Smith, Cheri. “A Longitudinal Study of the Culture of MEDLIB-L.” Journal of Hospital Librarianship 4.1 (2004): 29-43.
MEDLIB-L was begun in 1991 by Nancy Start, a medical librarian at the University of New York at Buffalo. It is dedicated to supporting medical librarians’ professional queries, and is kept as an unmediated list in order to provide a faster response time to those needs. Its participants are mostly in the U.S., with a majority at large academic institutions.
The paper lays out the useful features of listserv technology in general, noting that it “supports scholarly communication by providing a forum for participant exchange of information, enabling the rapid distribution of information, announcements, and press releases, and allowing collaboration of widely dispersed participants” (30). This generally takes place through relatively informal sort of exchanges – smileys and typos are not unknown. Another perk is that unmoderated lists are by nature quite democratic, because there is no limit on which (or what) participants can post. They still do demonstrate the 80/20 rule, though – 20% of the participants account for 80% of the postings, while the other subscribers stay as simply passive readers. Smith also briefly discusses the term “netiquette,” the behavioral standards expected on listservs. Different listserv communities react differently to netiquette infractions. In some, a volunteer overseer of the listserv will send a private message to the user in question. In others, the rebuke will be more public, and sometimes can lead to battles on the listserv.
Smith then turns to the methodology and results of the study. Data collected consisted of screenshots taken from the archives of a section of time in 1991, 1992, 1994, and 2002. The messages were sorted into categories by type. These categories were administrative/organizational, announcements/networked resource points/giveaways, discussion, information exchange/ILL/resource request, metadiscussion (discussion about listserv), noise (unrelated postings), position announcements, surveys, and thanks (for help previously given). Results showed that civility and rules following has increased over time, while administrative type messages have decreased. Smith also sent out a survey on MEDLIB-L. Responses showed that participants feel that the listserv is both a way to connect with their colleagues and a valuable resource for answering questions. Many are quite fond and proud of the collaboration it represents. She concludes that “MEDLIB-L is an effective tool used with restraint and respect by health sciences librarians around the world who have changed their posting behaviors of the good of the group.”
I found the article’s subject interesting, and the writing accessible, although the information seemed a little disorganized in spots. Overall, though, it is a valuable look at the trends of a notable listserv.