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Digital Storage Media: Will it Stand the Test of Time?


New York, Mar 25, 2005

Photo scrapbooks and Super 8 films were once the treasured records of family histories that were passed from one generation to the next, capturing the images and sounds that make up our memories. With the advent of recordable digital media, photos, movies and music are efficiently and safely contained, and easily accessed and shared. But will that DVD of family photos last a lifetime? Recordable optical media is not only worth its sentimental value – it is critical to government agencies, hospitals, banks and other organizations that store massive amounts of vital data on optical disks. Research efforts into the longevity of this vital technology are underway.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a member of the American National Standards Institute, is developing a standard test to estimate the longevity of recordable optical media. NIST, along with the assistance of the DVD Association (DVDA) and the Government Information Preservation Working Group (GIPWoG), is asking federal agencies and other organizations to answer a brief survey concerning the longevity of storage media. To participate, go to www.itl.nist.gov/div895/gipwog/index.html. The deadline for responding is May 31, 2005.

According to NIST, the test being developed will not measure actual longevity but will determine the archival quality of the media and whether it will last at least a minimum number of years. The NIST researchers recently tested how well recordable optical disks made with different manufacturing processes held up when exposed to high temperatures, humidity and light levels. They found that some disks can be expected to store data reliably for several tens of years.

NIST is also a participating agency in the collaborative research of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIP), led by the Library of Congress. The Digital Preservation Program is a cooperative effort that will seek to provide a national strategy of the important policy, standards and technical components necessary to preserve digital content. In 2000, Congress appropriated $100 million (rescinded to $99.8 million) to the Library to spearhead a national digital-strategy effort and called for the Library to work jointly with the Secretary of Commerce, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

The NDIIPP falls within the Library's mission, which is "to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations." For more information, visit http://www.digitalpreservation.gov.

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