How to keep your records and photographs protected

August 17, 1998|By Hermione Malone | Hermione Malone,KNIGHT RIDDER TRIBUNE

The first step in storing information at home - whether computer data or paper records - is deciding how long an item needs to be kept.

"If it's pictures of your family, you probably want to keep them forever. If it's tax records, after about seven years, you probably don't need them anymore," said John Van Bogart, a data preservation scientist with the National Media Laboratory in Minneapolis.

In electronic storage, key factors to keep in mind besides the storage medium itself are the format of the data and the future availability of ways to read or play what you've stored.

"If you recorded a movie on Beta many years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a Beta recorder to play it back on," said Chaim Yudkowsky, director of management consulting services at Graybush, Newman & Co. in Baltimore.

Abby Smith, program officer at the Council on Library and Information Resources, agreed.

"A disk, no matter how long it lasts, is no good if the software or hardware you have doesn't read that disk. If you bought a personal computer in the '80s, there's nothing you created then that you could play back now," she said.

It is safest to convert text files from such proprietary programs as Word and WordPerfect to ASCII text. Photos are best saved as JPEGs, a universal standard. As for spreadsheet files, save a copy as comma-delimited text. Later you can feed them into any spreadsheet program.

And no matter what method people choose to store their data, Van Bogart recommends always having more than one copy. "At least have a second copy of the information on your hard drive. That way, if one goes bad, you still have the other one," he said.

Consumers also should exercise caution when thinking of rushing out every few months for the latest high-tech storage system.

"An extra hard drive would be more reliable for storage than a floppy. A ZIP disk may be better, but we've never studied those," Van Bogart said.

"It used to be that floppies were about a dollar apiece and those would store a little over a megabyte. Today, you can get a six gigabyte hard drive for about $300. I think that comes down to about a nickel per megabyte," he said.

Besides, Van Bogart said, there are definite signals when it is time to replace storage equipment.

"If you walk into the store and find it's difficult to get that medium anymore you may have trouble finding drives or even diskettes. That would be a good indication that it's time to move up," he said.

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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