Decades of History Could Be ‘Erased from Australia’s Memory’ as Tape Machines Disappear

The National Archives of Australia has a problem. You may also have the same problem, although hopefully in a smaller scale.

According to an article by James Elton in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation web site at https://ab.co/31XGcCK, Australia’s memory institutions are racing to digitise their magnetic tape collections before the year 2025, when archivists around the world expect it will become almost impossible to find working tape playback machines.

PHOTO: Old recording equipment at the Australian National Archives. (ABC News)

The tapes include audio recordings, video, and reels of digitised information. Approximately 130,000 hours of audio and video held on magnetic tape by Australia’s National Archives alone and undoubtedly there are many more hours of tapes presently stored at other government agencies, various libraries, and educational institutions as well. If not converted to modern digital storage methods, these tapes will become unusable simply because suitable playback equipment will no longer be available within a few years.

Here are the issues facing the National Archives of Australia:

  • 130,000 hours of audio and video held on magnetic tape by the National Archives
  • Machines need to play and digitise the tapes are expected to disappear by 2025
  • The National Archives has been scouring eBay and Gumtree to find suitable machines

By nature of the equipment we’re dealing with, most of it is old and obsolete and hasn’t been manufactured for decades,” said Jason Crowe, manager of audio-visual preservation at the Archives.

You can read James Elton’s article at https://ab.co/31XGcCK.

Do you have the same problem? What about those VHS video tapes you have in the TV cabinet? Maybe you have some floppy disks of computerized records. Does anyone still have some ZIP Disks?

NOTE: If you are unfamiliar with ZIP Disks, you may be interested to learn these were used in removable floppy disk storage systems that were introduced by Iomega in late 1994. Considered medium-to-high-capacity at the time of its release, Zip disks were originally launched with capacities of 100-megabyte, then 250-megabyte, and eventually 750 megabyte versions. While these were considered to be state-of-the-art in 1994, disk storage technology improved rapidly and even higher-capacity systems appeared soon after. ZIP Disks disappeared within a very few years after they were first introduced. For more information about ZIP Disks, see Wikipedia’s article at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip_drive.

If you still have important information and even old family photographs stored on magnetic tape, floppy disks, or other soon-to-become-obsolete storage devices, you need to develop a plan NOW to copy it to modern media.

6 Comments

David Paul Davenport June 22, 2019 at 2:32 am

The technology is changing more rapidly than we can keep up.!!!

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Unfortunately, there is no real solution to this problem. No matter how our info is stored, there will be some problem in maintaining and protecting it. I try to have paper copies and digital copies of photos and documents, but fire, flood, neglect and changing technology, etc. will always be a hazard.

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nothing last forever.

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We get requests all the time to restore and recover audio and video recordings. We have seen an increase in recent years since the interest in genealogy has grown.
https://www.omegalive.com/recording-restoration-services/

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This is a problem that real computer people have been dealing with for ages. Back in the mid 90’s I ran a data centre – DEC, Sun, IBM hardware – we backed everything up onto Storagetek Tape Robots. We also ran HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management) – if a file was not used for a defined period of time, it was moved to tape, and a “stub” was left on disk. If the stub was accessed (and yes, there were “interlocks” that stopped backups from triggering on these), then it would be pulled back off tape – the tapes were high speed, and the STK robots could retrieve data from any of the thousands of tapes inside them in 25-40 seconds. Part of the management software for the media, would track each tape cartridge, when it was used, how many errors were flagged on it, and so on. As an adjunct to that, I could instruct the tape management software to Migrate all data on DLT Series I tapes (40GB) , to say, DLT S4 (800GB), before decommissioning the old drives, and /or media. THis is all a relatively simple problem to solve (we were doing it nearly 30 years ago, and most of that was automated…)

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The solution is the M-Disc DVD. The life expectancy of the media is 1000 years. And so what if DVD players are obsolete 500 years from now. It probably won’t be long before an iPhone app will scan DVDs and translate them back into data files.

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