The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > June 2010 > How Tweet it Is
How Tweet it Is

Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. Twitter is donating its digital archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress. Twitter is a leading social networking service that enables users to send and receive tweets, which consist of web messages of up to 140 characters. The service processes more than 50 million tweets per day from people around the world.

A small bird. 1888. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-54739 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 6442 [item] [P&P] Wilbur Wright, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right. 1909. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-108041 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 11512-A <item> [P&P]

A few highlights of the donated material include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, President Obama's tweet about winning the election and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter.

Naturally, the news kicked off a veritable torrent of tweets – ranging from cheering to questions as to why the Library is preserving the archive and what the institution plans to do with it.

Twitter is part of the historical record of communication, news reporting, and social trends – all of which complement the Library’s existing cultural-heritage collections. It is a direct record of important events – for example the 2008 U.S. presidential election or the “Green Revolution” in Iran. It also serves as a newsfeed with minute-by-minute headlines from major news sources such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.  At the same time, it is a platform for citizen journalism with many significant events being reported by eyewitnesses.

The Library’s collections include items such as the first telegram ever sent, by telegraph inventor Samuel F.B. Morse; oral histories from veterans, former slaves and diplomats, to name a few; and many other firsthand accounts of history.  These collections and others have left behind glimpses of the lives of ordinary people, thereby enriching knowledge of the context of public events recorded in government documents and newspapers.

The Library is interested in preserving access to the archive for the long term. In addition to looking at preservation issues, the Library will be working with academic research communities to explore issues related to researcher access. The Twitter collection will serve as a helpful case study as we develop policies for the research use of our digital archives. Tools and processes for researcher access will be developed from interaction with researchers, as well as from the Library’s ongoing experience with serving collections and protecting privacy and rights.

One could also say that diaries are Twitter’s great, great, great and then-some grandfather – non-electronic, of course. The Library is home to diaries and diary excerpts of historical figures, including Horatio Nelson Taft, Thomas Jefferson and Wilbur Wright.