Let’s Talk Listservs

You’re a savvy library student. You read HLS, you may be active on Twitter, you’re learning to network with other library students and librarians—you’re doing it all right. There are dozens, or maybe hundreds, of tools out there to help you make the most of your library school experience, and you’re using the heck out of them. But there’s one resource I want to introduce that just may have slipped by you.

Yes, I’m talking about listservs.

Whether you know it or not, you’re almost undoubtedly subscribed to at least one. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, listservs are mass emailing tools that allow users to send email out to everyone subscribed to a given email list. Think your school’s mechanism for sending you information about programs or events. They probably send those updates to a listserv that everyone in your program has been subscribed to. This way they just have to send one email to one email address designated for that listserv instead of typing out the addresses for every single affiliate of your program. In that instance, it’s pretty one-sided; a representative from your school sends you an email, and from there you probably either make a note or delete it.

But there’s another way that listservs can be used, and it’s a pretty popular form of communication amongst library workers. As opposed to the one-way experience you may associate with listservs, they can actually be used to facilitate two-way communication. In fact, the library world at large tends to use listservs most often for the purpose of soliciting replies. When used in this way, listservs become a sort of forum where users can bring their issues or ideas and have anyone who’s subscribed to that list chime in with input. A professional listserv is like an all-inclusive group chat where everyone is free to give their two cents or otherwise sit back and watch the conversation flow. Pretty cool, right?

Not convinced yet?

If you’re still on the fence, here are a few reasons why I think you should start subscribing to professional library listservs right now:

  • You get a glimpse into what librarianship is really like. Sure, you may think being a library manager is all about delegating tasks, balancing budgets, and just generally being a boss. But subscribe to something like the Information Literacy Instruction Discussion List and you might find administrators asking questions about creative uses for a new technology recently acquired by their library. You might be surprised at the kinds of issues librarians really deal with.
  • You get to see what major trends and issues librarians are discussing. In library school you can be sort of removed from what’s actually going on out there in libraries, so you may miss out on hearing about the issues that really matter to librarians right now. Subscribe to listservs and it’s like you get to overhear what’s being discussed at the water cooler.
  • You don’t have to respond. Going off that last point, you’re not obligated to talk back! You’re welcome to lurk your little heart out. If you have an opinion or an answer to a question feel free to speak out, but the great thing about listservs is you don’t have to.
  • The discussion comes right to you. Personally, I can get quickly burnt out on the vast quantities of librarian blogs, comment threads, and Twitter discussions that exist online. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with it all, even with something like Feedly to aggregate my favorite content sources. Listservs are great because they come directly to your inbox, so you don’t need to check anywhere else for updates.
  • And the big one: You get a jump start on finding out about valuable opportunities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked Twitter to find someone using a hashtag for a conference I’d never even heard of until that second. Before listservs I seemed to always miss out on hearing about really awesome conferences until it was way too late. But you know where conferences are announced regularly? You guessed it. Listservs. Conference organizers regularly send emails to professional listservs to call for presentation proposals and draw in attendees. Additionally, as someone on the job hunt, I’ve found that listservs almost always have new job postings before they hit all the big job sites.

Before diving in

Listservs can be incredibly valuable for getting a feel for librarianship in a totally relaxed environment where you can choose your level of involvement. I’ve been using them for a while now and I definitely feel more connected to my profession. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before you subscribe to every single listserv ALA offers:

  • You’re going to get a lot of emails. Some lists are more active than others, but you can usually count on at least a dozen emails a month—and often there’s much more than that. I’ve found a way to deal by setting up a Gmail folder for each of my listservs to be automatically sorted into. From there I have a few more folders for the things I’m most interested in—so if someone mentions “job posting” in a message, it goes in my Job Postings folder. Same with “information literacy” or “instruction,” “conference,” and “critical lib*” or “critical ped*”. This way I can check my highest priority folders first, and when I have a bit more time I can comb through my general listserv folders. Let me know if you’d like a more detailed tutorial on how to do this sort of auto-sorting with Gmail!
  • There’s a sort of etiquette that goes along with listservs. Like I said before, you’re not ever obligated to respond to or send messages, but if you do there are usually some unwritten rules. These are things you kind of have to pick up from each listserv you’re on, as they all have their own individual dispositions. Being polite and professional is a given, but some lists are more formal than others, some have guidelines for the types of messages one can send, some welcome outsiders more than others, and so on. No one’s going to attack you if you break their unwritten code, but maybe use some caution if you’re new. Most of all, don’t reply-all unless a reply-all is warranted :).

Ready to get started?

The American Library Association has a ton of listservs to subscribe to. Fun fact: there’s even one for dancing librarians. They have the lists broken down pretty nicely into categories on their website, where you can search by name, browse by ALA divisions and offices, or find the subject(s) you’re most interested in. Head on over to their website to learn how to get yourself set up.

If you’re not already subscribed to professional listservs, I hope this post has prompted you to maybe check a couple out. If so, come back and let us know how they’re working for you!

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