Communication Options for Libraries: Email, Listservs, Forums, Chat

Here is a table outlining the pros and cons, and appropriate use in libraries for each of the following online communication methods: email, listservs, discussion forums (bulletin boards), chat/IM.


Method Pros Cons Use
Email – one-to-one and one-to-many communication possible
– private communication and consultation can be accomplished easily
– patrons can get direct contact with information professionals
– listing private email addresses on websites invites spam
– using email to communicate with a large number of people can cause privacy issues if BCC is not used
– archives not searchable by anyone other than the people who are directly involved
– if all library email goes to one address, recipient can become overwhelmed
– good for private communication between a single patron and library staff
– good for communication between library staff members
Listservs – one-to-many communication possible, and easier to maintain than with only email
– relevant information can be put in the hands of interested parties as soon as it is available
– if the listserv is for communication purposes rather than just for announcements, the members can learn from each other
– archives can be made searchable so even members who joined later can benefit from information that has come up in the past
– one-to-one communication is possible, but can be difficult for individual users to implement depending on how the listserv is set up
– sometimes devolve into misunderstanding and fighting so moderators need to actively monitor communication
– members cannot always subscribe/unsubscribe themselves, so moderators need to do basic maintenance work on a regular basis
– good for announcements from library staff to patrons and other interested parties
Forums – one-to-many and (usually, but not always) one-to-one communication possible
– members are free to check the forum when they need/want to and do not get bombarded with unwanted emails on topics that they are not interested in
– members don’t always check the forum for updates
– public forums often attract impolite users, spammers, and trolls, so the moderators have to spend time patrolling the forum for abuse and misuse
– need a critical number of members to join before the forum format can work
– good for suggestion boards
– perhaps good for users to share information about local events
– perhaps best for librarians to use amongst themselves rather than as a resource for patrons
Chat – one-to-one and (usually, but not always) one-to-many communication possible, however there is usually a fairly low limit to the “many”
– private communication and consultation can be accomplished easily
– patrons can get immediate answers
– not all chat clients save conversations, so it can be difficult to store and retrieve the information obtained through chat
– if a library offers reference services via chat, a librarian must be available at all times to respond, otherwise people will not feel that the service is reliable
– good for private communication between a single patron and library staff
– good for questions requiring immediate and non-complex answers

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