Library of Congress to Archive Twitter

American Libraries, June-July 2010 | Go to article overview

Library of Congress to Archive Twitter


The microblogging service Twitter has gifted its entire archive of tweets, totaling billions of 140-character posts dating back to March 2006, to the Library of Congress.

"The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "This information provides detailed evidence about how technology-based social networks form and evolve over time. The collection also documents a remarkable range of social trends. Anyone who wants to understand how an ever-broadening public is using social media to engage in an ongoing debate regarding social and cultural issues will have need of this material."

Highlights of the collection include the first-ever tweet from Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey; President Obama's tweet after winning the 2008 presidential election; two tweets by photojournalist James Buck, who was arrested in Egypt and whose use of Twitter set off events that contributed to his freedom; and Green Revolution tweets related to protests of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections.

"It's very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history," Twitter cofounder Biz Stone wrote on Twitter's blog, "The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact."

How they'll be used

"We are interested in offering collections of tweets that are complementary to some of the library's digital collections: for example, the National Elections Web Archive or the Supreme Court Nominations Web Archive," explained Library of Congress spokesperson Matt Raymond on an LC FAQ about the acquisition, two weeks after he blogged, "It boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I'm certain we'll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive."

The collection is not yet in LC's possession, and specific plans for its use and any partnerships based around the archive have not yet been drawn up. "We look at it as kind of a case study for taking in digital content," LC Director of Integration Management Beth Dulabahn told American Libraries, noting that LC will have to address both technical issues like information-finding tools, and policy matters such as who will be able to access the collection. …

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