That Smell in the Vaults

  • W. Mark Ritchie


THAT SMELL IN THE VAULTS: THE DEGRADATION OF POLYMERS IN AV MATERIALS VINEGAR Syndrome(1), Rancid Butter Syndrome(2), Rotten Fish Syndrome -- evocative but accurate descriptions of the pervasive killers of our sound and moving image heritage. Leaving aside the well-known problems of nitrate film we are faced with the stability problems of our polymer-based supports. All polymers are subject to decay; and the cellulose nitrate, cellulose diacetate, cellulose butyrate, cellulose propionate and cellulose triacetate bases are no exception. The problem is not limited to film -- audiotape, videotape, computer tape, computer disk and other formats are subject to the same inevitable decay and destruction. Over the last few years it has come to the attention of archivists around the world that the life expectancy of our audio-visual heritage is not what we once thought it should be. Storage conditions naturally have dramatic impacts on life expectancy. We...