Advice for building archival storage cabinet for discs, docs?
April 5, 2005 6:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm seeking info on data/CD/paper/object archival storage for various stuff at my home. There are really two questions here: 1) Where can I find authoritive information about CD-ROM preserving/archival methods. 2) Where can I find info on building/converting a cabinet to a controlled environment on a low budget/DIY?

With regards to (1), I'm talking about answers to questions such as does use of adhesive labels help or hinder CD-ROM data life? How much benefit is there to using lower write speeds or is that considered a myth? Is vertical storage really better for the disc, or is it convenience? What are storage tips from (or storage methods used by professional archivists? I saw a website that covered some (but not all) of these questions, but have since been unable to find it, or find this kind of info elsewhere. It gave a brief explanation, but no clue as to whether the explanation was myth/superstition or the result of actual study.

As regards (2), my thought is that it would be useful to have a small controlled-environment cabinet where I can just put anything that I'd prefer to last a little longer than usual if possible, be it CD-ROMs or photographs or antiques that are degrading (eg leather going brittle, or metal rusting). Is there a guide to making/converting such a storage space on a budget? Or even just something that talks about the preservation techniques used, from temperature control to inert atmosphere replacement, explains when and why each might be used, disadvantages, etc, but in a readable format rather than an engineering specification.
I'm thinking building it into a display case might be an interesting thing to do, but this precludes fireproofing. Speaking of which - any authoritive info/guides to Do-It-Yourself fireproofing for a cabinet or box?

Regarding authoritive advice, Using CD-R adhesive labels could be explained as good because they protect the metal side of the CDR, or be explained as bad because they might shrink and warp the disc over time. Either explanation sounds logical enough to me, yet they advise opposite things, so explanations that sound logical enough but have no other authority backing them, are not as useful (though they often serve to highlight potential issues that may not have occurred to me). That said, non-authoritive links are still better than no links :-)
posted by -harlequin- to Science & Nature (4 answers total)
Hi there I can't offer a definitive guide but I can say that in the past 5 years a lot of cheap CD ROM manufacturers have been releasing very poor quality discs which oxidize ('oh no what do I do with all of these dumb letters' -Homer S) very quickly (within a year).

So I can strongly recommend:

- stick to trusted name brands; there is such a thing as a 'too cheap' CD ROM. I'm sure there are resources on the net that have tested these; I read a review a while back which was horrified with the number of errors that were encountered on the majority of disks after 2 years stored in a cool dry place. I don't have the link unfortunately... but I think it was in Holland somewhere.
- make at least 2 copies of all vital data. Disks are cheap; just do it.

Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs is a resource for librarians -- they're probably the reference for preservation so might be worth taking up this lead.

hope that helps,
posted by at 12:52 AM on April 6, 2005

Great question!

I think you will have an easier time devoting a room to controlled environment than making a cabinet...

Basically, every time you open the controlled environment you put a huge load on the system. It is hard to imagine the environmental control system ever being able to handle that dynamic load in real time.

So the key is subdividing the environment and subdividing it again. In this way when you get one item out you will only minimally disturb the other items. That means a controlled environment room with cabinets, and bagged items inside the cabinets.

This was all based on first principles (i.e. physics), I don't have any formal experience.

As for the CD questions...

Attaching a foreign object (a label) is probably marginally bad. You are introducing foreign chemicals... I don't think you should worry about warping the discs, but you do have to worry about messing up their balance. Also, adding attachments might help protect the discs surfaces, but you should be protecting the surfaces by proper handling instead.

Burning speed is disc dependant (which is to say, there will be an optimal speed for each disc). So, you can't just say "slower is better". Different dye formulations burn at a certain speeds. You want the dye to burn just enough, not too much or too little. It might make sense to burn discs at half the rated speed, or something...

I am 99% certain that storage direction doesn't effect CDs. The reason LPs are stored on edge is that the weight of the LPs on the top of the pile crush the groves of the LPs on the bottom of the pile. The reason newspapers are stored in piles is that the weight squeezes air out of the stack. I can't think of any related effect that would damage a CD.

Archiving, like accelerated aging, is not very precise, in general. It seems like people who are really interested just do everything practical that they can imagine, and then hope...
posted by Chuckles at 7:32 AM on April 6, 2005

Here's a real basic guide to antique preservation

I'm afraid that you'll find there are different methods (& extremes of method) for safely storing each of the items you mentioned - one for leather, one for photo's, another for metal, papers, wood, etc. I suggest researching proper storage for each item individually.

As for your CD questions - these two links should cover all you need to know:

I've just purchased a fire proof safe to store original documents and CD copies (I am a genealogist)- but discovered a special insert must be purchased in order to keep the discs from burning up. Besides keeping originals safe in your home (as much as possible) - copies, photos (say of your leather piece), and duplicates should be given to at least one other person (living in a different home of course). Doing that and getting your photos out of any of those old 'sticky' albums is the best advice I can give you.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:08 AM on April 6, 2005

Cripes, missing links!

In order of apperance -



posted by LadyBonita at 8:14 AM on April 6, 2005

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