Time to Rant! Librarianship by Listserv

Lynn: Ok – it is long past time for a rant. I’m sad and irritable this week but I’ve been grumbling for months about this issue and it is time to RANT! A listserv that I have long subscribed to is being ravaged by a dreadful disease. No I don’t mean H1N1, I mean Librarianship by Listserv. Who needs library school, cataloging classes or an online catalog? Just jump on the listerv and ask the world. No one else has anything to do and we all love having our mailboxes fill up. Hey – I think being able to ask questions of the “collective brain” is a great thing but it seems as if a scary number of people post questions without doing ANY work of their own first! These are actual questions recently posted:

Question: Can anyone suggest a good book for an 8th grade boy?

Me to my computer: Hundreds! What have you come up with so far? What resources have you used? Did you ask any readers advisory questions?

Question: Can anyone suggest a book set in another country?

Me to computer: Have you heard of doing a subject search? What books have you already found? What resources have you used? ACK!

Question: Can anyone recommend YA books set in schools?

Me shouting at computer: Every YA book published that isn’t a fantasy – and even some of THOSE are set in school. ARGH! (tearing of hair)

And then there are the people writing articles or teaching classes who seem to want the listserv to do their work…Cindy take over–my blood pressure is rising.

Cindy: My blood pressure monitor just maxed out reading your post, but I’ll try:

Question: I’m looking for an article from SLJ by “this author” about “insert topic here.” Does anyone remember that article?

Me shouting in an email to Lynn: This person is from a state with free access to InfoTrac. This person is a librarian. Can she perform a periodical search on her own?

She didn’t have to. She posted to the list, someone did the search for her and posted back to the list within minutes with the answer she needed. But it’s embarrassing! Isn’t it? I’m embarrassed for our profession.

Everywhere we turn librarians’ jobs are being cut. We’ve got Google, who needs librarians? Perhaps some of these inane questions are not coming from librarians, but from clerks who are being asked to serve in librarian roles in places where the cuts have taken place, but I do worry that librarians are becoming lazy. The Internet has opened up a whole world of information but our searching skills are diminishing as we rely on the memory of others rather than our own abilities. For me, answering a reference question is like solving a mystery. The process is part of the fun. Half of the reader’s advisory questions that are asked (some by college literature professors) could easily be answered by consulting Booklist Online, Novelist, or, gasp, one’s own online catalog.

Question: Can you recommend a read-alike for Diary of a Wimpy Kid? I have some ideas of my own, but I’d like to hear what others think.

Me: Really, you have ideas? You’ve done some work on this? How about throwing us a bone and giving us the titles you HAVE thought of so that we are not wasting our time typing answers that include what you already have on your list. PLUS, you might contribute something to the reader’s advisory cause by SHARING one of your ideas.

Accuracy seems to have taken a back seat in Librarianship by Listserv too.

Question: I have a 6th grader interested in Ancient Civilization. He’s already read the Dragon Keeper trilogy by Wilkinson set in Ancient China. Does the collective brain have any suggestions for him?

Answer #1: How about the Dragon Keeper trilogy?

Answer #2: I loved Caligula’s Adventures by Hedon Istic. It might be a little mature, for him, but it fits the subject and it’s sooo good.

Me, banging my head against my framed diploma: If these librarians pay attention to their own reference and readers’ advisory requests as closely as they pay attention to the listserv generated ones, there is no hope for our profession.

You have to wonder if the time spent at the computer on the reference desk responding to listserv questions could be better spent in helping your own patrons who are in front of you…or in taking some reference refresher classes.

Cindy and Lynn: To our dear readers who made it this far, thank you for indulging our Friday rant. Feel free to add your own rant to the comment section. You’ll feel better. We do.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

41 Comments on "Time to Rant! Librarianship by Listserv"

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  1. crzy4bookslaura@gmail.com' Laura W. says:

    Thanks, Lynn and Cindy. I mentioned to Lynn at MAME that I’m ready to dump a certain listserv because I can’t stand the 100s of daily e-mails I receive that can (and should) be so easily answered by a librarian’s own professional knowledge (and OPAC and Booklist, SLJ, and other personal resources!) I keep hoping that no one will answer these queries and then these posts will end. Maybe your rant will help 🙂

  2. dettiot@gmail.com' Melissa says:

    THANK YOU for pointing this out! I’ve been grumbling for ages about some listservs; I had ascribed the asinine postings to newbies. But you’re right: it’s more laziness and bad practices. And that’s much more worse. New librarians will eventually learn and develop their skills–but lazy, inefficient librarians don’t bother. And as long as the listserv is primarily made up of this second group of librarians, it’s not an effective tool, for new librarians or anyone else.

  3. lizzy.burns@gmail.com' Liz B says:

    I love you. That was the best rant EVER. I’m still on that certain listserv, hoping… well, hoping for the few good posts but it’s getting harder and harder with all the other stuff.

    My personal favorites are the “I loved Caligula’s Adventures by Hedon Istic. It might be a little mature, for him, but it fits the subject and it’s sooo good.” But you missed the bonus points! When the original poster miss identifies the genre they are asking for (i.e., asking for Ancient Civilizations and using a fantasy in a made up world as an example).

  4. kerers@gmail.com' Keri says:


    It’s especially egregious when it’s on listservs which are intended for book discussion rather than list building like adbooks or child_lit.

    I’m all for not reinventing the wheel, but come up with twenty books on your own before posting (and then list them). Just staring at your shelves you should be able to see ten of any type of book without even trying.

  5. mdeckerm@stcs.org' Marsha E. says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I do feel, however, that many of these questions are asked by clerks who call themselves “media specialists” and have absolutely no training or background in the information sciences. Those who answer are using their expertise and education to allow someone without either to eventually TAKE THEIR JOBS! It is happening everywhere in our state and we may be part of the problem.

  6. thebookmoot@yahoo.com' BookMoot says:

    I had to quit THAT listserv because that kind of query became too frequent and just too much to take. I would find myself reading a post in disbelief. Had they not taken a SINGLE reference course? Did they have any concept of cataloging practices? Did they read any of the books in their library? It is NOT just clerks. Maybe it is because I was a librarian first before I earned my teaching certification but I worry at the lack of professionalism and the way some school librarians are presenting themselves to their administrations, their parents and their peers.

    It is like a heart surgeon asking a listserv, “I’ve been asked to do a bypass…anyone suggest where to start?”

  7. I am still laughing about this! I subscribe to this listserv and I find myself skimming the digest emails, looking for any discussions about books. They are becoming less and less frequent. Makes me want to brush up my own researching skills, too.

  8. minnemom@inbox.com' Linda says:

    Love the rant as a former librarian and listserv member; I found the link to this post via twitter, but my biggest surprise is this:

    Librarians are still using listservs?

  9. jodyth@gmail.com' Jodyth says:

    You’ve just articulated why I never log in to the e-mail account I use to subscribe to that particular list serv except to purge the hundreds of e-mails at a time.

  10. toddbcpl@gmail.com' Todd says:

    This is a great post and replies… I’ve also been puzzled by recent threads on this unnamed discussion list looking for “X” books for boys. Never is there a similar request for girls, just boys. Often I want to reply, “Would you be making this request for girls? Or would it seem unreasonable?” (Because it is!)

    And don’t even get me started on pet violence, spoilers, and PETER PAN!

  11. angiemm@gmail.com' Angie Manfredi says:


    I try to be zen about the “I’m looking for books with characters in them?” queries, but when it’s someone who is writing an article, well, it’s beyond the pale. How will you be citing this in your article, hmm? And sometimes I feel so bad for the people asking these questions. Aren’t they the least bit embarrassed?

    But you totally hit the nail on the head with that last one. When someone looking for dark fantasy got a random, “Oh, those Anne Rice Sleeping Beauty books are pretty good, I guess?” … it’s just beyond the pale. This is the LAZIEST and STUPIDEST (yes, I said it) form of reader’s advisory *ever* … it’s the same as telling a patron looking for more books like The Princess Diaries to go find books with pink covers, they’re probably pretty girly. Best of all, when called on it, the librarians who’ve made these terrible suggestions will simply say, “Well, you know your patrons, so…” So then why are you giving ill-considered and inappropriate reader’s advisory then? (All helped by, as you pointed out, the original query being so helplessly vague.)

    Asking for suggestions is one thing, and it can be done well, but asking for someone to do your work is another.

  12. meg.anastasi@gmail.com' Meg says:

    I hear what you (plural) are saying about a certain listserv. It can take me the better part of an hour to go through all of the postings I have received overnight. Most of them repeat,repeat,repeat. HOWEVER, I am a brand new children’s librarian and every every time I see a potential booklist being formed I grab the list and save it. Does that make me lazy? Maybe. But right now I have 87+ different booklists that were generated by more experienced librarians than myself. Will I use these without doing my homework and making sure that they are in my OPAC? Never! And that they are appropriate for what I am doing? Never! But they do make a good starting point and I am ever so grateful for all the librarians willing to share their knowledge.

  13. kellyts@mac.com' Kelly says:

    I have subscribed and unsubscribed from this list quite a few times because of the issues you mention here.

    I often wonder if having a moderator (at least temporarily) would improve the signal to noise ratio.

  14. mosylu@gmail.com' Maureen says:

    Amen to the rant! I do wonder about some of the really open-ended questions, which could be answered with a simple catalog search of their own library and a little horse sense. Thanks for venting and making it funny.

    And Linda–totally! Although I just read them and don’t email so much. Some of the discussions are great, although there’s one listserv that regularly goes over my head into academicese, but it’s still enjoyable as a challenge. I did unsub from another listserv a few years back when it was ALL “I need a book for a sixth grader!” and “Anybody got any cute bug crafts?”

  15. scopenotes@gmail.com' Scope Notes says:

    Lynn and Cindy, thanks for getting this off your chest. You feel better and we get a good laugh – a classic win-win.

  16. jackie@jackiereeve.com' Jackie says:

    I subscribe to this listserv as well, and I hardly ever read it. I’ve posted questions 2 or 3 times, but after I’ve already checked the archives and exhausted my own ideas and research. That’s what gets me: how many people ask questions that have already been asked and can easily be searched for in the archive.

    The lack of initiative is infuriating, and I ask myself all the time why these librarians can’t find this info on their own when a simple search (in their catalog, a search engine, the archive, a database) takes less time than typing up the listserv email and waiting for responses. I use it as a last resort or place to share, not as my first line of defense.

  17. nkorsavidis@gmail.com' Nat says:

    That has always bothered me. When I post a question on a list-serv, I always make sure to write what I’ve tried so far or books I’ve found. I did get a degree and know how to use it and HATE when people expect me to do their work for them. I’m 100% with you on this one.

  18. janssen.everyday@gmail.com' Janssen says:

    If this is the same listserv I subscribe to, I must say I fear that most of the librarians can’t even read. How many times is there a request to “contact me off list about ________” and then you get DOZENS of “reply-all” responses. Hugely irritating.

    Or a friend of mine who asked the list for a few suggestions of a non-fiction title on a certain topic and started getting buried in fiction titles.

  19. lizzy.burns@gmail.com' Liz B says:

    The more I think about it, the more this isn’t about listserv etiquette or new librarians. It’s that these are all classic readers advisory questions, and readers advisory isn’t really being taught in library schools and not valued in some libraries. Readers advisory is about books; and libraries aren’t about books anymore (in some people’s opinions).

  20. Oh did you pick one of my pet peeves! On the lists I’m on (adbooks and child_lit) I don’t mind the occasional lazy query from someone who otherwise contributes to the discussion. I’m most irritated by those who repeatedly ask these sorts of questions and never, never, contribute in any other way. There is much talk about the blogging community, but for those still involved in list serves, those are communities too.

  21. I’m just back from out of town. Great move to post a rant and then leave town 🙂 I am so happy to see that we struck a chord with lots of other people. I’m tempted to post a link to the rant and these comments on THAT listserv the next time someone posts something stupid! – Lynn

  22. saxton.elizabeth@gmail.com' BethS says:

    Amen. I’m very close to leaving said list because it’s the same things over and over. Apparently we can’t actually have a discussion about a book because of “spoilers”. It may be time for serious and critical readers of YA to find a discussion forum of their own.

    • BethS, if you are not a member of the YahooGroup called Adbooks (for Adolescent Books) you should join. It is a liso set that spends most of its time discussing YA lit, most of it current. We are just heading into JHunt season where we nominate a dozen titles for the year and vote them off one by one each week after discussion (and bribes) to end up with a list of 5 titles to select the best book of the year from. It’s great fun, although sure to be painful too as we pick apart extraordinary titles.–Cindy

  23. kellybjensen@gmail.com' kelly says:

    Holy crap. As I was reading this, the entire time I was nodding my head. I’m SO SICK of answering the same questions but I’m mostly saddened by these librarians — can you imagine how they are in person? The same books are recommended for everything (“I’m looking for a book about cooking,” followed with “OMG I read Hunger Games which is kind of about cooking, right?”). These are the librarians that teens will avoid since no one is LISTENING to them!

    Then asking a legitimate question gets overlooked. What a waste of my time and what an accumulation of sheer frustration.

  24. jessmonster@gmail.com' Jess says:

    My pet peeve is the repeat suggestions. Question: “Can you recommend newer Holocaust fiction, like The Book Thief?” Answer: “What about The Book Thief?” ARG. And the vague questions!

  25. dcohen229@gmail.com' Deb says:

    Thank you!!!!!!! I was beginning to think I was the only one who found a certain list to be ANNOYING.

    Perhaps the problem lies in the tendency to want an “instant” answer. As a public school media specialist who works without support staff, my time is limited. When presented with a reference query that requires me to “dig” for an answer, I recommend to the patron that I will get back to them shortly with an answer. It takes time and energy to problem solve and, in my humble opinion, we do a disservice to ourselves and our profession when we make it seem too easy.

  26. bookwoman@mi.rr.com' Book Woman says:

    Thanks for your rant. I had been thinking the same for a while. Actually, I kept wondering about book discussions which I had thought was the purpose of the listserv.

    After thinking it over, I will take two of your suggestions to heart: 1. read the request more carefully and only reply to those who have shown evidence of some previous, thoughtful work, and 2. join Adbooks. I love talking about books and reading comments of those who have read books I haven’t read, and I just haven’t experienced enough of that.

    Thanks again!

  27. betsyf@shaw.ca' Betsy says:

    My own pet peeve is people posting directly back to the list when they are asked to send emails directly to someone’s email (for galleys, etc., especially once we’ve been told they’re all gone.) Every once in a while I wish I could find David Lubar’s very funny guide to answering a request for ARCs (1) by the time you’ve read this, they’re gone. 2) hit reply, not reply all. 3) type in the name entered in the email, NOT the name of the listserv, etc.

  28. blakemorem@westbrookschools.org' Meg 2 says:

    I just joined this list, too, and get it in digest, which can be nearly impossible to read since people don’t cut and paste.

    Maybe someone should send this link out to the list?

  29. beedon@ypsilibrary.org' Molly says:

    What cracks me up is that there are a few “librarians” who always respond and who always have an answer. Where do they get the time?

  30. You rock! *snicker* I’m glad I’m in such brilliant company when I screech at my computer. There is a certain member on my state listserv who has earned himself the dubious distinction of my deleting any and all of his posts unread…I’m joining Booklist Online solely because of this superb rant, and hope to see more like it!

  31. dethun@boylan.org' Denise Ethun says:

    I have dropped several listserves for this same reason. I can’t understand why it is easier to type in a question and wait for others to do your research. LAZY!

    • Gotta love today on CCBC-Net (not a listserv prone to this sort of nonsense at all). Even after two, count ’em, TWO posts on how to change your digest mail preferences many people were sending messages straight to the list asking for someone to change their settings. Rule number one of listserv etiquette is that you save the welcome message you get when you sign up so you know how to leave or manage your account. Come on, folks, it’s just not that hard. Meanwhile, things over at the major listserv many are frustrated with have not improved at all. I think the wrong people read our rant! 😉 –Cindy

  32. clariline98@yahoo.com' Line says:

    Thank you for the rant – now I know I’m not totally crazy when I find myself screaming those same words to my computer screen. Recently, I completely lost my sanity when a ‘librarian’ on my listserv asked for ideas of what to do with a class for 30 minutes!!!!! REALLY!!! Seriously!!! She did not know what to do with a class full of kids for 30 minutes. So thank you for you blog, I love your reviews.

  33. ruhnay@gmail.com' Renee says:

    I think this is great- as someone who works at a youth reference desk and someone who is taking a grad class on YA lit for my masters and for that I am required to look at the “listserv” – I think you all have valid points- at first I found the listserv somewhat interesting but now I find more a waste of my time- the posts are repeatitive and I am AMAZED that people can’t figure some of things they post about themselves- it’s embarrassing- and I also like to add- that in the YA lit class I am taking (through uw-milwaukee) we have had tons information given to us and practice with RA 🙂 so there’s hope!

  34. mower@palatinelibrary.org' Megan says:

    I’m a new librarian and I unsubscribed a couple weeks ago to several librarian listservs because the volume of email was too high to keep up with. Some (and only some) of the content would be helpful if it was searchable or more organized, like in an online forum that could be archived or wiki. I got annoyed with the repeated questions and disorganization–email is so outdated. I can’t believe this is the best we can do. Thanks for bringing this up–now I know I’m not the only one shaking my head in utter disbelief.

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