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Communication Technology

Learning Objectives
• Define and describe the features of e-mail.
• Identify and use both desktop e-mail and web-based e-mail clients.
• Define LISTSERV, distribution list, and mass e-mailing.
• Define SMS/text messaging tools and provide examples.
• Define synchronous and asynchronous communication and provide examples.
• Define audio and video conferencing and provide examples.
• Define instant messaging tools and provide examples.
• Define backchannel and provide examples.
• Distinguish between the characteristics of person and professional digital correspondence.

Whether sending traditional email on your computer or text messaging (SMS) on a cell phone, there are many tools for sending electronic communications.

You may think of email as an older technology, but it continues to be a popular form of communication.

Electronic mail or email has actually been around since the 1960s, so it's not a new technology. However it continues to evolve as users are able to send data, graphics, audio, video, and animation along with text messages.

Increasing levels of spam and threats from viruses continue to frustrate email users, however email continues to be a popular method of communication for people in all walks of life.


Desktop Email Clients

Email accounts reside on servers. An email client is software used to read and send email messages through this server.

Some people use desktop software while others use a web-based email client.

Desktop computer software resides on your computer. Email documents can either be stored on the computer’s hard drive or left on the remote server. By downloading and storing email on a hard drive, it’s possible to access messages even when Internet isn’t available.

Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail are two popular proprietary email applications. Both are available as desktop computer software as well as web-based tools. Microsoft Outlook is available for both Mac and Windows.

Mozilla Thunderbird is an example of a free, open source, cross platform email client.

Web-based Mail Tools

With web-based mail clients, the user must be online to read, send, or receive email. Email is stored on the remote server.

Web-based mail clients have grown in popularity because a single account can be accessed using a number of different devices.

Google’s mail service Gmail is a popular web-based option for email. Yahoo’s mail service Ymail is another example.

Many cloud services are offering connected email accounts such as Apple’s icloud.

In most cases, any email account can be forwarded to any email service. Rather than using a dozen different tools to get your home, school, and work email, consider selecting your favorite tool and forwarding all mail to a single account such as Gmail that can be accessed from your desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

Email in Library Work

Email is an effective and efficient commmunication tool because it's possible to connect with practically anyone, anywhere.

Email is particularly useful in reference work. There are thousands of government workers who are public servants. From National Park superintendents to NASA officials, it's their job to respond to citizen needs. Look at the contact information of a government website to find an email address.

Go to for a list of contacts. Give it a try. Don't worry if you don't know the person personally. If you write a professional email, it’s likely that the official will reply.

Many electronic databases and online services provide an option to email yourself or a friend a link to an article or even a PDF of an article. This can be a quick and effective way to gather and storage information.

Email and Information Sharing

emailEmail is a common option for information sharing.

Many electronic databases and online services provide an option to email yourself or a friend a link to an article or even a PDF of an article. This can be a quick and effective way to gather and storage information.

Many software applications incorporate email options to facilitate information sharing. Both Microsoft and Apple products have sharing options for emailing documents directly from their word processing and other applications.


Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are a quick and efficient way to share email with many people at once.

Most email clients allow users to create a mailing list and send out mass mailings. Keep in mind that many people don’t want their email address to be shared without their permission. When sending out a group email, place the addresses as Blind Carbon Copies (BCC) so the addresses aren’t revealed to others receiving the mail.

Many online services can be used to assist with sending mass emailings. For instance, MailChimp is a popular choice. This web-based application is free for those with lists of less than 2,000 email addresses.

Email List Management

Most libraries take a more formal approach to sending out email to a group. Email List Management software can be used for email newsletters, announcements, discussions groups, and online communities. In most cases, users subscribe to the service to receive mailings.

The term LISTSERV refers to a trademarked electronic mail list software application. The tool allows a user to send one email to the list. This message is then automatically sent to the addresses of all the subscribers to the list.

Although LISTSERV is the best known, Majordomo is another commonly used email list software application. GNU Mailman is free software that is gaining in popularity.

Mailing Lists for Professionals

Email continues to be a primary means of professional communications for library and information professionals.

Scheduling, sharing reports, and memos are just a few of ways email is used for internal library staff communications.

Email is often used as part of marketing. Email addresses are often collected during programs and used to disseminate surveys and share upcoming events.

In addition, library users often communicate with the library through the use of email.

Use email for your own professional development. For instance, ALL students and librarians should be subscribed to American Libraries Direct. This weekly electronic newsletter keeps you up-to-date on important library news. The newsletter arrives in your email box.

Asychronous Communication

Asynchronous communication does not involve live, real-time interaction. Instead, users may leave messages, post on discussion threads, or share files. This approach is useful when instant feedback isn’t necessary.

Asynchronous communication is popular in distance learning environments where students aren’t all able to be online at the same time. For instance, in graduate programs students are often working during the day or evening making live class attendance difficult. Students are able to work from anywhere, anytime.

Popular asynchronous communication tools include:

• email
• electronic mailing lists
• threaded discussion forums
• wikis
• blogs

Short Message Service (SMS)

Short Message Service (SMS), popularly known as texting or text messaging allows phone, mobile device, and web-based communication. This is considered asynchronous interaction because it doesn’t involve real-time, live communication. On the other hand, texting can be almost instant if users are online at the same time.

SMS is the most widely used data application. SMS is increasingly used in libraries for a wide range of activities including announcements, reminders, and notices. It’s also a tool used to facilitate reference queries, referral services, and technical support.

Although most people think of using a cell or smartphone for texting, libraries may offer web-based SMS.

Instant Messaging (IM)

Instant messaging (IM), also known as chat involves real-time, synchronous communication between two or more people through a network such as the Internet.

Some chat tools require an installation. After installing client software on your computer, you can have real-time text conversations with others who also have the client software installed. Most services have a "presence information" feature that indicates who on your contact list is available. Although some people still use online chat technology using Internet Relay Chat (IRC), instant messaging is more common today.

Although instant messaging traditionally involves text-based sharing, many of the IM services now provide tools for sharing images, audio, and video.

Many popular social networks such as Facebook have a built-in chat component. Oncourse and Canvas have a chat tool available for students.

Libraries are increasingly embedding chat widgets on their web pages.

Synchronous Communication in Libraries

nasaThere are times when synchronous communication is important. Chat and instant messaging, audio and video conferencing are ways to provide this type of real-time interaction.

From live awards ceremonies to expert speakers, virtual conferencing allows participants the opportunity to be actively involved in events that would otherwise impossible.

Whether you're down the hall or around the world you can connect with others through live video. Through NASA events, children are even able to interact with people as far away as the International Space Station.

Author programs are also popular in this format. In some cases questions are provided ahead of time, however in other events young people can interact live.

Back Channels


Back channels, also known as "meeting tools” or "feedback tools" are becoming increasingly popular. These tools alway users to maintain a real-time, synchronous online conversation alongside the primary group activity or lecture.

A temporary area can be set up to share ideas and brainstorm. The electronic meeting space can be temporarily archived.

In library programs, a back channel might be used to share ingredient ideas during a cooking program, ask questions in a class or submit questions to a guest author.

Today's Meet is an example. Users name their “room” and indicate the length of time the message data should be saved.

Twitter has become a popular tool for creating the same effect as backchannel tools. The audience would add an event hashtag to their tweets such as #ALA2014.

Personal and Professional Digital Correspondence

With so many options available for digital correspondence, it’s important that librarians distinguish between person and professional communications. Etiquette in technology situations is often called netiquette. It’s a set of social conventions that govern digital communication.

Whether writing email messages or commenting on a blog, professionals should always use complete sentences, correct grammar, and appropriate language. The use of SMS shortened words, all caps, and profane language should be avoided.

Professional communications should include an electronic signature indicating the institution, along with the professional’s name an title. As a rule, it’s not a good idea to write anything in an email that you would not say aloud in a workplace.

Watch How to Follow Proper Netiquette Rules on YouTube.


Many tools are available for asynchronous as well as synchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication involves delayed communication such as email, threaded discussions, and texting.

Synchronous communication involves live, real-time interaction such as phone conversations, instant messaging, audio conferencing, and video conferencing.

Many of these tools have practical applications for students and professionals alike.

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

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