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"Libraries Don't Censor": Details on the Library of Congress' Twitter Plan

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 16 2010

Over on the American Prospect, Phoebe Connelly has a great interview with the director of digital preservation at the Library of Congress that suggests that archiving all of tweet-istory came as a result of Twitter's not knowing what to do with this giant and growing cache of information. It also suggests that there's a lot left to be figured out about how the Library of Congress is going to pull this off, with Twitter in a key role of deciding how to manage all that data. As for the Library of Congress, they seem to be looking at this as an archiving project that will be turned into a research project somewhere down the path a bit. Privacy, searchablity -- all that is left to be thought through.

Here's director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress Martha Anderson on how this deal came to pass:

Twitter approached us. They were looking around; they are a small business -- which happens, quite often. Businesses cannot afford to sustain all the content they create over the life of the business. And Twitter hadn't reached that point yet, but they were aware of the need to sustain the content someway.

So they began to look around for a strategy for conserving that content in the long term. They knew we had this program at the library, so they called us and asked if we were interested in the Twitter archive.

We do a collection for every Supreme Court nominee -- Web sites and blogs and all sorts of things. Well, one of the things they asked us to collect were tweets for the nomination of Justice Sotomayor. So that was the first indication we had that our selection officials were interested in Twitter.

Anderson goes on to say that this arrangement signals the need for librarians to really start thinking through how they relate to the flow of digital information. The Twitter deal will have a built-in six month lag time between tweet and archiving, and asked if people can opt-out and choose to keep their tweet brilliance out of the Library of Congress, Anderson defers: "You know, I don't know. I think that's a question for Twitter." As for making sense of disconnected tweets as part of a bigger conversation, Anderson says that the library has a relationship with Stanford that might be put to use making sense of this new digital archive. As for whether, in the future, the Library of Congress's Twitter archive might be a source of, say, opposition research for a political candidate, Anderson says, "Libraries don't censor."