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Listservs:  Join the Conversation in Your Profession

What is a listserv?

A listserv is a special interest online discussion group which you access through your e-mail.  It is a list of e-mail address of people interested in the same topic.  Once you subscribe to the list you will receive all messages posted to the list.  And, when you send a message to the list, all of the people who have joined receive a copy.  You may actively participate in the discussion or just listen in -- this is called "lurking."

Listservs are run by software programs called mailing list managers (MLMs).  There are two types of lists:

  • announcement lists - have a moderator (list owner) who filters messages.  (You may not post messages yourself)
  • discussion lists - everyone on the list may participate (post) without any filtering
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Finding a list ......

There are thousands of discussion lists on the Internet.  For a list in your major, consult the subject page created by your bibliographer:

For broader subject coverage try:

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A listserv has TWO important addresses:

A list administrator address and a list address.  A list administrator address is for subscribing and unsubscribing.  The list address is for posting messages.

When you first subscribe, the list administrator software will send you a reply which tells you how to participate in the list and how to unsubscribe, should you wish to do so.

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Subscribing to a list

Subscribe to a list by sending an e-mail to the list administrator address and placing the following in the first line of the actual message:

subscribe [name of list] [your first name] [your last name]

eg.:  subscribe ruralswk Jane Smith

Do not put anything else in the message.  (Please note that some listservs may use different commands.  The lists of discussion groups above will usually provide special instructions in these cases.)

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Unsubscribing from a list

If you don't like a list, find your e-mail box too full, or are going on vacation, you may wish to be removed from a listserv.  To unsubscribe, send an e-mail message to the list administrator address with the following in the body of the message:

signoff [name of list]

eg.:  signoff ruralswk

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For information on more advanced listserv operations such as obtaining a list of subscribers and obtaining archives for your listserv, see:

James Milles' Mailing List Manager Commands (new window)

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Tips for working with listservs
  • Save the list instructions sent to you when you subscribe.  This will help you participate and sign off the list, should you wish to do so.
  • Unsubscribe from listservs when you go on vacation.  (Some lists may have a vacation option.)  That way you won't overflow your mailbox.
  • Spend some time getting to know the group before posting. ('Lurk')
  • Write clear, concise messages.
  • Consider whether a response to a message should be sent to the entire group or just to one individual.
  • Be courteous.  Remember that your message is sent to a very large public forum.
  •  Also remember that your message is sent to people from diverse cultures and those with a different mind set.  You are communicating  by words alone.  So, be careful in your use of humor, and avoid sarcas
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Page Maintained by: Corryn Crosby-Muilenburg
Page Last Modified: April 16, 1999
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