Whether it’s the family photo album in the closet or analog film and video stored in a drawer, most of us have an assemblage of memories captured with old-school media.
But the longer those items sit uncared for, the harder it can become to enjoy them as they were originally intended, reducing what was once a proud bastion of evocative recollections into an unusable crate of mildewed plastic and tape.
If you want to hold on to these old-media memories in their current format, then you should consider the best ways to maintain and store it. Because Father Time is undefeated when it comes to eroding delicate technology built from metal and plastic and celluloid.
CDs and DVDs
Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away, people believed that CD and DVD technology would be indestructible and that your disc collection could not only survive a lifetime but continue to play perfectly.
But anyone with a CD book full of chipped, scratched and faded CDs knows reality has fallen short of that promise. CDs and DVDs are quite vulnerable if not cared for — and even if they remain encased, they can still be susceptible to decay.
When it comes to CDs, damage to either side of a CD or DVD (the shiny “read” side or the aluminized “label” side) can occur if any dirt, fingerprints, or scratches get on the disc and interfere with the laser being able to read the disc’s data.
It’s actually the label side that is more delicate and easy to damage — damage on that side can impair how the disc plays just as much as damage to the clear underside of the disc. So be mindful of treating each side with care and take pains to hold discs by the edges to avoid scratching and sullying the data.
Store CDs and DVDs vertically and keep them in a cool, dry place with clean air if possible. (Heat and humidity will cause faster deterioration to the data side of the disc.)
Avoid putting labels on your discs, and if you write on a blank disc used for copying, make sure to use soft water or alcohol-based markers — no pens, pencils, or fine-tip markers.
And don’t pile heavy CD books on top of each other. Tall piles add pressure on the discs near the bottom and can lead to cracking or other deformities.
Film negatives, tapes, and VHS videos
It wasn’t that long ago when developing photographs meant dropping them off at a film-processing center then waiting a few days and getting your photos along with the original film negatives.
Most households had a box (or boxes) full of negatives that were impossible to tell apart but deemed too important to get rid of. They aren’t easy to sort, or even see, but they do hold tremendous personal value to people as they remain one of the few pathways to re-creating and producing old family photographs.
Properly storing them means handling them with extreme care, as they are already very fragile and delicate. Dust, dirt and oil can cause harm to the negatives, so make sure your hands are clean and dry when touching them, hold them by the edges and store them in polyethylene sleeves.
And what about the old shoebox as a storage case?
According to Cathi Nelson, CEO and founder of the Association of Professional Photo Organizers, think again.
“Shoeboxes are not a good option for storing photographs. They are not well constructed and can add to the deterioration of photos,” Nelson told Considerable.
“We recommend photo-safe boxes that are made of archival safe materials,” Nelson said. “Look for a sturdy box with compartments that allow you to separate photos by dates or themes, has a good lid so if the box tips over you won’t lose all the work you’ve done and allows your photos to breathe.”
Cassettes and VHS tapes should be kept out of the sun in a cool, dry place where the temperature is consistent. Extreme cold and heat degrade tapes more quickly. Like CDs and DVDs, tapes should be stored vertically to cut down on the risk of warping or cracking.
It’s also wise to rewind VHS tapes fully after watching them. Don’t leave them inside a VCR, where they can get stuck or accumulate additional dust or debris.
A final piece of advice: Store audio or videotapes away from anything that can create a magnetic field, which in some instances can erase the contents of a tape.
That means not storing them alongside loudspeakers, which may contain magnets; surge protectors; or high-voltage electrical lines.
And if you want to digitize old-school media to archive or restore, you should do it sooner than later. A lot of the information stored on a film negative or a VHS cassette will lose clarity and vibrancy with each passing day.