How will you retain records for the long haul? It depends on how you define “long”. Nearly everyone (individual and business alike) has certain records to retain for years, and some may need retention for decades or centuries. How can you accomplish this?
First, consider whether to store records as atoms or bits. You can convert paper to data or vice versa, and there are pros and cons to both:
- Properly handled physical (paper or film) records should last for hundreds of years and can remain readable without software or devices. But they’re hard to search (you need an index), and paper is bulky, heavy, and difficult to work with.
- Digital records can either be stored offline or kept “alive,” but questions remain about their long-term reliability and readability. Living records can be easy to search and use, and digital storage can be very space-efficient, but data tends to pile up “out of sight.”
Long-term storage of records on physical media is proven – think about papyrus, tablets, gold or nickel discs, film, and paper. But will digital media fare as well? Data tapes and disks can degrade over time, and manufacturer reliability specs are based on accelerated testing, not actual experience. Regardless of media type, careful handling can extend media life.
But will you still be able to read it? Tapes and optical disks require additional hardware to read, while disk drives are paired with their read heads. Software applications are needed to read and interpret data (backup, archiving, compression, encryption, deduplication, database) as well. What about content format? Should you use ASCII, XML, PDF/A?
I’ll be presenting a webinar on this topic tomorrow, Wednesday, December 3, at 2:00 PM Eastern time. Register on-line at the AIIM web site and join me for the discussion!