The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Have your say on today's Aardvark Daily column

The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby aardvark_admin » Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:19 am

This column is archived at:

Paper has traditionally been the archiving medium of choice.

It's cheap, convenient, technology-agnostic and stands the passage of time reasonably well, providing good inks are used and at least a modest effort is expended on ensuring a suitable environment for storage.

So how best to extend the life of a 50-year-old archive of documents?

Simply copy and reprint? If so, what sort of printing technology will be most robust and pose the fewest storage problems?

Scan and store as digital data files? If so, how do we ensure format compatibility with future systems and how do we avoid the bit-rot intrinsic to all forms of digital storage? Is the cloud a solution -- or does that pose risks of its own?

Your thoughts and comments please.
Site Admin
Posts: 3100
Joined: Wed May 07, 2014 2:10 pm

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby GSVNoFixedAbode » Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:36 am

It seems that the higher the information density, the lower the length of practical storage and retrieval time - some sort of logarithmic inverse curve I suspect (I'm sure someone will quote a Moore's Law equivalent here). Examples at either end: clay tablets such as the rosetta stone vs CD ROMs (with floppy disks a blip on that line).

Regarding your specific issue Bruce I'd say scanning each page to an image or OCR - smartphones have some excellent apps to do this now, including Google - then storing this digital information in a managed archived. It will need to be a managed archive so that it can be periodically upgraded/relocated/converted to the current form. The higher the density of information, the greater management requirement. Once everything is in digital form then re-printing to dead-tree format could be done at a cost to archival-level storage but that won't be cheap.
Last edited by GSVNoFixedAbode on Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 199
Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 8:53 am

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby ffirman » Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:37 am

The best I have heard of for something lasting a long time, is punch card.

Thou probably better if it was punched out of a metal, or stone that won't corrode.

Doesn't make it that easy to read with out knowing how it works thou. But that being said, the written word on paper is one of the longest lasting forms we have.

Now if you really wanted to make it live in the cheapest way, bundle it all up in to a movie file. a few frames per written page, and call it something XXX like and put it on bittorrent.

At least then it would be spread around to lots and lots of harddrives to almost live forever that way. lol

Other groups that are storing lots of digital data, find it is something that has to be revisited often to move to newer formats and to also make sure that the data stays clean. Using some of the redundant coding options, stored with the data, so that bit rot can be corrected.

Posts: 30
Joined: Wed May 07, 2014 8:29 pm

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby hagfish » Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:21 am

Microfiche is supposed to last for centuries. There's lots of help available with converting microfilm material to digital; not so much going the other way! For the 'belt and braces' approach, you'd want to scan the material to PDF, and then generate microfilm from the scans. I don't know if anyone has a workflow that supports that, rather than scanning directly from the source doucments. Micrographics may be able to help.
Posts: 651
Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 10:28 am

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby phill » Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:24 am ... le+scanner

then get this lot into local / regional government archives ..reasoning .... this is the area that has lost more of its historical documents than any other
its not something they are doing but likely something they would do with the suggestion

What if I see something that needs fixing?
We want your feedback so that we can continue to improve the service. To send us your comments and suggestions, please email
( ,,,,,,,, ....... A E I O U use em sparingly theres probably not enough )
User avatar
Posts: 1491
Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2014 8:31 pm

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby namartinnz » Tue Apr 17, 2018 11:16 am

You can still print with inkjets and get long life and water resistance if you use pigment inks (mainly on commercial inkjet printers like I use), not dye based much like those used with cheap home printers. So with good paper you could still make paper archives.

I find it's easier to rotate my digital archives onto multi hard drives and add or update as required. That's worked quite well since 2000
Posts: 16
Joined: Thu Jun 09, 2016 5:43 pm

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby GadgetFreak » Tue Apr 17, 2018 12:49 pm

Paper? Probably not - as least as far as "printing to" goes, for exactly the reasons you've outlined, Bruce.
I'd brute-force the problem: scan in at least 2 "popular" formats (eg PDF and some kind of image format) for long-term file compatibility, then archive to multiple places/mediums: at least 2 cloud/non-local accounts, at least 2 local "hard" formats (eg external SSD / Archive-grade optical media).
Then plan to "refresh" ea archive on a rolling 2-3 year schedule, so all are refreshed at least once every 5-6 years.
This also provides the opportunity for "tell me three times" redundancy: if the checksums of 1 or 2 of the storage mediums differ, the "good" archives can be cross-written.
At the very least, have digital copies of the archive held in different physical locations - I'm sure there are others out there who, like me, would happily store a terabyte-or-so's data for a project like this.
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:14 am

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby Stevesub » Tue Apr 17, 2018 2:36 pm

We keep multiple copies of our backups on portable hard drives in 2 different locations plus one that I travel with and on the cloud. They are refreshed at 6 monthly intervals for the locations and monthly for the travel drive. Lots of effort but this is the best that I can come up with economically.
Posts: 220
Joined: Fri May 09, 2014 5:14 pm

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby paulw » Tue Apr 17, 2018 4:28 pm

Analog backup like paper or stone is still the best. Movie studios still do color separations onto three black and while movie films for archival purposes as who knows in say 20 years if the digital masters will still be readable due to technology changes.
Posts: 262
Joined: Thu May 08, 2014 8:33 am

Re: The merits of paper as an archival medium (17 Apr, 2018)

Postby nutbugs » Tue Apr 17, 2018 4:33 pm

We have started exploring the m-disc ( technology for archival purposes.
They come in a range of sizes including the standard dvd/blueray capacities and recorded discs can be read in a standard optical drive.

Of course as you say - you might struggle to find an optical drive in a few years - but if it does what it says on the box it is probably the best option I have found to date.
Posts: 6
Joined: Fri May 09, 2014 2:30 pm


Return to Today's column

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests