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Death to the Listserv! January 25, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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Every day, all day, I am bombarded with listserv emails – 90% of which I am completely uninterested in. Many of these listservs are ones that my supervisors have suggested I join as a source of information and guidance. Once in a while I see a topic that looks interesting and read a few of the emails, but these discussions often devolve into barely veiled insults and vitriolic comments, or pleasant but unhelpful reiterations of the same idea. The only listserv I have enjoyed with relative consistency is the one from my graduate school which often has job listings. This too is most often irrelevant to me, as students use it to sell textbooks and even list apartments, but the repetition of deleting mass emails is worth the occasional local job listing.

So why use listservs at all? While it is helpful to post a question on a subject you are unfamiliar with, the same information can usually be gleaned from blogs or library web sites. Perhaps the listserv is, as Greg Lambert calls them in his June 2009 article in the AALL Spectrum, “lazy research.” Since joining Twitter, I have found the social media sites a wonderful source of information for libraries and librarians. But, like many other Twitter users, it took me months of forced engagement and exploration to truly understand the nuances (and language) of Twitter. I am nearly a “born digital”, and if it was difficult and time consuming for me to grasp the multitude of ways to harness Twitter’s plethora of information, than I can only guess how difficult and frustrating it would be for librarians who have been in the profession for a much longer time.

Lambert’s article provides a good list of the of pros and cons of listservs and in the end agrees with me, that a new model needs to be embraced. While we both mention Twitter, its defining characteristic is that posts can be no longer than 140 characters. Most librarians, news sites, blogs, etc. bypass this stipulation by posting a shortened URL to their Twitter post. But most librarians do not have their own site, so I don’t know if using Twitter can exactly replicate the quantity of information shared in a listserv. Twitter could possibly link to a wiki, a web site that any librarian could alter and share information on; but would the confluence of two Web 2.0 technologies make the process of sharing information unnecessarily difficult? Probably. Lambert’s most enthusiastic suggestion is Nings – social networks that allow user created communities to be as wide or as narrow as they choose and to share media in a number of different formats. Nings, like any technology, have a learning curve, which may be a detriment to some. I believe it is just for this reason that listservs have persisted for so long.

Listservs are simple, requiring only the use of email, a skill even the most seasoned librarian has mastered. So why is it that librarians haven’t adopted social media for professional development and collaboration even though most libraries boast their own Facebook page, and many have blogs and Twitter feeds? I think the answer is that librarians are often [1] too busy and [2] overwhelmed at the idea of learning another new technology. (And let’s be honest: a class on a new technology is always unhelpful to those digitally struggling and superfluous to those already embracing Web 2.0 technologies.) What is the solution? How do we smoothly transition as a profession from the outdated model of the listserv to the collaborative, nourishing environment of Web 2.0 community sites? I haven’t a clue! What’s your thoughts?

Please read the entirety of Greg Lambert’s article from June 2009’s AALL Spectrum here.