ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 1, July 1997) -

Table of Contents

                            *LIBRARY LIFE:
                    A COLUMN OF ECELCTIC RANTINGS*
                             Katie Buller
                           Memorial Library
                   University of Wisconsin - Madison
I'm such a goody-two-sandals.  A few years ago, during the initial
stages of the internet explosion, I perceived a topical void (not
to be confused with a topical ointment) in a particular area, so I
started a listserv to fill that need. The subject of the listserv
is not important, because I feel no matter what the topic, the end
result would be the same :   95 percent of the subscribers are
sane,  while the remainder seem to be on a different planet.
Those of you who are listowners might be scratching your heads and
thinking "she's just figuring this out NOW?"   Actually, I figured
it out right away.  Let me give you an example:
Listowner A has set up the guidelines for using the list, which
include the phrase "no foul language".
Subscriber B sees these seemingly innocent words and posts a
message containing six of the seven words George Carlin describes.
He only misses one word because he couldn't get it to rhyme with
Listowner A warns subscriber B that if he does this again he will
be barred from the list.
Subscriber B responds predictably with a cry of "censorship",
failing to explain how the use of these six words on a public list
contributes to intelligent thought.
Listowner A states that if he can't express himself adequately
without the use of these six words, then perhaps he should take a
few remedial courses in English composition.
Subscriber B writes back to her, using the seventh word very
succinctly and directs it personally toward listowner A.
Listowner A bans subscriber B from the list.
Subscriber B now decides he cannot live without the list and begs
to be unbanned, promising to clean up his language.
Listowner A, being just an old softie, reinstates subscriber B.
Subscriber B instantly posts another message with all seven words.
Listowner A bans subscriber B again, this time for good, and is now
doomed to receive nasty notes accusing her of censorship for the
next several weeks before subscriber B sinks back into the morass
he came from.
This is normal for this particular list. It is political in nature
and I have learned to accept the fact that if all subscribers are
happy, then someone will decide that they need stirring up.   On my
list, many of the subscribers have learned how to flame without
actually flaming, cuss without actually cussing. Some of them seem
to get their jollies by seeing just how far they can go before I'll
step in and slap them up.  The creativity of these individuals is
astounding.  Some have even reached a pinnacle of vitriolic
expression that might be equalled only by the old masters. As a
result, I have to scan each post for disguised flameage ("your
perception of the situation is tainted by the fact that you seem to
be most closely related to  the posterior end of an equine
quadruped.").  When I remind the list that this is still flaming,
I usually get a lot of whining from the flamers and several offlist
"attagirls" from people who never seem to be able to agree with me
Then there is the matter of staying on-topic.  The list topic is
broad in nature, so I am quite lenient when it comes to sticking
with the subject, but occasionally even I can't see the connection
between the discussion and the list topic.  In other words, what
does Karl Marx's toilet habits have to do with the world labor
market and unions?  When I ask, someone always seems to be able to
make a dubious connection however ("If Marx had not flushed twice,
the Sewer Union movement would have been destroyed!") .  But I am
not above reminding the list to make the relevance of the list
discussion more obvious for the apparently ignorant listowner, who
had no clue that Marx flushed twice.
After a year or so of my activity with this list, which could be
compared to dancing on a bed of nails, the opportunity to host yet
another list already in operation came along.  In contrast to my
first list, this particular list seemed innocent enough--discussion
of pet birds.  Full of happy people, happy little birds and sugary
sunshine, right? I took on the list--small in comparison to my
other list--and proceeded to introduce myself as the new listowner
and all received me warmly.  Until the first flame war.  Yes..happy
happy people with their happy happy birdies have flame wars that
would put my first list to shame.  As a result, I stepped in with
my usual "behave or else" attitude.  The subscribers went into
shock--I was actually trying to CONTROL the list?
Accusations began to fly--if I expressed an opinion would it be as
listowner or a list participant?  If it was as the listowner,  then
if someone disagreed with me, would I ban them from the list? And
what happened to the old listowner---after all he still OWNED the
list, right?  Of course some thought that because the old listowner
was still around (he was the listserv guru) it meant they could
just ignore me as some old biddy crackpot who only had the power to
unsub and ban them from the list forever.  They felt that if I got
out of line they could just go run to the old listowner who would
naturally put me in my place. Naturally, this isn't true, but no
amount of reassurance would placate these people. Even now, a year
later, I feel the tension from certain folks and when I post a
participatory message, they ignore me completely.  If I post a
listowner message, I might get a cold "thank you" but that's about
Still I keep on slogging through the hundreds of bounced messages
that come in weekly, weeding the subscriber lists of invalid
addresses, posting netiquette guidelines or warnings and
occasionally even contributing to the conversation. But somewhere
out there, yet another one is sure that I am intending to censor
the universe if I can, trodding the Bill of Rights underfoot as I
go, a regular despot with sinister designs on destroying that
person's freedom of expression.  When that person tests me, I'll
again feel like the old gunfighter facing down the raw ambitious
youth, but will emerge triumphant when the list remains intact,
on-topic and all is right with the world!  Until next time...