Listserv Monitoring Report


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Listserv Monitoring Report

  1. 1. Fiona B. Griswold October 6, 2009 Electronic Listerv Monitoring and Evaluation: ISLMANET-L The term “listserv” has come to be used as a general term for any electronic discussion list,though it originated as the name of software (LISTSERV) developed in the mid 1980s to automate themanagement of e-mail discussion lists in that individuals could join or leave a list without anadministrator having to intervene (LISTSERV 2007). Though somewhat low-tech in today’s Web 2.0world, the listserv continues to be popular as a low-effort yet efficient means for a group of individualssharing a common interest to communicate with each other. One common use for electronic discussionlists is to provide a means of information sharing and networking to individuals in a specific disciplineor professional field. In my previous work experience as a university Study Abroad Administrator, Imaintained a subscription to the primary list for individuals working in similar jobs--SECUSS-L--whichallowed me to passively monitor the information being shared and questions being posed by peoplethroughout the world or to actively post my own queries or respond to those of others. Now, as I makethe transition to a career in youth librarianship, I have begun to explore the resources, includinglistservs, available to me for networking and for learning more about the field and about current issuesor “hot topics.” For a librarian working with youth, there are a number of discussion lists that could provide thesort professional connections and exchange of ideas that can enhance an individual’s professionaldevelopment. These discussion lists are frequently, though not always, sponsored by professionalassociations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and will usually have a specific audience,such as school librarians, young adult librarians or public youth librarians, at which the list is targeted.For this assignment, I chose to monitor and evaluate the electronic discussion list sponsored by theIllinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) and hosted through the Early Childhood and
  2. 2. Griswold / Listserv MonitoringParenting Collaborative (ECAP) at the University of Illinois. ISLMA was founded in 1988 by a group ofschool media specialists who saw a need for a state-based organization of school media specialists thatwas separate from the Illinois Library Association (ILA). As such, ISLMA has affiliated with the nation-wide American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and cooperates with other library associationsto ensure that school librarians have a role and voice in collaborative projects with librarians servingother populations (ISLMA 2009). The listserv, known as ISLMANET-L, is open to any individual with an interest in school libraryprograms and an e-mail address to send and receive messages. While the list must have an “owner” or aperson or persons who started the list and are responsible for its continuance, it does not appear to havean active “moderator” or someone who would monitor the list for inappropriate postings and, perhaps,approve individuals who seek a subscription to the listserv. This means that virtually anyone who addsthemselves to the list can be a subscriber, though, during the time I was monitoring the list, virtually allthe postings came from either school librarians or individuals closely associated with school libraries,such as authors of books for children, other school staff or people who work in organizations that offerprofessional development or education to school media specialists. Unlike some other electronicdiscussion lists, which provide very specific instructions to subscribers about appropriate use of the list,tips on general “netiquette”, policies for posting advertisements or jobs and general instructions formodifying and updating subscription options, ISLMANET-L provides very minimal guidelines. Thepage on the ISLMA Web site concerning the listserv simply provides subscription instructions andreminders that automatically replying to a message will send the reply to the entire list and that usersshould be careful about not sending unnecessary replies that will clutter e-mail inboxes as a courtesy toothers. To some extent, it seems that ISLMA is putting a lot of faith in users’ knowledge of discussionlist participation and ability to be considerate colleagues. I would be interested to know how many 2
  3. 3. Griswold / Listserv Monitoringpeople subscribe to the list and whether there have been problems that have resulted in someone beingreprimanded or banned from the list. It is possible that, while there isn’t a formal monitor for the listservthere may be an informal means of ensuring proper usage that is not readily apparent to a short-termobserver. The actual mechanics of subscribing to and using ISLMANET-L are quite simple andstraightforward. Individuals can subscribe and unsubscribe by sending a simple message to the CITES e-mail address for the list. Once an individual’s subscription is confirmed, they can then visit the CITESLISTSERV Web interface to make changes to their subscription preferences, including temporarilyopting out of the listserv for a period of time, such as vacation, or choosing to receive the postings indigest form where all the messages for one day are sent in just one e-mail message. An archive ofmessages for the previous year is also available through the CITES Web interface. This archive isaccessible to non-list-subscribers through a browse option which reveals message content, but blocks e-mail addresses of the individuals who posted them. List subscribers can, after logging in to theLISTSERV Web interface, search the archive for key terms that can be narrowed by date, author orsubject line, and are able to view the e-mail addresses of the senders. The search feature is important,particularly in instances where an individual may have seen a topic of interest mentioned in an earlierpost, but then cannot find the specific message. While I have been subscribed to ISLMANET-L since last March or April, I have not been anactive reader of the messages sent through the listserv, nor have I posted to the list. Because of thequantity of e-mail, I have used the filtering option available in Gmail to make it so that messages fromthis and several other lists to which I subscribe automatically bypass my inbox and go directly todedicated folder. Using this setup, I do not need to go to the archive to skim through or search formessages, they are easily accessible for when I have a few moments to spare and can browse through the 3
  4. 4. Griswold / Listserv Monitoringsubject lines to see if anything catches my interest. For the purposes of this assignment, I activelymonitored the list for approximately three weeks, beginning on September 11, 2009 and running throughOctober 4, 2009. During these weeks (and, from reviewing the archive, it would seem during mostweeks), the discussion list was very active, averaging an estimated 4 to 6 separate “threads” orindividual topics per day. Some topics, particularly announcements, elicited no replies, while others(especially “hot” or controversial issues) generated 13 or even 16 responses. In a paper I wrote for aclass last year, I conducted a study of a neighborhood-based electronic discussion list, which includedthe coding of individuals messages and of threads by content or purpose and author in an attempt todevelop a rough picture of this online community and how it could relate to the geographic communityin which the listserv was situated. While I did not conduct a similarly formal evaluation of theISLMANET-L list, it was possible from active reading of the postings to develop a rough set of messagetypes as well as a sense of the people who were the most active participants in the list. The sorts of messages that frequently observed included the following categories:announcements containing information about workshops, conferences, grants, award winners and so onwhich were often posted by people in ISLMA leadership or representatives of educational institutions;advertisements of chances to win books, authors available for class visits and similar that were oftenvehicles for self-promotion; requests for advice or help that could run the gamut from recommendedbook titles or Web sites for particular subjects to recommendations for programming or technologypurchases; job opportunities posted either by those who are hiring or those who are seekingemployment; and comparisons where posters are looking for baseline info or “what everyone else isdoing” in order to help in decision-making or support a proposal for their library. The participants in thelist during these three weeks was quite diverse. True, there were a few names that appeared a number oftimes and I recognized some of the individuals as librarians that work with student teachers or 4
  5. 5. Griswold / Listserv Monitoringclassmates from GSLIS classes, but in all, the participants represented a wide sample of the subscribersto the list in geographic distribution, age levels taught and areas of interest. The one most commonelement shared by participants was employment--it is clear that this list is being used by the schoolmedia specialists it was intended to serve. During these three weeks, two particular threads seemed to generate more interest than others.The first of these was a request for advice about hands-on activities to introduce 3rd and 4th graders to theDewey Decimal System posted by Lori Peterson of Evergreen Elementary School (personalcommunication, September 10, 2009). Between September 10 and September 28, fourteen individualsresponded to the original message with suggested resources, such as books or Web sites that containedlesson ideas, as wells as some specific suggestions about activities that they use, such as a DeweyDecimal checkout game (like bingo) or a poster creation activity. All of the responders in this threadseemed very willing to share ideas and a few commented on other responders good ideas while offeringtheir own. The original poster posted a “thank you” response towards the end of the thread, lettingeveryone know that she was following the thread and appreciated the assistance. This exchangeprovided an excellent example of the sorts of useful information and advice that are regularly exchangedthrough this discussion list. The second thread was started by Sarah Scholl, a librarian at Deer Path School in Cary, Illinoisposted a link to an article from that day’s edition of the Daily Herald (personal communication, October1, 2009). The article recounted a recent meeting concerning the future of the Oak Brook Public Libraryand highlighted a particularly obnoxious lawyer, Mr. Xinos, who is working against the public libraryand stated to the reporter, “I wanted that kid to lose sleep that night” in reference to an 11-year-old girlthat he told to “stop whining” at the recent meeting after she spoke in defense of the librarians who hadbeen laid off (B. Constable 2009). In her message, Scholl expressed her dismay at this story and the 5
  6. 6. Griswold / Listserv Monitoringsituation in Oak Brook and wondered if others on the list had further knowledge about what washappening there. The seventeen messages that followed the original post were mostly expressions ofoutrage at the situation, extreme dislike of Mr. Xinos and his actions and suggestions for ways toadvocate for the library (including boycotting shopping at Oak Brook Mall to deprive the village of salestax receipts from those stores). The article was certainly written to stir outrage and discussion, and,based on the responses on this listserv, it did that. For the most part, none of the comments got tooheated and the tone among the responders was very civil (which might be expected, since they all moreor less felt the same about the problems in Oak Brook, especially at such a sensitive time when a numberof libraries have been threatened with closure or radical cuts in budgets, staffing and service). I chose ISLMANET-L for this assignment as opposed to LM-NET, a world-wide list for schoollibrarians, for very specific reason that I believe there is value sometimes in spending more timelearning about the local environment and making virtual connections with individuals that you have agood chance of meeting in person at some point in the future. While it is true that ISLMANET-L maynot give as broad an overview of the field of school librarianship and that the suggestions andinformation that are shared on it might be more limited than on a larger list with more geographicallydispersed members, the more intimate nature of ISLMANET-L also makes it more manageable/lessoverwhelming, particularly to someone just entering the field. I firmly believe that this list is anexcellent resource for any current or future school media specialist in Illinois--no matter what anindividual’s stage of career, they will find something to gain (and to contribute, if they wish) to thiscommunity. Furthermore, the big issues in the field of school librarianship are very likely going to findtheir way into this list, but they will presented with the overlay of how the big issue is at play or affectsindividuals working in Illinois (as opposed to Indiana or California or Australia). Also, as schoollibrarians are often quite solitary within their schools, and school districts often don’t do a very good job 6
  7. 7. Griswold / Listserv Monitoringof facilitating interaction even among other librarians in the district, the ISLMA list can help to foster asense of community and create interconnectedness and relationships between librarians who may beworking in neighboring towns, but otherwise may never have the opportunity to meet or collaborate. 7
  8. 8. Griswold / Listserv Monitoring ReferencesConstable, B. (2009, October 1). Ugly battle has librarians in Oak Brook turning to Teamsters. Daily Herald. Retrieved from (2009, August 14). ISLMA mission and goals. Retrieved October 6, 2009 from (2007, November 27). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved October 5, 2009 from 8