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by Ray DeCosta

Q. I'm working on digitizing family pictures that I have taken over the years. What form of physical media should I use to store them for my children and grand-children?

A. The current thinking is that optical media (CDs and DVDs) will be forward-compatible for the foreseeable future. They are so ubiquitous that it is generally thought that any "new and improved" storage system will have to allow for an easy transfer of files to the new media. After all, photos taken during the civil war are still being found, developed and digitized today.

Optical media is the best that we have in terms of permanence at the present time. Most experts think that optical media might have a realistic shelf life of 10-25 years - much less if they're exposed to light or stored improperly. Under ideal conditions, they could last as long as 50 years. However, any of these numbers are guesses at best because optical media is a relative newcomer to the scene. While CDs generally became available for computers about 1985, there have been constant improvements in materials and procedures since that time and there is simply no dependable data as to present-day media's actual storage life.

Assuming you scan your photos and slides to an optical disc, you should make up several copies using high-quality discs of different brands. The quality of optical media varies greatly and this will reduce the possibility that you might run into a bad batch of discs. Discs should be stored vertically in a cool, dry place. You MUST keep them out of direct sunlight because that will fade the dyes used for the "burning" process. Then distribute the media to all interested relatives so there will be many copies of your photos in different locations.

Perhaps you might think about using "cloud storage" for your precious photos instead of optical media. Factors to consider for this alternative would be the reputation of the storage company used and how secure they will be in protecting your files. Companies such as these often go out of business without warning, so remember to choose wisely.

Published: Courier 4/6/14 - Page 3C