April 14, 2010 – the Library of Congress announces that it is acquiring for its collections all public tweets since Twitter started in 2006.  A library official observes of the acquisition, “this is our national archives.”

Um, no. That would be the National Archives and Records Administration. The agency that has national archives as part of its actual name.

Tweeting archivists react quickly. Suggestions fly that NARA use the confusion over its role and LOC’s role as a learning opportunity.   Done.   Paul Wester, NARA’s director of Modern Records Programs, posts a response on Records Express. AOTUS David Ferriero quickly follows with one on his blog.

Both effectively explain that NARA takes in the permanently valuable records of the federal government. Twitter is not governmental so the entire collection of public tweets is not eligible for acquisition by NARA.  There are units within the federal government that send out tweets for outreach.  NARA will grab ’em if appropriate.  So far, so good.

Ferriero observes that “If you are anything like me, you don’t really care what someone had for breakfast.”  But then he goes on to nicely describe how the preserved records of everyday life can bring the past to life.   Mission of clarification accomplished?  Almost. 

Because wait, there’s more! (OK. DeeDee on my mind. Why not.)  Ferriero focuses on ordinary daily actions.  But users have gone way beyond talking about breakfast. They share (and sometimes make) fast-breaking news around the world.  They use Twitter to organize and react.  And share knowledge. Wondering how a conference presentation is going over? Check out the tweets. There’s no better way to get an immediate sense of a presenter’s main points and how listeners are reacting.  And then there are the other things people have mentioned about Twitter, such as the potential to study popular culture and personal and professional interactions.

But overall, good rapid response by NARA.   Main thing missing or buried in the posts by Ferriero and Wester?  Legal compliance.  NARA takes in records that are administered under federal statutes and executive orders.  Those compliance issues affect Mother NARA’s own records, too. Oh yeah, baby. From the moment Ferriero sends out an email or creates a document or spreadsheet, it has the potential to end up in Record Group 64.

LOC’s archives side consists of donated records.  Personal records outside NARA’s reach.  No records life cycle on-your-mind from the moment your fingers hit the keyboard.  (Not that it always is in Govland, either.)  “They” aren’t telling you to do anything. Free will. Keep and toss as you wish. Then ask LOC, “ya want it?” Big difference. Huge, really.  But that’s another blog posting. Maybe.