Andrew K. Pace: April 2010 Archives

Life Imitates Comedy

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I realize I have not been the most faithful blogger since I joined OCLC, but there are two posts per year I have never missed--Christmas and April Fool's Day.  Both traditions started in 2007 and both peaked early.  Bob Murphy (OCLC's Senior Public Relations Specialist) and I still chuckle at the flurry of phone calls caused by my [pre-OCLC tenure] maiden April 1 joke that Google had acquired OCLC.  I didn't think I was going to be able to ever top that one, which  was well coordinated with the talented bloggers at ALA Techsource.  

Leave it to the Federal Government to step in and make this year's attempt at humor either pathetically ironic or ironically pathetic, depending on your point of view.

I happened to be on vacation at the time that I wrote the post and was not feeling especially creative.  One of my colleagues had suggested several good ideas that would have required more energy than I could muster to really pull them off, so I settled on something simple--wouldn't it be funny if libraries got involved in trying to preserve Twitter posts, especially if they tried to do it with MARC records.

Then two weeks after the day for fooln' comes this bomb-shell from the Library of Congress:
LC-twitter.jpg

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.  Library Journal has a nice report on the mixed reactions--ranging from a "thanks, LC" to "a waste of tax-payer dollars."  My favorite is Andy Borowitz's tweet:  "Library of Congress to Acquire Entire Twitter Archive; Will Rename Itself 'Museum of Crap.'"  I can't wait to look for that one in the LC Archive.

I first learned of LC's plans on Gretchen Kolderup's blog when she linked the real story to my April 1st post.  I like to think that perhaps I have preemptively distorted the historical record, now that my joke is being linked to the real story behind LC's plans.  

Good luck LC.  If I've somehow started a trend, I think next year's April 1 blog post will be something about a $1B grant award to yours truly.

Librarians Give Permanence to Twitter

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As is often the case, librarians rush in where the less organized fear to tread.  At a recent LITA Camp event, a bright librarian pointed out a method for preserving event-based Twitter posts.  Apparently this inspired a small handful of clever librarians with a cataloging bent.  What is happening to the historical record as created by millions of tweets?

No need to fear, the librarians are here.  In an effort supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the American Library Association, generous funding will ensure that catalog records are created for historically, culturally, and particularly poignant Twitter posts.

But not everyone is excited about the idea.  With the new RDA standard nearly complete and ready for release, some are wondering if changes to the standard will accomadate something like a Tweet.  Others have more practical concerns.  How will various cataloging clients accomodate this effort?  Or is the MARC record even appropriate, i.e., using an average of 400 characters to describe content of less than 140 characters.

twitter.JPG
000 -- 00668nam 22002057a 4500
001 -- 0197384222
005 -- 20100308083502.0
008 -- 100308s2010 xxu f000 0 eng d
040 -- $aMvI$cMvI
049 -- $aNRC
074 -- $a0830-I
086 0- $aNAS 1.21:2009-3405
245 00 $aToday's space shuttle mission status briefing will air live on NASA TV at 12:30pm ET.
260 -- $a[S.l :$bs.n.,$c2010]
500 -- $aRetweet by spacejunky124
710 1- $aUnited States.$bNational Aeronautics and Space Administration.
856 4- $uhttp://twitter.com/nasa

Several systems librarians consulted said it would be trivial to convert a Tweet to the metadata meant to represent it, desptite the irony that the resulting record might be 3-4 times the size of the original Twitter update.  "I'm not sure this is going to be the move to put systems librarians on the map," commented OCLC's Roy Tennant.  "But whatever," Tennant added, "I'll have a conversion script up and open sourced by the end of the day."

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of this entire effort will be separating the wheat from the chaff.  The temporal and social network connectivity required to maintain the proper context (Twitext) will require Twitter Catalogers to maintain a vast network, literally following every Twitter user out there.  Moreover, discerning historical or cultural significance in less than 140 characters will require more judgment than determining proper punctuation placement or parenthetical qualifiers in subject headings.

One thing's for sure.  No one else would ever attempt such an endeavor.  

About the Author

Andrew K. Pace

I am Executive Director for Networked Library Services at OCLC. I am also a past President of LITA. On occasion, I am known for pontificating "on stage, in writing, and via the web" on a variety of issues important to libraries.

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