Proper Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs

Saving Your Bacon”

Over the years I’ve had some ‘almost’ tragic experiences losing information and digital images. Fortunately I had multiple backups on different kinds of media and devices that saved my bacon.

I’m writing today to help save your bacon and protect you from yourself. I’m guessing you are like many people I speak with via the phone or at family history conventions. Unfortunately you may have acquired some bad habits over the years. Worst of all, you thought you were doing the right thing by protecting the reflective side of your CDs. Oops!

First of all, let’s shed some light on a few myths.

  1. There’s no perfect medium for preserving information and photos unless you can afford to write and record on gold, stainless steel or stone.

  2. All the archival media of today have trade offs. CDs, DVDs, Blu ray, hard drives, flash drives (have the lowest life time expectancy and are meant for temporary storage), tape drives etc. Each has a vulnerability for future destruction, failure or data loss. Not to mention having no access in the future to a device that can read or “play” the media. Here’s an example. Do you have any old 8-track tapes? Do you have an 8-track player? Ah haw! I got you there. So without the player you can’t play any of the tapes making your old tapes worthless and inaccessible no mater how well preserved. Do you know a friend with an 8-track player? That would be me. However, as time marches on, access to old technology will become impossible and the old device may not work anymore.

What’s the Best Archival / Storage Method?

Let’s be very clear and realistic – there is no single, best method for archiving and preservation. My recommendation is somewhat simple.

  • Use different kinds of media.
  • Create multiple copies that are stored in different locations outside your home.

Why? A flood, fire, earthquake, theft or other natural disaster could wipe out ALL your family history in seconds. Sharing your photos and information is the BEST survival strategy.

Please refer to my newsletter for an interesting perspective on preserving and archiving. Following the simple recommendations in this newsletter will assure your photos and family history will be backed up and preserved using the latest and most sophisticated technology. Best of all, it won’t cost you a dime to utilize this preservation strategy.

You should also consider learning how to embed photo information directly into the photo file (IPTC) so information will survive with the file into the future. It’s doesn’t do much good to go to all this work to preserve photos without any identifying and associated information. See this newsletter.

CD/DVD Do’s and Don’ts

Protect the correct side of the CD. It’s NOT the reflective side. Trust me and read on. Protect the label side of the CD from scratches and abuse. Any damage to the label side may destroy the information on the CD. If you must lay the CD next to your computer, lay it down with the reflective side up!!

Don’t Write on a CD. The acid in the ink will eat through the thin layer of protective coating. The pressure applied while writing with a ballpoint pen may damage or pierce the surface coating. Always use pens that are made specifically for writing on CDs. You can find these at any office supply or stationary section of a department store.

Never Put Post-It Notes or labels on a CD. Once a I put a post-it note on a CD. A week later when I removed the post-it note and part of the reflective coating came off with the note. However, all was not lost since the CD made a nice drink coaster.

Labeling CDs? I admit it – I’m paranoid. I never put any kind of a label on a CD. One fear is it may cause the CD to wobble in the drive which makes it impossible for the drive to read the CD. This is kind of like the wheel on your car vibrating at high speed because the tire is out of balance as it spins.

Never Put a Partial Label on a CD. If you must use a paper label select from a high quality brand. I’d never put any paper labels on a CD to use for archival purposes. I prefer to create colorful jewel case insert for a CD/DVD I’m sharing.

Protect the Reflective Surface of a DVD. Just when you thought you had a one size fits all strategy for protecting CDs I throw this next curve at you.

Protecting a DVD is the opposite of CD. Unlike a CD, a DVD has two layers of plastic so you don’t need to worry about protecting the label side of a DVD. You need to protect the reflective side. Why? Because a DVD uses smaller dots to record the information which is why they hold more data than a CD. However, scratches on the reflective side of a DVD are much more serious than a CD. In other words, a few small scratches on the reflective side of a DVD may be the kiss of death when trying to access anything stored on the DVD.

Protect BOTH Sides of a CD/DVD. This is obvious. I added this so I would not be embarrassed by some sending feedback Titled – “Well Duh, you should protect both sides dummy!”

Proper Storage of CD/DVDs. Just like the old vinyl music records of past years, store your CD/DVDs in a protective plastic jewel case standing on its edge in a dark, cool dry place. The plastic and coating used may age when DVDs and CDs are left out in the sun. Even ambient room light can deteriorate the surface of CD/DVDs.

Use Archival Quality CD/DVDs. Consider purchasing “gold” archival DVDs. Why use an expensive CD? A CD holds less information. The cost of archival DVDs will be less than the cost of using archive CDs. Just because it looks like it’s gold doesn’t make it a gold archival quality CD/DVD. Read the CD/DVD specification to be sure it is an archival quality CD/DVD.

You can find more information about preservation in my book, The Digital Family History Guidebook.

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One Response to “Proper Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs”

  1. MaryAnne Ashton Says:

    I see my name written ALL over this article! Thank you for writing it! I am guilty of many errors here. M

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