I thought electronic discussion groups or listservs were pretty much dead back in August 15, 2005 when I retired my “Law Lists” guide. Sure, a few good email lists were still thriving, but so many more had disappeared or become virtually useless. I became interested again in the state of listservs when Greg Lambert questioned their 21st century relevance in his June 2009 AALL Spectrum article: Where Do Listservs Fit in a Social Media World? The networking tool of the 90s is starting to show its age. Greg concluded that we shouldn’t retire listservs yet because, while they have their downsides (they’re inefficient, overbroad, and too diverse, and some are “lazy researcher” tools), listservs are also “extremely easy, convenient, and pretty useful.” He suggested two of his favorite social networking alternatives to listservs: Nings and Twitter. He mentioned again some of the benefits of Twitter over listservs that he’d listed in a November 2008 blog post: Is Twittering Better Than LIstservs? While I’m a fan of both Nings and Twitter, I protested silently because I thought he was giving listservs a bad rap.
Greg later saw the light. His May 2010 3 Geeks and a Law blog post, Maybe Listservs Aren’t As Dead As I Thought…, touted listservs as the “King of social networks” and proclaimed their continuing relevance:
So listservs, please accept my apology for thinking that your importance in the professional social community was coming to an end. Although other social networks may try to replace you, you are still one of the best resources out there for gathering feedback from a network of people with a common interest.
Speaking for listservs, apology accepted.
Listservs were early social networks. Some of the first law-related listservs started in 1990 – TEKNOIDS and LAW-LIB, for instance. Judy Janes at UC Davis started the LAW-LIB list in March 1990 for between-annual conference-conversations among a few colleagues. Today, LAW-LIB has 3,732 subscribers. It is an unmoderated, open list (anyone can subscribe), with public archives, and a useful, unofficial FAQ. While LAW-LIB is for law librarian discussions, its subscribers are very diverse. Because of its breadth, LAW-LIB has suffered a lot more of the ills of listservs than other lists. There have been LAW-LIB flame wars (see Vimeo animation), personal attacks, out of office/vacation loops, “lazy researcher” requests, and the like.
Despite the downsides of LAW-LIB, it remains one of the few good lists. Its breadth and diversity are also its strength. It is thriving, well-populated, and people still respond to requests. It is one of the best places for surveys, crowd-sourcing, and monitoring developments in law librarianship. Law librarians have used LAW-LIB over the years to help each other answer reference questions and share information. I prefer to read LAW-LIB in digest format — that way, I manage not to get too upset when a few persons post frequent ILL or research requests, and flame wars are easier to take.
Any listserv has potential downsides, but I've found a few good lists, noteworthy for their usefulness as professional networks, that manage to avoid most of the ills. A good list has a clear purpose, a good number of active, knowledgeable members, and management that helps reduce inefficiency.
The best listservs are for information sharing among professionals in the same field. There are good listservs for law library directors, catalogers, serials librarians, acquisitions librarians, government documents librarians, foreign and international law librarians, and computing services staff. Several of these listservs have affiliations with associations. Subscribers use these lists for announcements, crowdsourcing, offers and requests, interlibrary loan, research help, information sharing. They’re thriving. They’re peopled. Subscribers are responsive. They have very few “lazy researchers” posting. They tend not to have flame wars.
Here are a few good lists (from my own experiences and as suggested by some of my INT-LAW list colleagues). What other listservs do y’all find useful?
For communication primarily between Australian and New Zealand law librarians. Non-ALLA members are welcome to join the list. Postings about professional development opportunities, duplicate exchanges, the Joint Study Institutes, and new resources.
BIALL Email Forum (British and Irish Association of Law Librarians)
Discussion list exclusively for BIALL members. Postings include announcements, BIALL questions, member discussion topics, help requests.
BIB-JUR (Rechtsbibliotheken – German Law Libraries list)
In German. Postings about legal publications and resources, and library conferences, including meetings of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für juristisches Bibliotheks- und Dokumentationswesen (AjBD). There is also a general German librarians list: INETBIB.
BUSLIB-L (Business Librarians List)
The BUSLIB-L listserv has 1,992 subscribers and is a favorite of private law firm l ibrarians.
CALL-L (Canadian Association of Law Libraries / L'Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit (ACBD))
CALL-L is an open list with 838 subscribers. CALL-L is “an Internet discussion list focusing onlaw librarianship in Canada. A wide range of law library topics is discussed, including reference questions, online databases, World Wide Web sites, interlibrary loan, materials selection, cataloguing and classification, technical services, position announcements and law library administration. Anyone with an interest in law librarianship is welcome to join the list. All types of law librarians – academic, law firm, courthouse, government and corporate law librarians – are represented on the list.” I loved when Denis LeMay used to post. His elaborate acronyms for everything cracked me up.
CARALL-TALK (Caribbean Association of Law Libraries)
The CARALL talk forum is like a family, a community. It is a small email discussion group. Everyone seems to know each other. Postings include requests for documents, personal announcements, information about the CARALL annual conference, conversations.
CHINALAW (The CHINALAWList, formerly Chinese Law Net)
List for discussion of modern Chinese law and Chinese legal history owned by Professor Donald C. Clarke at George Washington University Law School. While not law library-related, the CHINALAW listserv is a great tool for keeping up with legal developments and legal information resources in the People’s Republic of China and other Chinese jurisdictions. Chinese legal research specialists are among the subscribers to the CHINALAW list. See also the Chinese Law Prof Blog.
EURODOC (European Documentation Centres (EDC))
EURODOC is a list for “List for those in charge of European Documentation Centres (EDC) or similar EU information relays for discussion of European Union documentation and information policy.”
H-LAW (American Society for Legal History)
H-LAW is the ASLH’s online discussion network.
INT-LAW (International Law Librarians)
Mila Rush and I co-founded the INT-LAW listserv at the University of Minnesota in April 1991. INT-LAW is now a Columbia University “SEDAC-sponsored mailing list that serves as a forum for discussion and sharing of information concerning foreign, comparative, and international (fci) legal resources.” INT-LAW is an open, publicly-archived list with about 800 subscribers worldwide.
INTL-DOC (American Library Association, International Documents Task Force)
The INTL-DOC listserv was founded in 1996 and currently has over 400 subscribers. INTL-DOC is a “discussion group designed to facilitate the exchange of information concerning the publication and information dissemination policies of IGOs. Most subscribers are librarians and users of IGO information. Owing to the multinational makeup of the participants, foreign national government publications are discussed as well. Commercial and IGO Publishers as well as IGO depository liaisons all participate on INTL-DOC making it a valuable resource for international document librarians.”
JURICONNEXION (Association Juriconnexion, Association d'utilisateurs de produits électroniques d'information juridique; Juriconnexion is an “association open to all persons (legal counsel, librarians, lawyers, notaries, central administration, banks, big companies, local authorities) using various electronic versions of legal information products in the course of their daily professional practice.”)
In French. Created on July 1, 1998, Juriconnexion is an open, moderated list with 1705 subscribers, mostly in France, but also other countries. Juriconnexion is an incredible list with highly relevant postings from legal information specialists such as Jean Gasnault, Stéphane Cottin, and Emmanuel Barthe. It feels the most curated of all the lists to which I subscribe. A major general French librarians list, biblio-fr, with 15,500 members stopped operating in June 2009. Other French lists include the Association des Professionnels de l'Information et de la Documentation’s ADBS-INFO public list for information specialists (with about 8,000 members), and an ADBS law sector private list (with about 250 members).
LIS-LAW (UK Law Librarians List)
LIS-LAW is a “list for news and discussion on legal information and law libraries, with particular reference to UK and EU sources.” See also the BIALL email forum (described above) and BI-ALLG, for academic law librarians in the UK.
NEEDSANDOFFERS-L (Needs and Offers for Library Acquisitions)
Mila Rush created the NEEDSANDOFFERS-L list. Its purpose is to “facilitate the exchange of legal library materials between/among libraries. It provides a quick and easy means for the inexpensive acquisition of, and for the disposal of no longer needed, legal materials. It is meant to carry lists of titles or general descriptions of materials either needed or offered.”
OSALL Listserv (Organisation of South African Law Libraries)
Great information-sharing list. Interestingly, OSALL listserv policy asks subscribers to categorize their requests for archiving purposes into: Legislation, Gazettes, Judgments, Cases, Articles, Book, General.
A testimonial from one of my listserv colleagues:
The OSALL listserv “is a most reliable source of difficult to find stuff. I use it so often and hope it never goes away. We stay in touch, send alerts and help each other out. It serves to bind the members of the group and frankly, it is just great!!”
TEKNOIDS (The Teknoids Mailing List)
The Legal Information Institute’s Tom Bruce created the Teknoids list in 1992 for “folks involved and/or interested in support and development of IT for law schools, law firms, the judiciary and more.” Teknoids is for “tech support, web designers, trainers, education and instructional technologists, sys admins, net admins, programmers, developers, IT managers, CIOs, librarians, library directors, and tech-inclined faculty in legal academia, non-profits, the judiciary, and law firms plus others with interests in this area.”
A testimonial from one of my listserv colleagues:
I love the lists because they’re easier than some of the alternative access points that are springing up (such as the AALL Communities, which are several extra steps to use). I use the lists to keep up with news, publication opportunities, fixes to problems, and new resources. I know there’s some aggravation that comes with the ceaseless community voice, but that’s what the delete key is for. Since we’re on the subject, I will opine that Teknoids is the best list I’ve ever been on. I’ve never seen a flame war on Teknoids. Its users are the most generous, supportive, and have the best senses of humor of any list I’ve ever been on. Viva ‘Noids!!!!!!
UNAK-HUKUK (Turkish Law Librarians Discussion Group)
In Turkish. Useful for foreign, comparative, and international legal research.