Listserv activity dwindling, but overload continues

There is an interesting thread going on over at Web4Lib. Bernine Sloan initiated the conversation by stating that the message volume for the list has decreased. The numbers:

> YEAR TOTALS
> 2004 2919
> 2003 3324
> 2002 3892
> 2001 4591
> 2000 4645
> 1999 4521
> 1998 4566
> 1997 6521
> 1996 3648
> 1995 2627 (total is for nine motnhs)

I try to stay on top of the discussion as there is often a great deal of useful information. I have been a subscriber for about a year, although I am by no means a frequent poster (I can count on one hand my contributions). Unfortunately, I often get way behind, so I might read the discussions a week later. Many times the threads lose their impact if they are not read on a timely manner. I find that reading old listserv threads are just about reading what someone else wrote. However, following listserv threads as they happen can make one feel like part of the ongoing conversation.

So why the decline in the number of messages over the years? Some believe that it is a result of quality over quantity. Gone are the “me too” responses of yesteryear. Others mention that the searchable archives of this particular list make it easier for folks to find the answers to their questions in previous posts. So have all the good questions been answered?

Others in the discussion mention the fact that there are numerous other places on the web to find similar information. Blogs, discussion forums, and wikis are all different places to find or post information about a topic. In other words, there is more than one place to look for the information. There is no Wal-Mart for the would-be web librarian. And with all of these other places to get good information, it gets harder and harder to keep up with the ongoing conversations.

Unfortunately, with all these different places to look, how does one know that he is getting the best information? How does one know that he’s not going to be left out of the loop if he doesn’t read a particular blog or subscribe to a particular list? How does one know when he has read enough blogs about librarianship or when he has read too much? How does one know that he has subscribed to all the cool feeds?

These are some of the questions that I struggle with as I read and write. There is no end-all be-all place to find good information. The nature of the web, blogs, lists, and forums is that something you read can take you to an entirely different place. Before you know it, you’re subscribing to another list or another feed. It’s easy to get buried with all of the information available, even while technologies like RSS are supposed to help combat the overload. How does one cope? Answers (maybe) will be posted at a later time. In the meantime, 25 more messages are in my inbox, and I just downloaded 50 more library feeds……………