Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tapping Collective Wisdom Via Listservs

At the end of my post last week, I told you I was planning to write this post about making connections with other librarians online. As things evolved, I realized that I want to devote an entire post to Twitter. I have too much to say about listservs and don't want Twitter to get lost in the mix. So, next week I’ll write about the role that social networking – especially Twitter – plays in my work. This week, it's all about listservs.

I know from recent conversations that a lot of library students think listservs aren’t worth their time. At least one person told me that he can get anything he needs from Twitter. I don’t remember what I said in response, but I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of, “Twitter’s great, but 95% of our profession isn’t on Twitter.” If Twitter had been around when I was in library school and a brand new professional, I might have felt the same way. It wasn’t, so when I wanted to connect with colleagues outside of the library where I worked, I turned to listservs. Listservs helped me then and they are still relevant today. My assertion of relevance is based on one big factor: listservs give me a way to tap into the collective wisdom and experiences of thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of librarians.

To demonstrate what I mean, here’s a partial list of the listservs in which I participate, including - where relevant - things I've learned from the participants. (Please note, the items here get more specific and niche-oriented as you move down the list.)
  1. LIBREF-L. “LIBREF-L is a moderated discussion of issues related to reference librarianship,” (source). It’s a nice general purpose kind of listserv. This is where I always turn when I'm having problems answering a reference question. It’s an active list, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to get help quickly. Also, I see lots of job ads here.
  2.  Collib-l. “The official professional discussion list of the College Libraries Section (CLS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).... COLLIB-L serves as a means of communication for both CLS and for college librarianship in general,” (source). This is another very active listserv, which is both good and bad. Good because I know I get responses quickly, and bad because it means I get a lot of email and sometimes get lost in the discussions. Despite the volume, I strongly recommend this one to all academic librarians or aspiring academic librarians. Recent discussions have focused on ALA Annual, copyright concerns, and teaching students how to do good literature reviews. I usually just read the discussions instead of participating. As a way to keep track of what is happening in academic librarianship, it’s invaluable.
  3. ili-l. “With ILI-L, the Instruction Section hopes to sustain a thriving exchange on instruction and information literacy,” (source). My job title is “Information Literacy/Instruction Librarian,” so this listserv is central to what I do for a living. It’s not as active as some of the others I've mentioned here, but I can still get answers quickly. One of the most interesting recent threads was about hosting information literacy tutorials at YouTube.
  4. Fiction-L. “Fiction-L is an electronic mailing list devoted to reader's advisory topics such as book discussions, booktalks, collection development issues, booklists and bibliographies, and a wide variety of other topics of interest to librarians, book discussion leaders, and others with an interest in reader's advisory,” (source). Most of the mail that ends up in my “Listservs” folder in Outlook comes from this group. In other words: it's the most active listserv in which I participate. One interesting aspect of Fiction-L is helping solve readers’ advisory (RA) stumpers. (I don’t get much chance to do RA where I work, so it’s fun to try to figure out which book someone else’s patron could mean when s/he says something like, “I’m looking for a book I read 20 years ago. It was about a magical horse and the main character was a little girl. Oh, and I think the author was female. Do you have it in this library?”) Beyond the fun, it’s also a great sounding board. When I got permission to start incorporating genre fiction into my library, I realized the collection had very few romance novels. Rather than poke around and teach myself about an unfamiliar genre, I just asked the Fiction-L folks which authors to buy.
  5. GNLIB-L. “Discussion of graphic novels and comic literature, primarily of interest to public and school librarians. Membership is open to librarians, industry professionals, and authors/illustrators to share reviews and resources for graphic novel collections,” (source). This is one of my favorite listservs. In addition to being the main person making decisions about our graphic novels collection where I work, I’m also a comic book/graphic novel nerd. There aren’t that many academic librarians on GNLIB-L, but it's still valuable since public libraries have been taking graphic novels and comics seriously a lot longer than most academic libraries. Besides, and this makes my nerdgirl heart go pitter-pat, there are industry professionals – comics publishers and creators – who subscribe to and participate in this list.
  6. Comix-acadlibs. “The COMIX-ACADLIBS listserv is a network uniting academic librarians with comics/graphic novels in their general and/or special collections,” (source). This is a newer listserv, founded at the end of 2010, and on the quiet side. That doesn't bother me, though. As I mentioned in my description of GNLIB-L, there are still relatively few academic librarians who are collecting graphic novels and comics in a specific and directed way. It’s really nice to be able to check in with my fellow academic librarian graphic novel crusaders.
There are many others to which I subscribe but these are the ones I consult most frequently that I also think have broad appeal. I really think you’ll find it worth your time if you subscribe to them.

What do you think? Also, if you do subscribe to listservs already, please tell me which ones are your favorites and why you like them.


  1. I've recently joined my first listserv, PubYac, which seems fairly active. I wish the format were a little friendlier, but it's been great already. I will have to look into some of the ones you listed though, esp. Fiction-L I think.


  2. I find both Twitter and listservs essential to staying updated about library issues.

    For health sciences & hospital librarians, MEDLIB is absolutely key. Help with tough reference questions, obtaining ILLs not available through the national system (docline), and interesting discussion on the latest topics relevant to the field.


  3. I am really looking forward to your Twitter post. There will be one on my blog up one of these days.

    A co-worker recently went to a webinar on information overload, and the presenter (Sarah Houghton-Jan, the Librarian in Black) mentioned that she thought listservs were going the way of the dinosaur. So your take is interesting.

    I subscribe to OPLIN (the listserv for Ohio public libraries), PUBLIB-L and Fiction-L. They're all pretty good. I like the digest versions - if there is pointless arguing (especially on Publib) I hit delete.