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Dancing Queen’s Durability?

On Aug. 17, 1982, the world’s first compact disc was manufactured at the Philips factory near Hanover, Germany. That CD was “The Visitors,” the last studio album by ABBA. With the advent of Blu-ray discs and digital music downloads, the future of CDs and DVDs is in question, although the staying power of the famous Swedish pop quartet hasn’t wavered. (Admit it, “Dancing Queen” always warrants turning up the volume.)

Jelly Roll Morton Boxed CD Set. Library of Congress Shop “Sounds of Earth” gold disc was a 2007 selection to the National Film Registry. 1977

But for those foreseeing a future of collecting CDs and DVDs for nostalgia’s sake, much like the reverence given to classic vinyl, the more important question is that of physical longevity. The Library’s Preservation Directorate, in cooperation with the Information Access Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), conducted a study to address such a question. The effort was aimed at estimating the life expectancy of information stored in CD-R, DVD-R and DVD+R, as well as DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs.

Ultimately, what they found was that the products reacted to the various exposure conditions in different ways, making predictions hard to come by and broad at best. Of note, however, CDs tended to have a higher probability of prolonged lifetime relative to DVDs. Also, the researchers noted that these media are machine-dependent, so their longevity is also dependent upon the survival of working hardware. So, rule of thumb: make sure to keep your CD and DVD players in working order, or hope that eBay stays in business decades from now.

Through its Preservation Directorate, founded in 1967, the Library is a leader in preservation awareness, education, research and treatment of library materials.

In addition to preserving the media on which audio and visual materials are stored, the Library also seeks to preserve the recordings themselves, by maintaining a National Recording Registry and National Film Registry.

Because of nominations from the public, several relatively obscure recordings have come to the attention of the Library, ensuring that they will be preserved for all time. These recordings include a 1930 performance of a Modesto, California, high school band performing in a national competition; O. Winston Link's steam locomotive recordings; and a 1972 recording of a haunting foghorn in Kewaunee, Wis.

Nominations are continually being accepted for both the recording and film registries.

A. Jelly Roll Morton Boxed CD Set. Library of Congress Shop. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. “Sounds of Earth” gold disc was a 2007 selection to the National Film Registry. 1977. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.