I was shocked a few months ago to learn that my VHS tapes are in danger. While I thought that they had another few decades of life in them, it turns out that 15-20 years is about the healthy age range you can expect. The reason for this is their magnetic fields, which fade over time until the magnetism is so weak that the tapes become unplayable - and it’s not possible to get it back. Most tapes were recorded in the 1980s and 90s, which means now is the time to save them!
If your VHS tapes aren’t stored carefully, that lifespan can be even shorter. “VHS tapes degrade easily from exposure to heat and humidity, causing poor tracking, reduced color saturation, and static. Many tapes stored in attics or garages break during fast-forward or rewind operations. Unless the case unscrews, which is rare, there is no easy way to repair the tape" (Saving Stuff: Digital Preservation for Family Historians, pg. 19. Computers in Libraries, April 2017).
Before you break out in a sweat thinking of all the childhood memories stored on tapes hiding in a closet somewhere in your house, you should know that there are plenty of services out there to digitize tapes, including a VHS converter we have right here at Provo City Library. The best part is that it’s free to use!
I have been bringing in a few tapes at a time to convert, and the process is easy enough to do yourself, although our librarians can also walk you through it. It’s pretty magical seeing memories I haven’t thought of in 20 years come back to life before me. Even if the tapes weren’t expiring soon, the thrill of re-visiting important moments from my life and sharing them with family and friends online has been worth the time.
You can call 801-852-7681 to make a reservation to use this equipment any time the library is open. We also offer audio transfer services if you have old LPs or cassette tapes (those cassettes were created with magnetism just like your VHS, and will be fading soon, too!). More about our digital transfer services can also be found by visiting this page.