Monday, September 14, 2015

Testing Old Tapes For Playability

Testing Old Tapes For Playability. Katharine Gammon. Chemical & Engineering News. September 8, 2015.
     Many audio recordings, a large part of the world’s cultural history, are in danger of degrading and being lost forever. A new infrared spectroscopy technique offers a noninvasive way to quickly separate magnetic tapes that can still be played from those that can’t. This could help archivists decide  which tapes need special handling before they get any worse.
The article refers to a published paper:

Minimally Invasive Identification of Degraded Polyester-Urethane Magnetic Tape Using Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy and Multivariate Statistics. Brianna  M.  Cassidy, et al. American Chemical Society. August 26, 2015. [PDF]
     The Cultural Heritage Index estimates there are 46 million magnetic tapes (VHS, cassette, and others) in museums and archives in the U.S. and about 40% of them are of unknown quality. Many of these tapes are reaching the end of their playable lifetime and there is not enough equipment to digitize all of them before the world loses them. Heat and humidity increase the tape degradation. The project was to "develop an easy, noninvasive method to identify the tapes that are in the most danger, so that they can be prioritized for digitization.”

George Blood said “It’s definitely a race against time, and in around 20 years we won’t be able to play back anything.” The availability of modeling tools for identifying degraded tapes will increase efficiency in digitization and improve preservation efforts for magnetic tape.

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