The Archive Is Closed [Library of Congress Twitter Archive]

The Archive Is Closed by Scott McLemee.

From the post:

Five years ago, this column looked into scholarly potential of the Twitter archive the Library of Congress had recently acquired. That potential was by no means self-evident. The incensed “my tax dollars are being used for this?” comments practically wrote themselves, even without the help of Twitter bots.

For what — after all — is the value of a dead tweet? Why would anyone study 140-character messages, for the most part concerning mundane and hyperephemeral topics, with many of them written as if to document the lowest possible levels of functional literacy?
As I wrote at the time, papers by those actually doing the research treated Twitter as one more form of human communication and interaction. The focus was not on the content of any specific message, but on the patterns that emerged when they were analyzed in the aggregate. Gather enough raw data, apply suitable methods, and the results could be interesting. (For more detail, see the original discussion.)

The key thing was to have enough tweets on hand to grind up and analyze. So, yes, an archive. In the meantime, the case for tweet preservation seems easier to make now that elected officials, religious leaders and major media outlets use Twitter. A recent volume called Twitter and Society (Peter Lang, 2014) collects papers on how politics, journalism, the marketplace and (of course) academe itself have absorbed the impact of this high-volume, low-word-count medium.

As far as the Library of Congress archive, Scott reports:


The Library of Congress finds itself in the position of someone who has agreed to store the Atlantic Ocean in his basement. The embarrassment is palpable. No report on the status of the archive has been issued in more than two years, and my effort to extract one elicited nothing but a statement of facts that were never in doubt.

“The library continues to collect and preserve tweets,” said Gayle Osterberg, the library’s director of communications, in reply to my inquiry. “It was very important for the library to focus initially on those first two aspects — collection and preservation. If you don’t get those two right, the question of access is a moot point. So that’s where our efforts were initially focused and we are pleased with where we are in that regard.”

That’s as helpful as the responses I get about the secret ACM committee that determines the fate of feature requests for the ACM digital library. You can’t contact them directly nor can you find any record of their discussions/decisions.

Let’s hope greater attention and funding can move the Library of Congress Twitter Archive towards public access, for all the reasons enumerated by Scott.

One does have to wonder, given the role of the U.S. government in pushing for censorship of Twitter accounts, will the Library of Congress archive be complete and free from censorship? Or will it have dark spots depending upon the whims and caprices of the current regime?

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