Further Clarification on Unsubscribing from Autocat

A colleague has been kindly forwarding Autocat messages about my decision to unsubscribe. I have also had several private exchanges with others, and of course, there are the comments on my blog. There is one point I would like to clarify.

I don’t question that moderators can do whatever they want. After all, they are police officers, judges, juries and executioners all rolled into one. List moderators can throw off anybody they want, or limit their responses, or put them under review, for whatever reasons they want. I understand all of that because I was moderator of a list myself: SIG-IA, the special interest group for Information Architecture of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

It was/is a wild list on Information Architecture where I concentrated my efforts on putting out flame wars and calming people down. My purpose was to focus on allowing people the freedom to say what they felt and believed. I did this in the hope that people were mature enough, and tolerant enough, to manage themselves most of the time. For the most part, it turned out that I was right and some truly great exchanges took place there, but the information architects, especially of those early years, could get pretty crazy. I have not seen anything even remotely similar on any of the library lists I have been a part of.

My experience as moderator of that list made me especially aware of the contradiction of outrageous writing. If your purpose is to convince others of your point, or even if you just want to share an idea effectively, your outrageousness will have precisely the opposite effect of what you want because you quite literally force people to oppose you. Plus, I learned the importance of staying on point, which I strive to do, although because of my style (a story-telling style) it may take awhile.

So, what is my opinion of what a professional list should be? In my own opinion, a professional list is similar to an on-going professional conference, where there are seminars or other types of discussions going on in different rooms. You can attend any discussion, even try to join in if you wish, or just listen in on a few or all of them. Because of the technology (the email software) if you don’t like what some individuals say, you don’t have to suffer patiently while they finish saying their piece. The software allows various ways to “delete” those people instantly, or even entire discussions, so that you will never see them. You can also leave any discussion, or the entire conference, at any time with no consequences.

If one of those discussions turns into a brawl with people throwing tables and chairs, and screaming obscenities at one another, then by all means something needs to be done. That’s what happened on the SIG-IA list a few times. It could also happen that nobody is fighting but the discussion turns into something completely different: a “Go Hillary/Go Trump” or “Ban all handguns” rally, and although everyone may be getting along, a professional conference is not the place for such a rally. This is also a case to intervene.

But if everyone is on topic and discussing matters in a professional way, the people who are just dropping in to listen to the discussion should not be able to tell everyone in the room to shut up. To do so is highly insulting to those who want to participate. And those who are just dropping in to listen certainly should not be able to go to the organizers of the conference and have the discussion shut down because they think it’s too boring, or it’s repetitive or for any other reason whatsoever. If they don’t like a discussion, they can just go to some other discussion, or even start their own on a topic they prefer. Otherwise it is clearly censorship, and evidence of a dangerous way of thinking, one that is especially dangerous in a librarian, I should add.

I would have accepted being put on review if I felt that I had done something wrong. But I did nothing wrong at all. I insulted no one, I stayed on topic. I stayed professional. My sole faux-pas was to not shut up immediately, but even so, I did fairly quickly. Others have done much more. Still, I believe that some on Autocat will be relieved I am not there scrutinizing their posts.




  1. Rebecca said:

    I totally agree, and I like the comparison to a conference with multiple rooms.

    I’m on numerous lists, and I can tell you I delete far more emails than I read. It’s usually pretty easy to tell from the subject line whether I’m interested or not. And if I open it up, and it’s not interesting, I just delete any further messages with that subject line.

    I’ll never understand the people who send an email to the list asking that the discussion be stopped. I’m especially puzzled by the ones who give the reason that they’re getting too many emails, and therefore all discussion should end. They’ve taken more time and effort to compose their “stop it” email than they would have if they’d simply hit delete or filtered by the subject line. And their extra effort gets them what? They’ve now generated more email – their message, plus all the messages they will receive in response to their message from all the people objecting that they’re enjoying the discussion and from all the people who feel the need to explain the delete key. It’s both absurd and funny.

    Ah, well, it’s human nature, I guess. We won’t solve it here. I’ve signed up to be notified of your future blog posts.

    July 14, 2016
  2. I wonder if the root of the problem is that people do not know how to set up filters for their emails. I learned how to do it before the ad/spam filters became very good, so that I could automatically delete emails that contained “certain words for the male appendage,” email ads that everyone was overwhelmed with at one time. I personally use Thunderbird where it only takes a second or two to make a filter from a message, but Gmail seems pretty good too. Earlier, I used Outlook and it was easy. There are all kinds of options.

    I think it’s better for people to learn how to use their email programs to delete messages and threads they don’t want instead of telling everyone else to just shut up.

    July 15, 2016
  3. Ann Williams said:

    I was amused to see someone post a directive to postpone responses to a recent library humor discussion until Friday. A couple members ignored this request and mentioned that they don’t work on Friday and thus were posting early. On the one hand, I do recognize that some listservs frown on frivolous or off-topic posts and it’s great that this listserv has reached a compromise in that occasionally whacky Friday posts are tolerated. On the other, unless that listserv member is a moderator, who the hell do they think they are? Does it make sense that they post their off-topic admonishment publicly instead of privately and usurp the administrators’ role? This happened to me on a circulation listserv years ago and I responded swiftly and sharply. I didn’t get warned or kicked off though and I switched to cataloging anyhow shortly after. I understand the owners wanting control and even members complaining to them (although is anyone so busy that deleting a few e-mails is such a burden?), but where do members get off publicly chastising other members? I suppose even debating the issue of your list status or withdrawal is off topic an irrelevant! God help the person who decides to post Mac’s holiday tree in December.

    July 15, 2016

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