The subject of the shelf-life of previously ubiquitous storage formats is worth considering if you have any sort of archive. If you have any familiarity at all with these various formats you’re likely to have read the storage instructions at some point in the small print on the cases and labels. Don’t store tapes next to magnetic sponges in a damp cellar, or loose out of their cases on the veranda where you usually sunbathe. The general advice is store in a dry, cool, dark place, in their case and vertically. And for the most part that’s likely to be where you have stored them. However, consider that even under the best of conditions things like VHS tapes are generally considered to start degrading in quality within 10-25 years. Other tape formats have a slightly better shelf-life but the same considerations apply.
Whilst we recommend, and are set up to provide the service of, transferring your old video cassettes over to digital format it may be the case that you’ve got such a large archive that it’s going to be expensive and time-consuming to transfer everything you need to preserve. Whilst that 10-25 year lifespan is the widely accepted duration there are variables related to how the tapes have been stored or handled that could reduce that significantly. Until you’ve managed to transfer all the data that you need it is best to have some sort of strategy for storing your archive.
Damage to a Volatile Storage Medium
The most common types of damage to videos are water damage, heat damage, magnetic damage and physical damage. Usually, careful storage will avoid these problems. If you really want to make sure you have the best chances of keeping the tapes intact then you really want to be keeping each individual cassette in its case in some sort of bag with a fresh silica gel packet and then all of the cassettes in a steel container, to minimise damage from moisture and electromagnetic fields. This sort of care is probably only necessary for properly archiving valuable recordings, but you get the idea.
Furthermore, you should ideally spool through the entire tape either forwards or backwards so that the winding is evenly packed and the tape doesn’t stick together, and ideally, you would do this once a year. If you have taken something out of the archive to watch then, when finished, wind it all the way forward and then all the way back so that the winding is even. Also be careful to let the medium acclimatise to room conditions if you are retrieving it from an archive to watch. Sudden changes in temperature and humidity can degrade the quality of the tape.
When it comes to transferring the data to digital format if you have stored your original tapes properly you will get much better results and it will also save on cost if you can avoid any restoration needed where damage has occurred. The digital format allows you to make copies without degrading the information and also the future process of converting the format should be relatively painless.