By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

An international online community 12,000 members strong, developed when the Internet was new as a way to support and connect school library professionals, is celebrating 20 years as a continuous learning community this month.

LM_NET (Library Media Network), “the place where school librarians connect,” is a listserv hosted by Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) and the Information Institute as a community service. The iSchool has been doing that for two decades, since its beginnings June 8, 1992, according to Blythe Bennett, Program Manager for Library and Information Science/School Media at the iSchool.

Bennett, one of the listserv’s charter members, also has been co-moderator/manager since 2007. She and librarian Michelle Kelley, of Hamilton City, CA, took over the responsibilities after founders Mike Eisenberg (Ph.D., Information Transfer, SU ’86 and iSchool faculty, ’82-98)  and Peter Milbury of Chico, CA, decided to retire from LM_NET moderation and relinquish their roles to a second generation of the electronic group.

Twenty years ago, such an effort was pioneering. The Internet was young. Online communities were anything but commonplace like they are today, according to co-founder Eisenberg. Currently Dean Emeritus and a professor at The Information School at the University of Washington, Eisenberg recalled, “When Peter Milbury and I joined forces 20 years ago to create LM_NET, we had some sense of the potential of online connecting for creating and supporting a learning community. However, we did not anticipate the size, breadth, depth, and importance that LM_NET has become. Social networking is common-place today, but we were the true pioneers.”

The listserv, which Milbury called “perhaps the most successful electronic educational network in the history of the Internet,” began when Eisenberg suggested that he and Milbury merge their email librarian contact lists. At the time, that consisted of less than 100 subscribers. The number swelled to 424 in six months, then to 1,000 the first year, and eventually to 12,000 by 2000. Membership has remained constant, and there are  members in all 50 U.S. states and 65 countries. The U.S., Canada and Australia have the largest contingents, and a spin-off listserv, OZTL_NET was begun for the Australian continent from this one’s success, Bennett noted. 

LM_NET is also a high-volume, high-traffic communication engine. With some 50 to 100 messages circulated per day on average that equates to about a million messages a day circulating through the Internet on school library topics.

The mechanism has moved well beyond information delivery, and has bonded professionals from community to community, state to state, and country to country the world over. It has been a place where controversies of the profession are discussed; where school librarians share ideas; solve problems; find a place to keep current with news and abreast of issues; and learn about professional development opportunities, Bennett said.  

LM_NET has been a significant element in the profession for a number of members over the years, their emails attest.

”I was a librarian for 20 years and have been retired for two. I still try to keep my foot in the action here…I feel I am still part of the family,” said Frederick Muller, a retiree of Halsted Middle School Library, Newton, NJ.

“In addition to being an invaluable ‘secret weapon’, over the years, I’ve made friends, had opportunities to make professional contacts I never would have had otherwise, and found one of the best professional learning communities on earth. Thank you all for ‘being out there’ in cyberspace,” wrote Cheryl Youse, MLS, media specialist and webmaster in the Colquitt County High School, Moultrie, GA.

“I treasure my membership.  When I need information, members are right there with advice and answers,” remarked Martha Oldham, librarian at Lawrence High School, in Lawrence, Kansas.
Debbie Schiano, a Virginia librarian, admitted, “There are other social networks that I do my best to keep up with, but in no other group do I feel comfortable enough to pose a question that I totally realize shows a lack of knowledge or understanding on my part.”

Two decades beyond its start, LM_NET has continued to be an asset to school librarians who may oftentimes be without other library colleagues in their schools, Bennett said. “Whatever new is coming up… new literature, new technology, new legislation, that’s where you’re going to find it.”

As the behind-the-scenes manager for the community, she recognizes the 12,000 membership community as “an incredibly thoughtful, really collegial, helpful group. The fact of it is they are your colleagues no matter where they are. It makes the world a lot smaller when you have connections with somebody who has just had their library damaged by an earthquake, or flooded in the Midwest floods. Even though you don’t know them you’re connected,” she summarized.