One of the funny things about librarianship, to me, is how much of our collective “hive mind” type of knowledge is wrapped up in mailing lists and their online archives. I still subscribe to at least four library-oriented mailing lists though in many cases I have a web-based option for following along as well. I’ve recently become aware of the “Best of PUBLIB” website which has a nice categorized interface to some of the best “strings of comments” that have shown up on PUBLIB. The other lists I read are Web4Lib which I read via the web and VTLIBRARIES and VLABOARD which, to be best of my knowledge, don’t even have public web archives.
After a lot of blustery back and forth, the SAA has reversed its decision to ditch the SAA listserv archives. I think this is a smart plan, but it was interesting to watch the back and forth on this topic. Some salient points
- The “lifetime of your comments” issue – one of the issues involved potential trouble with people wanting their material purged from the listserv archives. Back before things like this were easily Googleable, you could post things to a listserv that mostly remained only within the collective memory of the group, that is no longer the case. This presents trouble for some people, and may represent trouble for the groups. When I was on ALA Council, I was always surprised that people didn’t seem to have an understanding that anything that they posted to the list was linkable on the Internet via the Council archives.
- The cost issue – if it’s too expensive to store your online content, you are probably not making the most of available options. For savvy non-profits, storing text online — even heavy-bandwidth content — is often free or close to free. If someone is charging you a lot of money, consider changing your hosting options.
- Admin hassles – again as with the previous topic, depending on the tech-savviness of your membership and your willing volunteers, techie projects like moving an archive can seem simple, or too-difficult difficult. If you have people who are telling you that a tech project is “too hard” ask around and see if you can find other people who have a different viewpoint. I think it’s a good idea to never look a gift volunteer in the mouth, and of course we all do our share of unpaid work to help our professional organizations, but sometimes this government of the willing doesn’t result in the right person for the right job. It’s a tough balance, often made tougher by the fact that a group of non-techie people will think that many techie projects are hard when what is more true is that the techie project is outside of their abilities — something that they may not even know themselves. Working out these dilemmas often requires more diplomacy than the average super-techie person is used to working with, and this is a problem that I personally grapple with on an almost daily basis.
So, good on you SAA for doing the right thing. I hope this decision turns out to not be too onerous for all involved.
Small update and interesting sidenote. Even though the web4lib content is being presented in blog format, it’s not really a blog. That is, you can’t comment using the comment form without being a list member. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is definitely a repurposing of the blog format in a way that produces unexpected results. Anyone who doesn’t know about web4lib should read up on it. Maybe it’s the librarian in me, but I think the list of guidelines for list behavior is sane, thoughful and thorough.