Inherent Vice | Presbyterian Historical Society

Inherent Vice

The nature of records themselves can be one of the biggest preservation challenges. Whether records are on paper or hard drives,  the components of these materials are not designed to be permanent.

Acetate film negatives are susceptible to a form of decay known as "vinegar syndrome" named for the vinegar odor of acetic acid which is produced during decomposition. This causes distortion, shrinkage, and brittleness.

Inherent vice refers to the agents of deterioration that are present within the materials themselves rather than deterioration caused by external forces.  

In paper-based records, acid is the major cause of deterioration. Most paper dating after the 1840s was manufactured with groundwood pulp, which contains a high concentration of lignin. Lignin excretes acid as it ages, causing paper to darken and become brittle.

Electronic records, especially those that are born-digital, face distinct preservation challenges. Carriers of data, and the hardware used to read them, can fail or become obsolete. Software publishers may stop supporting the products used to create records. In use or in storage, files can become corrupted; absent the software that made them, proprietary file formats are unreadable. Unlike paper-based records, born-digital materials can deteriorate suddenly and unpredictably and usually have a life-span of only five to ten years.