The average employee age at the Library of Congress, at my estimate, is about 64. They are experts in outdated technology and stalwart survivors of the bureaucratic mire of our sad government, and yet they still hang on for 40+ years, in my opinion “blocking” jobs for younger prospective librarians who just want to use google chrome. With the approaching budget apocalypse, leaders in congress and at the library have realized that it is time to let some of the older staff go, and invest in technological innovation to prepare the library for the digital age.
The interns had the privilege of meeting in a small group with Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian of Congress and MILF (GILF?) to discuss, among other things, the library’s contested decision to embrace the information era with the acquisition of Twitter’s archives.
Of course Twitter is poised to accept this offer–it means publicity and eternal life for the ONLY social network that the LOC deemed critical to future research needs. Of course, they suggested some terms to protect the domain and the privacy of users: “Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation” (http://blog.twitter.com/2010/04/tweet-preservation.html). Twitter is also removing all user information from the archives–this means that the screennames, time stamps, and in some cases locations remain, but full names and email addresses are kept confidential.
But why Twitter? The decision was undoubtedly spurred by Arab Spring, in which Twitter played a crucial role in organizing protestors, rallies, and FIREBOMB BATTLES. Library execs urge that the database will be useful in years to come as documentation of the beginnings of social networking (uhhh, what about Facebook?), American and global responses to crises and change, and gradual social trends over time. Since the site’s usurpation, some social scientists have been interested in the database to track the use of social media by politicians, and the use of web-communication as a whole.
Why will it ever be important that #Doggyspanks440 went to mow the lawn at 2:30 on 2 July 2011?? As with any database, there is data and there is shit. The library is hoping that even the shit will be useful someday, but who is to know!? Right now the IT people are working on a way to catalog the tweets, but things are looking complicated. My bet is that this is a job for our generation–for Christ’s sake they’re still using Word Perfect over there on Constitution Ave!
It was an interesting decision, and the bets have been hedged. What does this mean for you, gentle readers? If you don’t have a Twitter account already, get one so you can live forever through your words, whether as profound as mine or not.