Spotlight on Sharing: Mailing Lists 101


Spotlight on Sharing Mailing Lists 101Consider the humble mailing list: it may look like regular email, but this communications workhorse has the power to create communities centered around specific topics. If you’ve ever wondered about mailing lists—whether you should join one or how to get the most out of those you’ve already joined—then keep reading.

The Colorado State Library hosts more than 40 mailing lists for librarians. You are probably familiar with Libnet, a mailing list for all Colorado librarians, but there are other, more specific lists for a variety of library topics. For example, IT-Share is the mailing list for technical staff at Colorado libraries and cultural heritage organizations. CYS-LIB is a community for youth services and school librarians. You can see a directory on the Mailing Lists page (please note: some of the those listed, such as PUBLIB, are not hosted by CSL).

A mailing list by any other name…

Let’s pause for a moment to talk semantics. You might have heard the term listserv before and wondered if it is the same as a mailing list. Listserv™ is a trademarked name for proprietary mailing list software, similar to how Kleenex is a brand of tissue. The lists hosted by the Colorado State Library use Mailman and not Listserv™ software, so we refer to them with the more generic term mailing list.

Why use mailing lists?

Each mailing list is a tool that serves a specific community. It can be a bulletin board for announcements, news, and celebrations; a forum for discussion and learning; a way to connect with others who share your interests, and more. Unlike social media platforms, which broadcast to a global audience, mailing lists have a smaller, more defined community and are therefore a great tool to have in your professional toolbelt. Whether you want to keep current on general library information or a special interest, there’s probably a mailing list for you.

How do mailing lists work?

In order to use a mailing list you must first subscribe to it. (Visit the Mailing Lists page to see the available lists.) The process is fairly straightforward: after submitting your request it is reviewed by the list administrator. Once your request is approved you are ready to start participating. To post a message, simply send it as an email to the address of the list.

Of course, as with any technology solution there is more going on behind the scenes. Luckily, the Colorado State Library has a Systems Administrator to assist each list’s administrator(s) to keep things running smoothly.

How to get the most from mailing lists

A mailing list is just a tool, so knowing how to use it will maximize its benefits. Here are some considerations:

  • Participate! As with any form of communication, mailing lists are most useful when members actively post and interact with one another. If you’ve been a lurker on a mailing list for a while, consider posting a question or a library news item. Our Colorado library community wants to hear from you!
  • Most mailing lists give you the option to receive each message individually or in a digest form. There are advantages to both: individual messages are easier to read but might fill up your inbox unless you have created a filter to manage them. Digests collect all the day’s email into one, which creates less clutter but can also be more difficult to scroll through. The decision is yours based on your email volume and reading preferences.
  • Get a feel for the overall tone of the community. Check the archive of your mailing list to see past discussions and popular issues.
  • You may need to white-list the mailing list address so it is not flagged as spam. If you need help, please check with the State Library’s Systems Administrator at sysadmin@coloradovirtuallibrary.org.
  • As a member of a mailing list, you are part of a professional community that shares ideas, advice, and camaraderie. Please respect your community by keeping it free of advertisements for products or services.
  • Pause before selecting “Reply All” when responding to another user. In many cases it is entirely appropriate to submit your reply to the entire mailing list (especially if you are sharing information that others might find useful), but other times it might be better to respond directly to the person who posted the message. Use your best judgment.
  • Finally, encourage your colleagues to join a mailing list. Colorado has many opportunities to engage with other librarians within formal groups and organizations, but mailing lists are a chance to share in a less formal, more organic way. They are, essentially, the backchannel conversations of our profession.

I hope this post gave you a better understanding of the hows and whys of mailing lists, an important part of our professional community. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Amy Hitchner, at ahitchner@coloradovirtuallibrary.org. You can also tweet me @hitchlib.


This post is part of the Spotlight on Sharing initiative, which aims to increase the visibility of resource sharing in Colorado libraries. Visit Colorado Virtual Library for more resources for librarians.