Thursday, April 15, 2010

Library of Congress All Atwitter

In what is surely one of the most bizarre historic preservation decisions ever made by a government agency (even by government agency standards), the Library of Congress is saving for posterity every tweet ever tweeted on Twitter.

Now why our national library would deem worthy of preservation in perpetuity every single 140-character-or-less burst of communication "tweeted" since the service began in 2006 is beyond me. Would they, if they could, save every letter ever written? Every telephone conversation? Every email? Every blog post and comment? Every Facebook status update?

Of course, many of the above-mentioned communications are meant to be private, while Twitter updates are public by definition. Then again, history has a way of making all surviving recorded communications, however private their origins, fall into the domain of scholarly and/or public knowledge.

But the more relevant question to ask here is: Why? Which is not to doubt that some Twitter communications may be worthy of remembering and would be of potential value to historians and other researchers--but every single one?

This goes against every principle of archival preservation, which is decidedly not about saving everything, but about selecting what is worthy of being preserved for future generations. The LOC seems to be taking the intellectually lazy approach to preservation. It is acting like a hoarder, obsessively saving every little scrap, however worthless or forgettable it might be.

Perhaps future historians, confronted with millions upon millions of tweets, will say, "I'm sorry, but that's a little too much information."

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