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The Spire Project: Discussion Groups
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Mailing Lists, Newsgroups, Associations - each are focal points of discussion, exchange of information and professional development. Collectively called Special Interest Groups (SIGs), these are the original sources of many fine research resources. Brilliant research sites in their own right, a mailing list, newsgroup or association can also be a fine contact point for experts, or the site of focused, specialized libraries.


The copyright mailing list is a group of more than 100 lawyers who focus on copyright. This list, and their Copyright FAQ, are the best resources on copyright law in the world; current, factual, and peer-reviewed. This is not unusual for a mailing list. As a source of experts, I once found an accomplished but poorly published scientist from an old message in a mailing list archive.

to article list Locating Mailing Lists
Tile.Net/Lists ( has both a searchable and directory style index to mailing lists. This has overtaken others to become the best, most helpful place to start. Here is an abbreviated gateway:
Liszt is the second place to look, perhaps the more definitive. Again, there is a database and a subject directory.
The Directory of Scholarly and Professional E-Conferences, known also as the Kovacs Lists, is a long-standing service in the world. Again, a fine subject-based listing.
The Argus Clearinghouse indexes subject guides and webpages but almost all refer to relevant mailing lists.
Search several list directories for more rewarding results. Also keep in mind some lists have too little or too much traffic for your purpose. Find a list with a manageable number of messages and a wide enough membership. This takes a little effort in interrogating the list management software for the number of forum members, a look at past discussion, perhaps a look for supporting websites.

Complete information on list commands can be found below in the strategy section.

The FAQ may be a brilliant informative document in itself, or the definitive pointer to further tools and resources. By virtue of its public origin, FAQs are far more likely to attract the peer review often very lacking from other resources. They are also open invitations to communicate with the knowledgeable FAQ maintainers.

to article list Searching FAQs by Name
database FAQs are compilations from newsgroups and can be searched at the Internet FAQ Consortium. An advanced search rests here.

database The Universiteit Utrecht (Netherlands) expressly provides a search of FAQs and PIPs.
webpage If you know the newsgroup, consider visiting an html FAQ archive like this one at

Newsgroups, (also known as Usenet Discussion or Network News), are large discussion grounds where resources and ideas are shared, and sometimes discussed. Messages are archived, available for searching or sifting. As a public notice board, non-commercial queries/briefs are often welcome.

to article list Internet Newsgroups (Usenet) (Network News)
database You can get a good list of newsgroups from your own computer (search for news.rc - it should be in your newsreader directory). Perhaps wiser, undertake a word search of current newsgroup discussion with Altavista or (below), then focus on matching newsgroups.
webpage Newsgroups are not carried everywhere; This webpage at Duke University will help you find additional newsgroups. Approach your Internet Service Provider to bring it in (a simple task). For low volume newsgroups there is an email alternative.
database also maintains a searchable list of newsgroups.
Searching Newsgroup Discussion can be very rewarding but also can be a shortcut method to find newsgroup of interests you. Digital's Altavista allows searches of recent newsgroup messages. has an even larger archive (to before March '95).
database Search of Usenet Discussion's Power Search form is a must-see, and allows for author profiles and field searches and more.
Altavista Search of Usenet Discussion.


Associations are more involved than their internet companion. Associations are also more into paper publishing, conferencing and collating specialist statistics. As an example, the Australian Booksellers Association publishes the best benchmark statistics on this topic. When approaching an association, consider asking for their publication list.

to article list Directory of Associations
The definitive way to find an association is through certain large national directories. Internet alternatives are not nearly as valuable but are more immediate.
book The [US] Encyclopedia of Associations, produced by Gale Research, is the definitive source for addressing and contact numbers to American Associations. All the primary libraries will certainly have a copy, as will many smaller libraries. Further description can be found for the database format thanks to SilverPlatter, Dialog.
book The Directory of Australian Associations is the definitive Australian source for addressing and contact numbers. All the primary libraries will certainly have a copy, as will many smaller libraries.
book National Association Directories exist for many countries:
Directory of Associations in Canada (further description thanks to SilverPlatter.)
Directory of Association of Asia 1997/1998 by Bing Chang.

to article list Finding Associations Online
book A Directory of the American Society of Association Executives is online. Unfortunately, the database is small & americanocentric. A search for 'book' did get me the address of the American Booksellers Association but not others.
Of course, if you have a name, use a large search engine to find an address. We recommend a meta-search engine called Debriefing (, as it also suggests a home-site.
database The last online source is a bit of work but involves searching for associations that have published, by searching the large national libraries. The Library of Congress experimental search system allows us to search for "association" as an author, and book as a keyword. Incidentally, this process is similar to searching for theses - search normally but add 'theses' to the query.

Another prominent source are the local service directories, such as InfoLink in Western Australia. Most communities have a public directory of local associations and government authorities. If in doubt, ask a local librarian for directions to such a directory.


  5 Second Summary:
Easily search past discussion via archives & FAQs.
For value, search for the private, moderated forums.
Associations are listed in national print directories.   
There are three important research applications for mailing lists.

1) Research through past discussion,
2) Directly ask members for assistance,
3) Become a participative member to pick up and exchange information.
Article ListResearch CommentarySeminar datesUpdate Notices On a personal side, mailing lists are easy to use and a minimal investment in time (the information comes to you). However, mailing lists are difficult to develop and maintain. Few reach the potential brilliance of this form of communication, so many of the forums you come across will be non-existent or on their deathbed.

Mailing lists depend on four vital ingredients - Content, Participation, IT-support, and Management. Often, one of these elements go wrong and the forum dies. As a member, there are important obligations starting with participation, and ending with forum etiquette.

The better forums are private. Membership is not automatic, the list manager has more control, and often, more control and effort is expended developing interesting content and discussion. If you find a closed or private forum, persevere.

When a group of like-minded individuals come together to achieve an aim, they often create an association. What better place to research? Even better, associations often interpret their purpose as a place to pool and distribute information. Larger associations often maintain a small library of their own and many associations publish documents about their area of interest. Furthermore, if you are seeking an expert in a given field, associations are sure to have one, or two, or many. For the smaller associations, be polite but firm in describing your interest and be ready to buy whatever small book they do publish in your quest for further information.

An FAQ is created to enhance the discussion of a newsgroup. After a time, the initial members of a newsgroup would have discussed many of the standard topics to death, which newcomers will still find interesting. To prevent only discussing introductory topics (and annoying long-term members) an FAQ is created to record answers to standard questions.

Because one of the primary functions of a special interest group is resource discovery - and because FAQs are collectively created, they are valuable and generally reliable. I consider the Official Copyright FAQ the best document in the world on copyright law.

As an aside, many FAQs are also available as web pages. Trouble is, without an system to vet true newsgroup FAQs, you are far more likely to encounter FAQs which have not been vetted by the news.answers team. The Official Copyright FAQ is 70+ pages of topical and factual detail with links to further information. There are several other copyright FAQs with less than 10 pages, (and not particularly concerned with providing information). Access an established FAQ archive for your FAQs. has a small list (but is elegant as a source of FAQs). Another longer list resides midway down this document.


Discussing the mailing list, I thought long and hard on how to simplify the task of communicating with list software. Not only are there five prominent list software packages but each package allows us to accomplish different things. The email interface predates popular use of hypertext, and is a little clumsy at first - especially if you are interacting with different mailing lists as a researcher will.

Our solution is threefold:

webpage Firstly, James Milles of the Saint Louis University Law Library has graciously permitted us to include his grand table of Mailing List Commands divided by list package. Very comprehensive and easy to use lookup file.

Secondly, hypertext allows us to add information into the subject of an email message. With this in mind, we have added shortcut email links to our articles for the more common tasks. You must move the subject information into the body of the message, then post.

Here are two examples:

BusLib-l (Business Librarians' Electronic Discussion List)
subscribe | post to Buslib-l | index the archive | retrieve from archive | subscribers list | digest | cancel digest | unsubscribe.
* Access also available as the newsgroup bit.listserv.buslib-l (see's usenet archive).

Libref-l (Government Documents List)
subscribe | post to Buslib-l | index the archive | retrieve from archive | subscribers list | digest | cancel digest | unsubscribe.
These are usually willing to field polite focused questions about your research project.

For your convenience, this form will create the html used above for mailing lists of your choice. Save the file this generates for convenient use later.

Your Name:
List name:
List address:

Thirdly, retrieve the technical help files for the list software.
email Listserv - send help, info refcard, & info database to
Listproc - send help & help listproc to
Majordomo - send help to
Mailserv - send help to
Mailbase - send help to

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