End-of-Life Care for Aging, Fragile CDs and Their Data Content

CDMany institutions and individuals that use CDs as a storage medium are now concerned because information technologists have deemed the medium to be unsuitable for long-term use. As a result, institutions are racing to get the data off the discs as quickly and safely as possible and into a more reliable digital storage environment.

Two years ago, Butch Lazorchak wrote about the Library of Congress’s Tangible Media Project and its efforts to transfer data off CDs for just that reason. And last month The Atlantic profiled Fanella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress, about the Library’s research into the physical and chemical properties of CDs and how CDs age.

At the upcoming Digital Preservation 2014, John Passmore, archives manager at New York Public Radio, will give a presentation about NYPR’s experiences in transferring the contents of their archive of over 30,000 CD-Rs. Passmore said that some of the older discs exhibit “end-of-life symptoms,” which creates an urgency at NYPR to move the content off the CD-Rs and into the organization’s asset management system. [Trevor Owens interviewed Passmore earlier this year on the subject.]

John Passmore

John Passmore, NYPR.

NYPR is gathering statistical material in the course of their data transfers and they are running forensics tools to generate data so that researchers can look for possible correlations between disc failures and specific errors. The archives uses commercial tools and custom software to automate the process.

Passmore said that there is lot to be learned regarding the chemical composition and materials of the discs, the brands, the batches and the number and severity of errors encountered during the process.

As we learn more about the physical and digital properties of CDs, it may be possible to perform triage on an at-risk collection. An archive with a dauntingly large collection may be able to evaluate a batch of discs and sort them by their relative degradation and stability, essentially creating piles, for example, of discs that are “stable for now” and “high risk of inaccessibility.”

Passmore said, “Our hope is that our data will be shared at this presentation so other organizations can learn how to better assess the long-term storage of their CD-Rs.”