The ubiquitous shiny disc. Photo: “Fanch The System.”

There’s a massive misconception of digital formats, that somehow if something’s digital it’ll last forever in a pristine state. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: because digital formats are so intolerant of any error, they’re actually more susceptible to physical harm than analog formats. (If you don’t believe me, compare a vinyl LP with some scratches on it to a CD with a single scratch.)

Now, the question is, how dedicated are you to proper care and feeding of your discs? Enough to care whether you’re handling your CDs and Blu-ray discs according to an internationally-recognized standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (better known as ISO … not IOS)? Got 108 Swiss francs burning a hole in your pocket and want some unusually dry bedside reading?

ISO 18938:2008 addresses the issues of physical integrity of the medium necessary to preserve access to the recorded data. These include:

  • use and handling environments, including pollutants, temperature and humidity and light exposure
  • contamination concerns
  • inspection
  • cleaning and maintenance, including cleaning methods and frequency
  • transportation
  • disasters, including water, fire, construction and post-disaster procedures
  • staff training

I kid, of course – I imagine there could be some utility to this document for people who depend on optical storage and want this sort of official document. I will say, though, ISO – any thought of releasing a free executive summary for everyone else?

New ISO standard gives recommendations for care of optical discs []

Proper care and handling isn’t the only challenge facing optically-stored digital information. The materials from which discs are made don’t last forever. (They don’t bio-degrade, either, but what they will do is fatigue and age to the point that you can’t read the information on them or return them to the Earth, ashes to ashes style.)

So, I’m curious, optical experts out there? What do you recommend for care of optical discs? And for long-term archiving, what sort of options do people have?