What is a primary source? Many research guides created by academic librarians for students define a primary source as an original object or document—firsthand information that was written or created during the time under study. These guides include examples of various types of pre-Digital Age resources such as diaries, news-film footage, and interviews. In addition, traditional primary source documents tend to include public voices as records of historical events. But what about today? What is a primary source in the Digital Age?
Social media has come of age as a primary source, and there is tremendous opportunity for academics—and academic librarians—to begin treating it as such. The question is: How do we harness the potential of social media sites to enhance the research process and scholarly communications? Where do we begin?
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One Quick Comment from Gary: For social media to be a primary source (or any type of source for that matter) the library community must make sure that the material (post, tweet, image, etc.) is accessible (to everyone) long after the date it’s first posted. This is why web archiving both on a wide scale and individually is so important.
Also, many social media services allow contributors to share content with a select/limited audience. How do we handle this? For example, could a Facebook post shared only with a group of friends and not publicly accessible be used as a citeable source? Are there ethical issues involved here? Do authors need to ask permission so the material can be shared with a wider audience?