An overview of the first fifteen years of PUBLIB

"Here, from the list archives and co-moderator Sara Weissman, who shares list duties with Karen G. Schneider, is an overview of the first fifteen years of the Public Library listserv, PubLib. From all of us here at, Happy Birthday and many happy returns (whatever that means as it applies to a listserv).

As you most likely know, PubLib is a discussion list for public librarians here in North America. It was established in 1992 and this year is it's fifteenth anniversary. On this momentous occasion, I (birdie) took the opportunity to interview Sara Weissman (SW) and find out a bit more about the discussion list. Here are my 24 questions and her answers.

1) Who started Pub-Lib? What inspired it? Who were the moderators? How were librarians advised of its existence? A bit of history if you please.

SW - Jean Armour Polly and John Iliff and the folks at NYSERNET (NY state educational server.) started it.

From the Public February 18 1997 digest: A Message From Publib's Co-Moderators, (Jean Armour Polly and John Iliff): "O.K., folks, it's been four-plus years, and your PUBLIB co-moderators are taking our leave. We are passing the torch to a very capable duo- Karen Schneider and Sara Weissman. In addition, the list is moving to a new site- the University of California at Berkeley. At the time it moves Karen and Sara, who already have a ton of good ideas, will take over. We'll keep you posted on the when and how of these developments, but for now things will continue as always. As our official swan song, we decided to interview ourselves in the PUBLIB Interview format. We haven't done one of these in a long time (the list has been too busy,) but we thought this might be a good way to say an early bye."

Here's a message from the Feb. 18, 1997 digest and founders Jean and John tell us how Pub-Lib came about in 1992:

John: "It started in Jean's fertile imagination. Prior to her starting at NYSERNet in 1992 she contacted me about working with her on a listserv for public librarians (we "met" virtually at The Well the previous year.) She envisioned everything, and the amazing thing is everything worked exactly as she thought. In all these years Jean and I had three brief face-to-face contacts, much to her benefit because I'm a heck of a lot easier to look at in ascii than in person! This whole collaboration has been almost daily, and it's been a great working relationship."

Jean: "There were several academic library lists circa 1992 but there was not one on public libraries. There really were not that many PL's on the Net at that time. In those days you needed heavy duty Unix or equivalent to run a listserv, and it was one of my first priorities to get my new employer to run a list for public librarians. Happily, NYSERNet agreed, we began the list in early December, 1992. It steadily grew."

This is what Jean is currently doing, NetMom: From the website: Jean Armour Polly is Net-mom and the author of six editions of Net-mom's Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages (Osborne McGraw-Hill), a family-friendly directory to 3,500 of the best children's resources the Internet has to offer. She is also a professional librarian, employed by the Liverpool (NY) Public Library as Assistant Director and Administrator of Systems and Technology. Author, librarian, and mom, Jean has tinkered with Internet accounts since 1991 and has participated in and facilitated online telecommunities for more than 20 years.
2) How were librarians advised of the existence of Pub-Lib?   SW -Librarians were advised of the existence of Pub-Lib through Print and online notices.   Wilson Library Bulletin, Jan. 1993 included an announcement of the list and how to subscribe through nysernet.To read more from the 'handoff' digest, click here.     3) What was and what is the technology that allows distribution of Pub-Lib? Has it changed?   SW - PUB-LIB discussion list has run on NYSERNET, UCal Berkeley SUNsite server and now Webjunction at OCLC, in each case hosted as a public service. Listserv software has changed from PINE mail (NyserNet/Berkeley) to Mailman (OCLC).     4) What was the role of Pub-Lib in 1992 and now in 2007?   SW - To create a sense of (online) community. To share frustrations, strategies, tips, tactics and--on Fridays' humor.     5) How has the role of moderator changed?   SW -I think we are now less a visible/involved presence, for two reasons: --better software requiring less intervention --folks are far more tech savvy in '07 than in '93 and need less help/coaching in an online environment.     6) Are there Pub-Lib contributors on the list who were also there at the start? Who are they and please tell us a bit about them.   SW -No idea, but posting was/is always a mere fragment of subscribers. Many lurkers! My co-moderator Karen posted in the first three months of the list's existence. Note, through at least 1997 authors are simply ID'ed as Publibposter or PUBLIB and one needs to drop into individual messages to get names. (Do see many, from the early days, who are no longer members.)     7) -Lots of people read Pub-Lib and some of them post. Who are the 'lurkers' do you suppose?   SW - "Newbies", quiet types, library school students studying us and our issues ..     8) Any well known posters, any 'celebrity librarians' posting?   SW - Just my co-moderator Karen .. and Michael Golrick     9) Has a 'lurker' ever 'come out' to the Pub-Lib community in a memorable way?   SW - No...someone just says "I've never posted before, but this time ..." And perhaps when they find its not fearsome, they continue to post--a little.     10) What's the silliest question or query ever posed?   SW - Nothing stands out. We always say in the Reference game "the only dumb question is the one that doesn't get asked."     11)What's the most significant question ever posed?   SW - Couldn't pick one.     12)Has anyone ever tried to post as someone else or as anonymous?   SW - That's not a problem we have in our list. I've certainly seen it in other forums I've managed, but doesn't come up here. PubLibbers keep each other in line.     13)Have you ever had to throw someone or several people off the list and why?   SW - Not that I'm aware of... I can think of two instances in which we asked people to not post the same message every month (others were complaining), but that's been it.     14)Do you have posters from countries other than the U.S. and Canada? Where are they from?   SW - Posters? Not so much ..list members? Yes .. South Africa, Italy, Turkey at one point, UK, Ireland, sometimes France, Canada, etc. etc     15) I see that 'Christmas Trees' in libraries is a major topic for discussion - tell us about it.   SW - Christmas trees, yes they are. Cats in libraries was too. (Achoo!) Go to The list archives and drop in either Christmas or cats to sample the brio of the discussions.     16)What's the hottest topic of the recent past or of the moment?   SW - Censorship, especially by librarians is a big topic. Currently the list is discussing whether or not to ban use of MySpace and YouTube in libraries because of activities for which patrons are perceived to be using it. On a lighter note, I'm embarrassed to say that a recent biggie was how librarians dress at conferences.     17) Has anybody had a viable solution to the money problems public libraries face? What are their suggestions? What are YOUR suggestions?   SW - No solutions, just plaints. Generally along the lines of libraries should get supplemental funding for the things they really do, like dole out IRS forms from Jan.-April and support school districts with de facto after school drop in, from Sept.-May.     18) Are libraries and librarians as popular a topic now as they were fifteen years ago?   SW - Were they a popular topic 15 years ago? Seriously, 15 years ago a lot of it was "help??! what is this technology flood?" One of the steadiest, most valuable functions of the list is shared opinion: "tell me about this vendor, product." Just lately folks have been discussing replacements for Rosetta Stone pulling its language instruction off the web, for example.     19)Did the list ever get clogged with too much mail?   SW - For those who have otherwise busy mailboxes, I'm sure it seems that way at times. Biggest problem we have is folks quoting back an entire digest in their posts to the list some digests end up carrying 3-5 copies of a prior digest. This has lead a few (a very few) to unsubscribe, in disgust.     20)When are the slow periods for Pub-Lib?   SW -Summer week-ends and the Christmas to New Year break.     21)Do you have to be a public librarian or work in a public library to be a member of the Discussion List?   SW - No ..we have trustees, library school students and professors, vendors, human rights and union activitists, etc. And we don't even know what the lurkers do, of course?!     22) How many subscribers do you have?   SW - 7,914 on August 28th, 2007     23)How do you sign up for Pub-Lib?   SW - Instruction in all things PubLib will be found at The Web Site For Publib.     24)Have you read Harry Potter? Have you finished? Tell us more - (no spoilers please)   SW - Read it twice, love it..especially the Afterword.   Sara, thank you very much for your observations. To Pub-Libbers all, we wish you a happy fifteenth birthday and lots more years of posting!


Censoring is an editorial practice for publib. While editorial privilege should be supported, critique of the use of the editorial privilege where it's censorship should be made.

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