Kanye West: An Important Piece of History
In 2010 The Library of Congress posted on its official blog that it had reached a deal with Twitter. This deal would allow them to archive all public tweets on the site since its creation in 2006. CNN reports that as of January 2013 over 170 billion tweets have been archived by The Library of Congress. Although there may be several tweets that merit such preservation can these be called history? Can everyday tweets concerning nothing more important than what a person had for lunch be considered history? Who gets to decide what history is?
In his essay Where is the Best Story? Where is My Story? Participation and Creation in a New Media Age, curator Steve Zeitlin discusses his experiences working on an exhibit that is comprised mostly of material submitted by the public. Zeitlin suggests that contributions to the site need to be “engaging” in order keep the public interested (35). He goes on to say that if they had allowed all stories to be published the exhibit would have been “an uneven and ultimately unsatisfying experience for visitors” (35). Zeitlin states that he decides on the inclusion of a story based in the “threshold of interest” (35). Although Zeitlin’s position allows him to have final say on the inclusion of stories in his exhibit, does his occupation as a historian also allow him to have final say on a story’s merits or inclusion in history? Zeitlin’s conclusion seems to suggest that there are two schools of thought, recording everything and being more selective about the history recorded (43). If Zeitlin is the later, The Library of Congress is the former.
Although Zeitlin looked at stories individually in order to post things that interested the public, The Library of Congress decided to look at their information collectively. They decided that the history and posts on twitter as a whole deserved to be saved (loc.gov). They go on to state that:
As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is
supplementing and in some cases supplanting letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries.
Archiving and preserving outlets such as Twitter will enable future researchers access to a fuller picture of today’s cultural norms, dialogue, trends and events to inform scholarship, the legislative process, new works of authorship, education and other purposes (loc.gov).
The kind of history and information that the collection of tweets seems to be leaning towards are broader strokes in history as opposed to the smaller personal stories found in Zeitlin’s City of Memory. Individually these tweets may not be important, but a large collection of tweets posted during a presidential debate or national crisis will be able to inform researchers in the future. The Library of Congress has already stated that they have received requests to view the tweet collection (loc.gov).
How can Zeitlin state that some personal stories are not interesting enough to be in his exhibit while The Library of Congress has declared all tweets to be important enough to archive?
During a recent internship at a Museum I was tasked with archiving several photographs from the early 90’s of a local mall. At the time I thought my task was not important, that the there would be no need or want for 3 pictures of the same McDonalds. However in retrospect these photos could be important to someone perhaps studying design aspects in fast food establishments.
Who am I to label what is and is not history? How can someone say what will be important in the future? In 2010 when I heard the news about The Library of Congress archiving tweets I laughed, now there are approximately 400 requests to view the tweet collections by academics (loc.gov).
Deciding what is and is not history is difficult because we have no way of knowing what will be important in the future. Certainly we can agree that certain aspects of history are more interesting. Despite this I believe that all information is worth preserving, though perhaps not worthy of exhibiting.
Some may not agree with my statement that all information is history, instead I propose a more important question. Will Instagram be archived next?
<http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2010/04/how-tweet-it-is-library-acquires-entire-twitter-archive/> Accessed March 30, 2014. Web.
<http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2013/files/twitter_report_2013jan.pdf> Accessed March 30, 2014. Web.
<http://www.buzzfeed.com/mlew15/25-of-kanye-wests-most-thought-provoking-tweets-h0se> Accessed March 31, 2014. Web.
<http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/07/tech/social-media/library-congress-twitter/> Accessed March 30, 2014. Web.
<http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/04/14/library.congress.twitter/index.html?iref=allsearch> Accessed March 30, 2014. Web.
<http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:McDonald%27s_-_BarraShopping.jpg> Accessed March 31, 2014. Web.
Zeitlin, Steve. Where is the Best Story? Where is My Story? Participation and Creation in a New Media Age. “Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. ” The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage: Philadelphia, PA, 2011. Print.