ELL: cassette tape shelf life?

Bill Poser Bill_Poser at TELUS.NET
Thu Nov 23 11:32:39 UTC 2000

Cassette tapes can survive for many years, but they are also quite
subject to damage. They do not like being exposed to strong magnetic
fields (such as generated by many electric motors) and are quite
susceptible to heat. I've had cassettes ruined just from leaving them on
the dashboard in hot weather for a few hours.

I strongly recommend against making use of any kind of tape for archival
purposes. Other media, such as minisdics and CDs, are less susceptible
to damage, though, since they are new, there is not much hard data on
their long-term stability. The paramount principle for archival material
therefore should be not to assume that it will last very long. Instead
of planning on a particular incarnation of the data lasting
indefinitely, put the data into a format that is easily copied and plan
on updating periodically, say every five years.

This means that the audio should be digitized. You can either record
digitally in the first place or digitize analogue recordings. Once you
have digital data, it can easily be copied, and it can be copied
repeatedly without deterioration. You can back it up by burning it onto
CDs, but instead of assuming that CDs will last forever, plan on burning
a new set (or perhaps DVDs, or whatever the new format is) in a few
years. A further advantage to digital storage is that digital audio
files can readily be combined with non-audio information: transcription,
translation, annotation, photographs, drawings, maps, video clips, etc.

Bill Poser

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