Dark data are collections of objects or information that reside in a business's files, an office, a garage, or home, which could provide important information for researchers, businesses or historians, if they only knew these data exist. There are many stories of finding letters, original music scores, paintings, diaries, buckets of fossils, which provided important information to someone. Dark data have been around ever since humans began collecting objects, and then forgetting about them, a generation or so later.
|Gordon's scrapbook collection now resides at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. This and other photos showing his collection were taken by Barbara Minard, courtesy Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington.|
|Gordon's media varied over the years, but the detailed documentation did not change. Image courtesy of Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington.|
|One open page in one of Gordon's books shows clippings about military friends. Courtesy Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington.|
Not all collections are alike in value, and that value is usually intellectual. The most important are those that have provenance––annotations about when, where and how the objects were obtained. Without this provenance, collections are just assemblages of stuff once the collector is gone. The line between collectors and hoarders can be pretty thin, and well documented provenance is a key difference between them.
|This dried plant, Rumex pseudonatronalis, is heading for a regional herbarium. I first saw it years ago on the Columbia River, and finally collected it in 2013.|
|My field companion is a tough plastic notebook with Rite in the Rain waterproof paper, and a sturdy mechanical pencil. The paper is pH stable and archival, and the notes will last for decades, and probably for centuries.|
If you are a collector, and you keep the details about each item in your collection in your memory right now, please take the time to write those details down. When your heirs sort out your collections, those with provenance can go on to the next generation, or a museum. Without this information, it's more likely to be lost, and to join the vast number of collections that have already gone dark, and joined the ghost data scrap heap.