Browsing through the British Library website, as I do from time to time, I came across an entry entitled A Page but not as We Know It and in it was the following wonderful phrase:
Analytical Access to the Domain Dark Archive
To me it sounded like a cross between the title of a fantasy novel and a line of Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry. It also seems mysterious and enticing – I’d never heard of dark archives and I imagined librarians creeping between long shelves of ancient books lit only by a guttering candles (too much Harry Potter here, perhaps).
Actually dark archives are, according to Webopedia, data stores not generally accessible. Access is either restricted to a few people or completely denied. Their main purpose is to act as a back up during disaster recovery. A sensible precaution for any organisation. The Analytical Access is a project of the British Library and several other academic organisations.
This common sense description doesn’t reduce their mysteries. I’d love to know how many there are, what’s in them, who has access to them, who created them.
I bet the CIA has a huge one. Ditto other security services. Then there are the digitisation programmes of major libraries. And don’t companies have them?
What will become of them in the long term if only a few people can care for them? Will they float forever in the electronic ether, lit only occasionally by the computer of a visiting historian? Or will they fade slowly into nothing? If their creators die without telling anyone the passwords, will armies of hackers have to work them out?
Or will they just be deleted?