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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1997

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

A Month in the Life of a Mailing List: Communication Among Science and Technology Librarians

Andrea L. Duda
Rosemary L. Meszaros
James W. Markham
Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara


Introduction

Electronic mailing lists foster communication in all fields. Various articles (Pisanty and Labanowski, 1996; Smagorinsky, 1997) cite reasons for their popularity. By using mailing lists one can:

Electronic mailing lists help librarians stay up to date with issues and activities in the profession. The number of mailing lists focusing on library-related topics is staggering -- there are 185 entries in the library and information science section of {The Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences}. (Kovacs, 1995)

In order to look at how useful some of these lists are, what types of topics they cover, and the general nature of these mailing lists, we subscribed to the mailing lists below for a period of one month in the late spring of 1997. This was similar to the technique used by Raleigh Muns when he was reviewing lists for the List Review Service. (Muns, 1991-94)

The lists we included are:

For each list we have provided general information about the list:

For each list we have categorized the messages into these areas:

Data

BSDNet

Sponsor: Biological Sciences Division, Special Libraries Association
Purpose: Addresses issues of interest to librarians/information scientists in the field of biological sciences
# of Messages: 37
# of individuals posting: 10
# of countries: 1 (100% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: Open only to members of the Biological Sciences Division, Special Libraries Association
Submit messages:
Moderated? No
Archives: Yes

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 0 Information queries: 3
Collection queries: 0 Citation verification 3
Duplicates offered/wanted 1 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 2 Professional opportunities 4
Collection announcements 0 Collection-related Discussion 0
Announcements relevant to readers 1 Organizational info 10
List info 3 Missent messages 9
Personal messages 1 Humor 0

BSDNet is sponsored by the Biological Sciences Division of the Special Libraries Association and is open only to the 700+ members of the Division, who are located across the USA, Canada and other countries. All messages during the month of observation were from US addresses. Each confirmed subscriber has a recorded address and must send messages from that address for them to be posted to the list. BSDNet is a discussion list addressing issues of interest to librarians and information scientists in the field of biological sciences. The list is unmoderated.

At the beginning of the month of observation, an automatic "I am on vacation" message response to a message posted to the list generated a string of repeats as it continued to reply to itself, until someone managed to stop it. This and subsequent instructions on preventing future occurrences accounted for 12 of the 37 messages posted during the month. Other messages concerned matters related to the business of the Division, including membership statistics, newsletter contribution deadline, distribution of minutes of 1997 meeting, and a call for papers for the 1998 meeting. In short, this list concentrates on matters of interest to members of this Division of SLA.

CBHL

Sponsor: Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries
Purpose: Forum for dicussion of all aspects of library service and practice in CBHL libraries
# of Messages: 37
# of individuals posting: 21
# of countries: 3 (86% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: Send subscription request to bcallery@flounder.com
Submit messages: cbhl@pgh.net
Moderated? No
Archives: No

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 15 Information queries: 5
Collection queries: 2 Citation verification 1
Duplicates offered/wanted 1 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 2 Professional opportunities 1
Collection announcements 0 Collection-related Discussion 2
Announcements relevant to readers 8 Organizational info 0
List info 0 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

CBHL, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries distribution list, is intended as a forum for discussions of all aspects of library service and practice in CBHL member libraries. The list is unmoderated, but it seems to adhere to these guidelines very well, i.e., it is restricted to matters of importance to botanical libraries.

During the month of observation, 37 messages were posted to the list, from USA (32), UK (3) and Canada (2). Discussions included a plea for help for a storm-damaged library, as well as suggestions on where else to send the message, and on a more positive note, a successful disaster recovery report. A request for sources of famous biologists' signatures generated several offers and suggestions; requests for sources selling certain plants as well as identification of a plant brought in by a patron generated several quick responses. Requests for lists of reference books for children on the subject of gardening, as well as advice on procedures for new botanical libraries were also answered promptly. Other messages included position announcements, duplicates offered, and requests for citation verification, as well as news for CBHL members. This list seems very useful for anyone concerned with botany and libraries.

CHMINF-L

Sponsor: Indiana University
Purpose: The Chemical Information Sources Discussion List, CHMINF-L, serves as a forum for discussion of as well as an information source for chemistry reference questions and the sources used to find information needed by chemists. News about existing reference sources, the appearance of new primary, secondary, or tertiary printed or computer-readable sources, prices and availability, search hints, bibliographic instruction--all are suitable as topics for distribution as long as they have some link to chemistry.
# of Messages: 251
# of individuals posting: 140
# of countries: 21 (72% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listserv@listserv.indiana.edu
Submit messages: chminf-l@listserv.indiana.edu
Moderated? No
Archives: Yes

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 58 Information queries: 36
Collection queries: 46 Citation verification 3
Duplicates offered/wanted 3 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 7 Professional opportunities 6
Collection announcements 41 Collection-related Discussion 20
Announcements relevant to readers 22 Organizational info 1
List info 4 Missent messages 4
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

CHMINF-L is aimed at those interested in chemical information and the discussion sticks closely to that topic. The list would be of most interest to information specialists working in chemistry, chemical engineering, and very closely related fields.

Participants in this list include not only librarians, but also publishers and database producers in the chemistry area. The publishers are not on the list strictly to sell their products; they also answer questions about their reference works and databases. This interaction between producers and consumers is a strength of this mailing list and would be nice to see on other mailing lists as well.

A potential negative aspect of this list is the number of reference questions coming from non-librarians. The welcome message for the list states "In addition, people have used CHMINF-L as a 'reference library' to supplement the resources of their local libraries. That is appropriate as long as users are willing to supply answers."

CHMINF-L serves as an unofficial means of communication for the SLA Chemistry Division and the ACS Division of Chemical Information.

ELDNET-L

Sponsor: Engineering Libraries Division of the American Society for Engineering Education
Purpose: Addresses issues related to or of interest to engineering and related subject area libraries and librarians.
# of Messages: 41
# of individuals posting: 33
# of countries: 3 (86% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listserv@ukanvm.cc.ukans.edu
Submit messages: eldnet-l@ukanvm.cc.ukans.edu
Moderated? yes
Archives: listserv@ukanvm.cc.ukans.edu Index ELDNET-L

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 9 Information queries: 4
Collection queries: 3 Citation verification 1
Duplicates offered/wanted 0 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 4 Professional opportunities 2
Collection announcements 4 Collection-related Discussion 0
Announcements relevant to readers 4 Organizational info 10
List info 0 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

ELDNET-L is an information organ for the Engineering Libraries Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). The largest number of messages concerned the annual ASEE conference, which was imminent during the observation period. The list emanates an aura of welcome to ASEE members and non-members alike.

There was not very much discussion on the list. Most messages were informational announcements and inquiries relating to collections, reference queries or citation verification. Sometimes the replies were sent to the list or summarized by the inquirer, but not always. Librarians in the field of engineering, who are job-hunting, should take note: during the observation period, over 10% of the messages concerned job vacancies or professional opportunities.

GEONET-L

Sponsor: Geoscience Information Society
Purpose: Geoscience Librarians & Information Specialists
# of Messages: 42
# of individuals posting: 34
# of countries: 3 (95% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listserv@listserv.indiana.edu
Submit messages: geonet-l@listserv.indiana.edu
Moderated? yes
Archives: {http://www.geoinfo.org/lists.html}

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 6 Information queries: 0
Collection queries: 0 Citation verification 1
Duplicates offered/wanted 14 Articles needed/offered 5
Job announcements 3 Professional opportunities 0
Collection announcements 3 Collection-related Discussion 0
Announcements relevant to readers 6 Organizational info 4
List info 1 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

GEONET-L is a controlled and very orderly list. It is a moderated list that does not have extraneous off-topic or missent messages. During the month of observation, messages on duplicate publications either offered or desired dominated the list. These offers resulted from gifts or weeding projects at the offering library. From the wording in some of the messages, it appears that the tender of duplicates is not seasonal but is a constant feature of GEONET-L. Some of the libraries were offering federal documents, but not all.

Assistance was requested and quickly given to posters regarding problems with GIS software applications. Vendors' representatives provided their assistance readily. Geoscience Information Society, the sponsoring organization, had a number of messages about its annual meeting, newsletter, website, and other business matters.

The list became an alerting system when two instances of thievery were reported. GEONET-L readers were cautioned to be aware of the danger to their collections.

At 42 messages during the month of observation, the list appears to be moderately trafficked.

IAMSLIC

Sponsor: IAMSLIC (International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries and Information Centers)
Purpose: This discussion group facilitates communication and sharing in the aquatic science information community and beyond IAMSLIC's membership.
# of Messages: 165
# of individuals posting: 85
# of countries: 17 (59% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listserv@ucsd.edu
Submit messages: iamslic@ucsd.edu
Moderated? No
Archives: No

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 9 Information queries: 14
Collection queries: 3 Citation verification 14
Duplicates offered/wanted 29 Articles needed/offered 50
Job announcements 5 Professional opportunities 2
Collection announcements 12 Collection-related Discussion 0
Announcements relevant to readers 11 Organizational info 5
List info 0 Missent messages 9
Personal messages 2 Humor 0

The IAMSLIC list forms a tightly knit community of marine science librarians. Perhaps reflecting the situation of many marine science librarians working in small or isolated libraries, the biggest area of activity on this list relates to locating and sending needed materials. Of the messages sent during the month reviewed, 14 (8%) dealt with verifying citations; 50 (30%) dealt with copies of articles needed; and 29 (18%) dealt with duplicates offered or wanted -- a total of 93 messages (56% of the total sent during the month).

While IAMSLIC participants are interested in the practicalities of obtaining the information their patrons need, they are much less interested in discussion for the sake of discussion. An article about escalating journal costs that appeared in the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues (The Serials Crisis in the Age of Electronic Access by Ken Rouse) generated a great deal of discussion on CHMINF-L, SLAPAM-L, and STS-L. The article was also forwarded to the IAMSLIC list where it failed to generate a single comment.

NHC-SLA

Sponsor: Special Libraries Association Natural History Caucus
Purpose: Natural history librarianship and libraries
# of Messages: 10
# of individuals posting: 7
# of countries: 1 (100% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: aschiff@cas.calacadey.org
Submit messages: nhc-sla@cas.calacademy.org
Moderated? yes
Archives: Not at this time

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 1 Information queries: 1
Collection queries: 0 Citation verification 3
Duplicates offered/wanted 0 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 1 Professional opportunities 0
Collection announcements 1 Collection-related Discussion 0
Announcements relevant to readers 1 Organizational info 2
List info 0 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

NHC-SLA had lighter traffic than the other mailing lists. The observation period began just prior to the Special Libraries Association's annual meeting. It was surprising to note that there were no pre-conference messages on the list. After the annual meeting, there was an announcement about a matter that arose during an SLA business meeting.

Messages were evenly divided between reference queries/citation verifications and announcements (either pertaining to job vacancies, NHC organizational matters, collections or relevant information to readers of the list). Since it is dedicated to members affiliated with the Natural History Caucus of SLA, the list is extremely focused.

NRLIB

Sponsor: Natural Resources Librarians and Information Specialists Discussion Group
Purpose: Provides a medium for interaction between Natural Resource Librarians and Information Specialists on all issues,questions, brainstorming, or discussions pertaining to natural resources librarianship.
# of Messages: 28
# of individuals posting: 23
# of countries: 3 (98% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: maiser@library.lib.usu.edu
Submit messages: nrlib-l@library.lib.usu.edu
Moderated? no
Archives: Undetermined

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 1 Information queries: 0
Collection queries: 0 Citation verification 0
Duplicates offered/wanted 1 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 3 Professional opportunities 7
Collection announcements 7 Collection-related Discussion 1
Announcements relevant to readers 1 Organizational info 4
List info 0 Missent messages 2
Personal messages 0 Humor 1

NRLIB-L had a moderate number of messages during the observation period. It was strong in job and professional opportunities announcements. Almost half of the postings were devoted to these areas.

The Serials Pricing Newsletter was forwarded to the list, but this volatile issue provoked no discussion among the posters. Notable among the mailing lists in the study for its humorous message on mailing list subscribers posted by the list's co-manager.

Since it is unmoderated, missent messages, such as unsubscribe messages, are sometimes posted to the whole list. However, they were of such a small number that it did not appear to be a problem. Moderators, especially for very active lists, may assess the situation differently.

SLAPAM-L

Sponsor: Physics, Astronomy & Mathematics Division of SLA
Purpose: PAMnet is an electronic discussion group for the members of the Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics Division (PAM) of the Special Libraries Association. The list is open to non-PAM Division members as well.
# of Messages: 88
# of individuals posting: 42
# of countries: 4 (86% of the posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listproc@lists.yale.edu
Submit messages: slapam-l@lists.yale.edu
Moderated? No
Archives: No

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 7 Information queries: 5
Collection queries: 9 Citation verification 2
Duplicates offered/wanted 6 Articles needed/offered 2
Job announcements 1 Professional opportunities 2
Collection announcements 16 Collection-related Discussion 14
Announcements relevant to readers 8 Organizational info 13
List info 1 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 1 Humor 1

This list is sponsored by the Special Libraries Association, but is open to all who are interested in the subject area. This list had one particularly active participant (19 messages, 21% of all the messages posted).

This list could be improved if the publishers and producers of various reference works participated as they do in CHMINF-L. They could help answer questions dealing with topics such as searching databases as well as use the list to announce new products and services.

STS-L

Sponsor: Science and Technology Section of ACRL
Purpose: The purpose of the list is to: a) provide a forum for the discussion of issues primarily of interest to all science and technology librarians; b) provide a quick communication link between the STS section leadership and the members; and c) serve as a distribution point for STS publications. It is a public list, open to all interested persons.
# of Messages: 101
# of individuals posting: 65
# of countries: 6 (91% of posters were from the United States)
Subscribe: listserv@utkvm1.utk.edu
Submit messages: sts-l@utkvm1.utk.edu
Moderated? Yes; contact Marty Courtois
Archives: Yes

Nature of messages:

Reference questions: 1 Information queries: 10
Collection queries: 2 Citation verification 5
Duplicates offered/wanted 0 Articles needed/offered 0
Job announcements 12 Professional opportunities 3
Collection announcements 12 Collection-related Discussion 35
Announcements relevant to readers 9 Organizational info 11
List info 0 Missent messages 0
Personal messages 0 Humor 0

STS-L is the list covering the broadest area in this survey. It is sponsored by the Science and Technology Section of ACRL and covers all aspects of science and technology librarianship. It also provides a communication vehicle between STS section leadership and the membership.

This list is a good one for those seeking employment in the field. Due to of the breadth of the list, people from all types of sci-tech libraries post job announcements.

Because this list is moderated, replies to messages are slower than those on unmoderated lists. Instead of seeing a reply in minutes or hours, it is often the next day before the reply is released. Moderation has the twin effects of eliminating irrelevant messages and slowing conversations.

Discussion and Conclusions

Certain elements were common to all of these lists.

For the most part, these are not "discussion" lists. They are used to get information for patrons and solicit information about how things are done in other libraries. A large number of messages on all of the lists are in the nature of announcements: new materials, job vacancies, professional opportunities, and article recommendations. Exceptions to this rule appeared on lists such as CHMINF-L, SLAPAM-L, and STS-L where long discussions did sometimes take place.

Another element common to these lists was the serious purpose of all of them. There was very little that could be classified as humor or personal information. For the most part librarians were interested in locating information for patrons and for their libraries.

Belonging to multiple lists is the rule not the exception. In addition to subscribing to subject-specific lists, it is common for sci-tech librarians to read more broadly based lists such as STS-L. This seems particularly helpful for those who belong to small, narrowly focused mailing lists. In addition, it is helpful to subscribe to non-library related lists in a scientific discipline as a way of keeping current with topics of interest to practitioners in the field.

In the authors' experience, since mailing lists have become a more familiar feature of the Internet, the number of missent messages (subscribe, unsubscribe, etc.) appearing on unmoderated lists seems to have dwindled. Out of 490 messages on unmoderated lists in this study, only 22 missent messages were posted (4.5%). The unmoderated lists did not show evidence of either unwanted commercial messages or flames, other reasons for moderating a list. While the authors have encountered both flames and undesired commercial messages on other lists, they did not appear on the lists we monitored in this study. Considering the effort involved in being a moderator -- as well as the delay introduced in exchanging information -- listowners may want to evaluate their reasons for moderating a list. If it is only to screen missent messages, flames, and commercial messages, it may not be necessary. However, moderators also may take on roles such as facilitator, expert, or promoter; these may be worth the moderator's time and effort ({Berge, 1992}). The Berge article along with many others appear on {The Moderators Home Page: Resources for Moderators and Facilitators of Online Discussion} (Collins and Berge, 1997).

Mailing lists fulfill a need that librarians have for very current, very practical information. They connect librarians where a network might not otherwise exist. They allow librarians to present innovative solutions to problems without the delays normally involved in publishing. Before the advent of the Internet this type of communication -- between people in different types of libraries, different professional organizations, in different sci-tech disciplines, in geographically isolated places -- did not exist. While new technologies often introduce new problems, mailing lists are a new technology that introduces new solutions.

Bibliography

Berge, Zane L. 1992. "The Role of the Moderator in a Scholarly Discussion Group (SDG)." [{http://emoderators.com/wp-content/uploads/zlbmod.html}]

Collins, Mauri and Berge, Zane L. 1997. "The Moderators Home Page: Resources for Moderators and Facilitators of Online Discussion." [{http://emoderators.com/}]

Kovacs, Diane K. 1995. "The Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences." [{http://www.kovacs.com/directory/index.html}]

Muns, Raleigh. 1991-1994. "List Review Service" [http://www.umsl.edu/~muns/proddir/listrevs.htm]

Pisanty, A. and Labanowski, J.K. 1996. "Electronic mailing lists and chemical research -- a case study." TRAC: Trends in Analytical Chemistry 15(2): 53-56.

Smagorinsky, Peter. 1997. "Entering the electronic conversation." English Journal 86(4): 80-84.


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