Care and Handling of Tape

General Guidelines

Proper care and handling of tapes can significantly prolong the shelf life and prevent common problems like sticky shed, mold and drop out. Here are general guidelines. For unfamiliar terms see sections on "Preservation Terms" or "Video Terms".

  • Don't stack the tapes horizontally
  • Tapes should be kept upright, supported by the hub. When stacked or stores horizontally, tapes develop uneven wind, resulting in instability during playback.
  • Avoid temperature and humidity fluctuations
  • For more detail see section on "Storage". Keep tapes out of car trunks, glove compartments, and direct sun.
  • Be careful with tapes and equipment exposed to extremes of temperature
  • If exposed to either extreme heat or cold, allow tapes and recording and playback equipment to come to the ambient room temperature and humidity before you use them.
  • Protect the tape against accidental erasure.
  • Remove the record tabs on the tapes to prevent accidental re-recording over original material.
  • Avoid contamination of tape surface
  • Handle the tape itself as little as possible to avoid contamination with oils from skin. Touch open reel tapes by the beginning and end only. Wash your hands and use gloves.
  • Avoid exposure to magnetic fields
  • While exposure must be fairly direct to cause problems, it is best to avoid exposure. Don't leave or store tapes near magnetic fields created by motors, generators, television sets, elevator installations, headphones, speakers, microphones, airport security scanning systems, or magnets of any sort.
  • Use calibrated equipment and proper rewinding
  • After use, rewind the tape to the end; don't store a tape that is stopped in the middle. It is often recommended that tapes should be periodically re-wound or repacked (open reel), but only on properly maintained and aligned equipment. Rewinding means you fast-forward the tape all the way to the end, and then rewind all the way to the end. This will hopefully minimize uneven wind, stretching, etc. You can consider a regular schedule of rewinding if it can be done on good equipment. If done on old machines, it can cause additional damage and is also labor-intensive.
  • Use high quality, brand name tapes for copying and remastering
  • Use high quality, brand name tapes for production, viewing copies and preservation copies. There is no archival format for tape at the present time, so eventually the tape will need to be remastered. The original tape must be of sufficient quality to hold up during the transfer process. Label minimally and with proper materials
  • Use archival labels which are non-acid, and which adhere without peeling off, attracting dust or debris and spreading adhesive. Use the label only to provide pertinent information. For archival labels and other materials, see the Resources, Supplies and Materials section.
  • Tape hubs should be as large in diameter as possible to prevent tape distortions.
  • Use appropriate tape containers
  • Tape containers should be strong and stable (not able to be bent) and resistant to dirt, dust and water. Use an inert tape container, not paper or cardboard. The container should be able to be closed and latched securely. If you enclose any other materials in the container, they should be clean, archivally stable material such as acid-free papers, and materials that are non-magnetic, and non-flammable.
  • Ship tapes with proper protection
  • If you ship tapes, be sure they are double-boxed, with space between tape cases and exterior boxes. Use safe packaging materials; never use fiber-filled mailers. They create dust, which gets inside the tape housing and on to everything else in the environment. If you enclose any other materials they should be clean, and archivally stable material.

Further Reading

Fifer, Sally Jo, Tamara Gould, Luke Hones, Debbie Hess Norris, Paige Ramey and Karen Weiner (eds.). Playback: A Preservation Primer for Video. San Francisco: Bay Area Video Coalition, 1998.

Lindner, Jim. The Proper Care and Feeding of Videotape  NY, VidiPax

Murphy, William T. Television and Video Preservation 1997.  Library of Congress, 1997. See the chapter "The Materials and their Preservation Needs" for a discussion on the care and handling of magnetic tape. You may order the Study from the Library of Congress.

Norris, Debbie Hess. Caring for Your Home Videotape
A publication of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

Van Bogart, John. Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling: A Guide for Libraries and Archives.  Provides guidance on how to care for these media to maximize their life expectancies. The paper was a joint project of the Council on Library and Information Services (CLIR), Commission on Preservation and Access, and National Media Lab.

Wheeler, Jim. The Dos and Don'ts of Videotape Care.

Sources for Supplies and Materials

Light Works
archival storage, display and presentation materials for negatives, transparencies, CD's, photographs, artwork and documents. Catalog available.

Conservation Online
environmental control and monitoring information

Conservation Resources International
Archival audio and video tape cassette storage boxes.

G.M. Wylie Company
Archival audio, video, and CD storage boxes.

King Video Associates, Inc. Springfield, VA
Repair and parts for all broadcast and industrial radio and television equipment, including 2" quad and other obsolete formats

Metal Edge, Inc.
Archival audio, video, CD, microfilm microfiche, and phonograph storage boxes

SOLINET Preservation Services
list includes companies that provide supplies, equipment, and services

Trak-R Logger
Sales and rental of data loggers for monitoring temperature and relative humidity

University Products, Inc.
Archival audio and video tape cassette storage boxes