This, dear reader, is what I saw while navigating the voluminous digital record of April 14th – 21st, a momentous week in American library history. News of the Library of Congress’s acquisition of Twitter’s archive set me on my course.
Announcements trumpeted across the principals’ blogs. Twitter’s dignified, concise and authoritative statement was a masterful elevation of its brand. With a mere 361 words they proactively neutralized privacy criticisms and positioned themselves as a generous benefactor for the ages. An excited utterance from the Library of Congress was also seen. “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” declared the institution’s communication director!
As best I can tell, that widely cited post and much of the ensuing dialogue diminished the institution. Notwithstanding Washington Post and Wall Street Journal articles that tried to contextualize the acquisition, the shores were littered with dismissive commentary and good questions about content ownership and user privacy (here, here and here for example). One of the most damning from Sid Burgess of Oklahoma City was spied early Saturday morning:
I had observed these fateful partnerings before and wondered whether the library brand would someday become so deteriorated that no commercial firm would want to be associated with it.
An eerie silence reigned over the library blogosphere. As is their custom, librarians remained mute on this very active public conversation. I scanned leading library blogs to see what library experts and other luminaries, the library movers and shakers, had to say. Their digital record revealed an occupation with self promotion (Library Competency Success Stories) and boosterism (It is just ridiculous how awesome libraries are.) … Powerpoint slides, conference tweets and wordles … and deep thoughts on librarianship (What’s a Real Book?, Open Conversation: Being Human and All (Advocacy) in the Family). I found no mention of this library news that everyone else seemed to be talking about — save for Roy Tenannt’s literary contribution, If Shakespeare Had Tweeted.
A link to a ResourceShelf post on a prominent blog was a welcome site, although I cannot convey the dread that overcame me when I clicked upon it.
Chastened, I continued my journey. I came upon the ALA Media/Press Center and they were not speaking of this thing there, perhaps due to an abundance of other library news including Libraries adapt to help the unemployed and In Recession, Libraries are booming.
It was noted in hushed tones on the American Libraries blog where an April 19th post referred to “Two great pieces of writing from [privacy blogger] Fred Stutzman on the Twitter/Library of Congress deal” but did not link to them directly. I came upon them further downstream. In Twitter and the Library of Congress and Is it time to cancel your Twitter account? Stutzman seemed unimpressed with librarians’ stewardship and foresight. He writes in the first post: “Is the collection so important that it is worth compromising user privacy? I’ve got a feeling that there are certain assumptions around “public” content and the feel-good vibe of the Library of Congress that led to a lack of critical thinking about the implications of this move.” and notes the cluelessness of Martha Anderson, Director of Program Management for the LoC’s Digital Preservation Program in his second by quoting her interview with The American Prospect. Though Anderson did not know the specifics of whether users would be able to “opt-out” of having their tweets permanently archived, her general thoughts on libraries’ archival of web content seemed quite revealing:
And I think personally, this is me, don’t quote me as saying this from the library, as librarians we need to think more about our relationships to content creators, content-generating activities, in a way we used to think about things with publishers — we would get a relationship to a publisher through copyright, or that sort of thing. Now, the information base is different, and we really need to work on those kinds of relationships.
The beat of library drums in AL Direct guided me to my destination. How oddly comforting these scattered rumblings were. They dulled my senses and my mind relaxed — and then it appeared, the 76th item of 91 in the April 21st edition, well below the 2010 WrestleMania Reading Challenge and somewhat below Cookbook in hot water over typo about an unfortunate misprint in an Australian pasta cookbook; a thoughtful musing on this bizarre story: What we might learn from mundane details.