List Owner Insights:
How NYCSLIST Became the Go-To Resource for New York City School Librarians
- Unmoderated LISTSERV discussion and announcement list
- Connects school librarians throughout New York City
- Launched in 2004
- Currently has 1150 subscribers
- Choice of real-time posts or daily digests
Librarians are among the true "power users" of LISTSERV email lists. A simple query of CataList, the official catalog of LISTSERV lists, shows 588 different lists, and that only includes public lists. Librarians from schools, universities, historical venues, governments and other organizations have been using LISTSERV for decades. This feature on librarians' work with LISTSERV spotlights email list tips, experiences and insights shared by Melissa Jacobs, List Owner, NYCSLIST.
How did NYCSLIST begin?
I was a school-based librarian, and this was prior to social media or any communication network like that. I had used a LISTSERV list in graduate school; that's how we communicated with classmates. But when I started working as a librarian in the school system in 2000, there was no network like that. So I appealed to the director of library services and said that we should have an email list because it's difficult to find answers if you don't have a network. Librarians attend district meetings once or twice a month, but there was very little email communication in the school library system. Email was new at the time, and people were reluctant to use it as a form of communication and for asking questions. There was no network of people to ask. Each librarian was 'the only one' in their school building, like the custodian and the nurse.
"NYCSLIST has been one of the best parts of my professional career. I think it's an amazing tool. It's not something that has been pushed aside by social media or any of the emerging technologies. Social media and newer emerging tech replacing LISTSERV? I don't think so."
Fast forward five years to 2005, I had finished my administrator's license and second Master's Degree and applied to be a coordinator. The same director hired me and said 'go create it.' So I started exploring software that would be able to serve a school community like New York City. Communication across 3000 schools is a challenge. I wanted it to be more than just 'here's a newsletter' or something that's flat. I wanted people to be able to post a question and get an answer. For example, if I'm a librarian in South Brooklyn, I could get an answer from a librarian in the Bronx about a Winnebago automation system issue. But if I had walked into the staff lounge at school discussing a problem with Winnebago, the staff would look out the window for a Winnebago motor home and have no understanding of the automation software. Having archives was really important because I wanted people to be able to search.
How did NYCLIST evolve into its current incarnation?
Once I got the list established, I had to get people used to it. There had to be a culture that was created around it because at this point, people were still reluctant about the email list and they didn't want to be told to use it and didn't know how to use it or what the benefits would be. For the first few years, it really was about selling it.
"People don't always want to have to call the company for tech support. They want to talk to a colleague and have the ability to network and share."
Then slowly, as people started getting on the list, we started to set protocols on what and how to share, how to have a conversation, etc. At meetings, I had a handout on customized netiquette for NYCSLIST to help people understand how to present themselves. I wanted to be proactive, not reactive. Subscribing wasn't that easy back then, so I tried to make it as simple as possible. People would try to register and fail and never get back on. I would do workshops and talk about what LISTSERV really is and how it works, and people didn't understand it at first. We started integrating the LISTSERV training into regular workshops and staff orientations. At any conference or meeting, the message was: "Make sure you register for NYCSLIST." It took several years to get a lot of people subscribed and to the point where conversations were actual conversations with people answering the questions as well. We grew to a few hundred subscribers then. Now, we have 1108.
Could you please share some tips and experiences that could help others who manage email lists or would like to start an email list?
I monitor it constantly and make sure people are who they say they are. It's a protected community, not for sales, so one rule is no vendors. It's a place where people feel safe to post and share.
For new subscribers, start as a lurker. Then post, share, ask. These are skills you're teaching to your students. You need to model it as well.
One of the best parts of my career is when at a conference I help run every year with 600 people in attendance, I hear convos like: "Oh you're so and so, I've seen your posts on the NYCSLIST. Great to meet you in person!" I see relationships built on our LISTSERV list. Seeing people develop as professionals and share has been amazing. When a librarian is locked in the school building most of the time and does something that's a best practice and wants to share that. Also, classroom teachers don't always understand the role of a librarian. So, to be able to do that online in a safe environment is really important for each person, as a professional.
"It's our lifeline to the field. If you're not on NYCSLIST, you're not connected to the administrative office. I see the school librarians using the LISTSERV list more than the other social media channels because the social media channels are connected more to their personal life, and this is their professional digital tool and directly connected to who they are at work."
This tool works to connect people so we can share and develop best practices. To be a really successful school librarian, you need to understand new technology and constantly be testing things and learning. This is the environment now. People test and share. It really is a best practice. New librarians can go into the archives and start reading. They can lurk on the list and start reading their daily email. They can become self-sufficient and independent. People on our list use other email lists that are national and state-based.
The majority of the group do not use social media accounts for their professional networks. I might share a workshop on Facebook or Twitter because I share things for multiple audiences, but one is not replacing the other. I see it as a supplement, if anything, but definitely not a replacement.
Automatically set up your list so that when people close an email account or if their in-boxes are full, it drops them.
Usage of our LISTSERV list has increased because of smartphones. People can get email there and ask questions and share things directly from smartphones now. So there's more sharing during their personal lives, when they're off the clock, than in the past.
What are some of the main impacts of NYCLIST on librarians and schools in general?
Curriculum – Lessons and sharing on best practices and instruction, digital citizenship, etc., are constantly being developed and shared online. This gets drilled down to lesson plans and then drilled down to student achievement.
"You have a support system. I dare you to find a question on school libraries that you can't get answered on NYCSLIST. Someone has the answer out there."
LibGuides – These are like Wikis on steroids. It's a paid subscription, and we use it to manage content. We were looking for best practices and I posted a query to the list looking for reports on sharing statistics as an advocacy tool with principals. We got lots of responses and I was able to update our LibGuides with real-time examples.
Grants – It's about not missing out. Several people on the list have won national and local grants. People considering applying are able to discuss and ask others with experience with grants.
Community and support – There's a community of people on NYCSLIST who know each other by name, People have died, have had babies, have gotten married or divorced, and have had dealt with severe tragedies. People talk and share. Everyone is very professional and connected in a way that's beyond something I could have asked for. It's cathartic. When there have been tragedies like Hurricane Sandy, schools and librarians were also devastated in their personal lives, and people on the list came to help, made donations, organized things – they rallied. And when people get awards or grants, it's the place where people celebrate.
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