumbing, electrical, climate control)
  • Inadequate hardware maintenance
  • Hardware malfunction
  • Human error (including improper handling)
  • Sabotage (theft, vandalism)

Storage Issues
Improper storage may be the most common reason for premature media failure. Moderation of temperature and humidity are well known to extend the usable life of most storage media, but many other factors can help, too.

Suggested Preservation Action

  • Maintain consistent temperature ~ 20 deg C (68 deg F) (see the IPI Media Storage Quick Reference for specific guidelines).
  • Maintain relative humidity around 40%.
  • Avoid large and rapid fluctuations in temperature/humidity.
  • Control dust (maintain a slight positive pressure environment).
  • Avoid exposure to magnetic fields (for magnetic media).
  • Avoid exposure to fumes.
  • Establish a no food, drink, or smoking policy in media storage areas.
  • Store media in closed metal cabinets, electrically grounded.
  • Shelve media vertically (not stacked).
  • Store media in their original cases.
  • Minimize exposure to sunlight and UV from light fixtures.
  • Allow media to acclimate to new temperature and humidity before using.
  • Return to controlled storage immediately after use.

Preparation Matters
Physical threats from natural disasters, infrastructure failure, and malicious destruction usually can’t be predicted, but it is possible to lessen their occurrence and minimize the damage they cause with proper preparation. Notification the moment a hazardous condition has arisen allows the fastest possible response. Sensors and alarm systems to detect and report the presence of fire, heat, smoke, water leaks and unauthorized entry are available. Fire suppression systems, floor drains, and use of heat-resistant and/or waterproof storage can all help minimize damage to sensitive media and equipment. Media storage areas should be locked  and accessible only to properly trained personnel. All media, no matter how reliable, needs to be backed up. Creation of multiple backups and the use of off-site storage for one set of copies provides the best protection against catastrophic loss.

Handling Issues
Another major threat to storage media comes from improper handling. Though many digital media give the impression of sturdiness and durability, they can be damaged by too casual an approach to use. Observe these recommendations:

Suggested Preservation Action

  • Don’t open shutters designed to protect media in cartridges.
  • Handle media with lint-free gloves to minimize dust.
  • Clean and dry hands before handling media.
  • Don’t touch exposed media surfaces (e.g., handle CDs at edges).
  • Keep media in their cases except when in use.
  • Place labels only in approved areas; write on label before applying.
  • CDs should be labeled only on the top surface with approved markers.
  • Avoid flexing CDs and DVDs.
  • Don’t leave media in drive after use.
  • Re-tension magnetic tapes after use and every 1-3 years even if not used.
  • Limit media access to properly trained staff.
  • Use write-once or recordable (rather than rewritable) media.
  • Set write-protect tabs, if available.