The value of list-servs

Which is better? In the age of social media, many people groan at the idea of list-servs. Email mailing lists are so old-school/out of date and yet they’re so prevalent in library land. I was talking to my librarian friend about them and which ones we subscribe to, then realized what a librarian thing list-servs are. ILI-L, NMRT, RUSA, the list (ha, ha) goes on! You can pretty much find a list-serv that fits your interests. It’s always interesting to me to see the varying levels of netiquette and opinions, depending on which list you look at.

Why pay attention?

My first list-serv was ARLIS/NA (art libraries). Seeing the types of requests for articles and reference questions those librarian got gave me an idea of what their typical day might look like. It was an easy way to get a window into their world. It was also the lack of job postings on the list-serv that made me realize that I needed to widen my scope and gain more general skills. More recently, I added a few more to follow and I get so many interesting calls for papers, proposals, job posts, and general questions (followed by email conversations). These are opportunities that don’t necessarily circulate on twitter or other social media outlets. You can also get ideas for instruction or programming that you can apply at your own workplace. It’s a great way to pick people’s brains and see what’s being done at other places.

Personally, I feel more clued in to professional activities by spying on these list-servs. I do get a ton of information from social media too, but it’s not always the same stuff. This is a lot of information for one person to sift through! I filter my list-serv emails so that they skip my inbox and go straight into folders. That way I can check on them when I have time and not feel overwhelmed.

What not to do…

I did mention varying levels of nettiquette. I’ve been surprised to see some of the things people say on these lists.

  • Please don’t email the entire list for instructions on how to unsubscribe. There are instructions on the ALA Mailing List website. Also, as a librarian (or future librarian) we should all be able to follow instructions. Think of it as doing a reference transaction with yourself.
  • Don’t bad mouth the profession and potential places to work on the list. The library world is actually quite small and you don’t want a bad reputation. If you are employed and you’re bad mouthing another institution, that looks bad too. Honestly, I’ve seen these dramatic email chains circulate.
  • Don’t get caught up in the drama. It goes hand in hand with the previous point.

Will list-servs disappear in the near future? I have no clue, but it’s a great place to hear about some insider info.

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6 thoughts on “The value of list-servs

  1. Thanks for this post! I recently discovered the power of listservs another way: I’m working on promoting a small conference here in Portland, OR, and have been managing the website and social network accounts. Watching our page views – were were averaging about 50 hits a day just promoting through twitter and Facebook. As soon as we starting sending out announcements over listservs, we saw those numbers jump to 500 hits. In terms of marketing, social networking is like throwing a tiny net into a giant sea – where as listserves are like throwing a giant, well-knit net into a tiny tiny pond.

    • I really like your analogy Turner! You make a really good point about list-servs acting like a tight-net into a small pond. That’s why I’m always surprised to see people start going into negative tirades on them. That’s the kind of thing you might want to do with a friend at a pub.

  2. I agree with you that listservs seem a little old-fashioned, but they still get the job done, I guess! I subscribed to quite a few during library school, to sort of get a feel for what people were talking about. They seem to be a great way to find out about continuing education and job opportunities, and I’ve seen some really interesting discussions. Of course, there are also some annoyances like repetitive posts, people asking to be unsubscribed, and the occasional disgruntled tangent. For the most part, though, I think they are more useful than not. I’m just glad I’ve subscribed to them with my Gmail account, where it is much easier to manage the influx of messages!

    • I felt old-fashioned for outing myself and saying that I *recently* subscribed to several more list-servs. The issue I have is that with so many great opportunities that are emailed out, it’s hard for me to turn around and tweet what I just read because there’s no static link to it. The information isn’t necessarily out in the open. That’s my only gripe.

  3. I agree list-serves are a powerful commodity. I have recently plunged into the world of JISCMail myself.

    The only problem I have with them is that they are fairly difficult to navigate and make sense of to begin with. But that’s perhaps because I’ve become too used to the one click world of web 2.0!

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