Library of Congress Archives ALL Twitter Messages Since 2006. What is next?

Posted on April 16, 2010


Now, I am a big fan and promoter of information governance, information management, knowledge management and tools to help us bring down the cost of eDiscovery. For a particular eDiscovery process, corporate or individual Tweets can be relevant, so don’t forget about them! From an information governance point of view: unfortunately, companies or organizations cannot delete whatever they or their employees have communicated on Twitter, it will stay on Twitter forever, or until Twitter decides to implement some form of retention, which so far, they have not communicated any intention to do so.  

But, when I heard the news that all of Twitter will be archived by the Library of Congress, my first thought was: “they are two weeks late, this should have been published April 1st!” Surprisingly, the news seems to be genuine and the Library of Congress and Twitter have made joint announcements that all Twitter communication (that is ALL) since 2006 will be archived as part of the historical archives of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and I am sure one of their goals is to remain the largest library on the planet. Maybe this is an effort by the Library of Congress to stay ahead of the National Chinese library once and for all! However, archiving millions of Tweets rather than priceless works seems like an eccentric strategy.

In a library one expects to find knowledge and not raw unfiltered data like Tweets. As far as I can tell, 99.9999999% or more of all Tweets have no historical relevance and lack substance, let alone knowledge.

Do you remember the opening stanza of T. S. Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock:  “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Well, with all that Twitter communication now being archived in a library, I am completely lost!

I was told once that the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) only archives and classifies a small percentage (less than 5% I believe) of what they are offered. The rest is destroyed, and not without a reason.

Archiving Twitter communication as social phenomena is something I can understand, but you do not need a prestigious library to spend its budget, energy and time to do that. A separate web-archive managed by investigators of social behavior should be able to do the job.

Now, we can also argue that today’s dialog is taking place on Twitter and other Instant Messaging platforms and less so in email or formal letters. If that is true, one could argue that the Library of Congress is ahead of their time in preparing for the inevitability of Tweets becoming an important source of information.  Maybe they intend to showcase a microcosm of society. Such an exhibit would likely involve showing the phenomenon of life and communication taking place in a set of Tweets in cyber space.

Although the Library of Congress has always collected communication from everyday people to “conserve” history, Tweets are not comparable to letters, blogs, web pages, Facebook, emails and other more comprehensive forms of communications. Maybe a few Tweets belong in a library, but definitely not all of them.

But time will tell; the Library of Congress can delete all Tweets with one push on the button at any moment in time. And, who knows, maybe this is really a hoax and then we can all have a good laugh!

 And here for the true lovers of literature worthy of being  kept in libraries for future generations:

Opening Stanza of T. S. Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.

o perpetual revolution of configured stars,

o perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,

o world of spring and autumn, birth and dying
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.