A Class on the Net for Librarians with Little or No Net Experience


"Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them."

-- Adlai Stevenson, speech, Denver, Colorado, 1952

Regardless of your level of connectivity, you are sure to have access to some form of "email" (electronic mail) - as opposed to "snail mail" (traditional post office variety). Email is the most basic function of networks. It allows people on networks to communicate with each other and, through interconnected "gateways," to talk to people on other networks as well.

Email, or electronic mail, is also one of the most popular and heavily used functions of computer networks. The ability to compose, send and receive messages within minutes and without regard to time zones or office hours is invaluable. With email, you can effectively avoid the routine delays associated with snail mail and the frustrations experienced by getting caught up in a game of "telephone tag."

It is important to remember, however, that while communications over the Net usually take only seconds to reach their destination, in some cases, they can take minutes, hours or even as long as a day or two. Sometimes the size of the file being transmitted can slow it down. More often, delays are due to 'traffic jams' -- communications backing up because a major routing host is incapacitated or a communications line is severed along a major trunk line. Even though the Net takes advantage of multiple possible transmission routes (like long distance service), sometimes snarls do occur (this is especially true in email communications bound for networks that are only gatewayed to the Internet). Nevertheless, when compared to snail mail, email will always be characterized as "instantaneous."

Email has many applications, such as exchanging information, communicating ideas, discussing issues, sharing files, and editing and reviewing manuscripts. When the "Back-to-School" lessons were first created, we distributed them via LISTSERV and delivered them on a daily basis to the electronic mailboxes of interested subscribers around the world (the lessons now are accessed via a World Wide Web browser at http://www.sc.edu/bck2skol/). In addition to supporting LISTSERV software, email also makes it possible for you to use the telnet, ftp, and gopher functions of the Internet (although not in a very straightforward fashion!).

I wish I could tell you everything you needed to know about email, but I can't. There are nearly as many mail programs out there as computer systems, and practically every one of them uses a different sequence of commands/keystrokes for the same or similar functions.

To send a mail message, for example, some of you might pull down a menu, or type the letter "r," while others might be asked to type a "send/edit" or "forward/edit" command, whereas I am instructed to hit the PF5 key twice. To learn how to operate and get the most out of your email system, you will have to contact your local service provider.

Although I cannot lay out all of the differing commands for each separate email program, I can run through the functions common to most of them.




Once you obtain an email account and your own address, you'll probably want to practice sending email messages. You can begin by sending one to yourself. That's easy -- all you have to do is enter the mail command followed by your own address, and your regular mail screen will appear. Once you've mastered the basics by mailing to yourself, you might want to consider sending an email message to President Clinton or Vice President Gore, both of whom would appreciate hearing from you. You can send an email message to either of them by using your mail command, followed by one of these addresses:

Within seconds after posting your message, the Secret Service will be knocking on your door. No, that's a joke! :-) What really *will* happen is that an electronic reply will appear in your mailbox telling you that your message has been received but that due to the vast volume of mail sent to the President and Vice-President, neither can reply to you in person. However, the subject you are addressing and your opinion on it will be compiled in a digest of mail that is regularly prepared and forwarded to our leaders.

Of course, you may soon tire of writing to public officials, who don't seem overly eager to take your advice anyway, and so you'll probably want to start writing to people you know personally. As you acquire their addresses and begin to send email messages to them, you will begin to receive mail from them.


One of the first things you should learn to do is manage your mailbox. When mail arrives in your "in" box, it lines up there until you read and respond to it. On many systems, if you do not do something with your mail -- log, download, print, forward or discard -- it will continue to pile up until your mailbox jams! On other systems, the system administrator may delete mail when you exceed your allotted storage space! Find out from your service provider how your mail system is configured and avoid a "crash" or a "house cleaning" by learning how to manage your mail now.

Secondly, learn how to create an address book of the names of people you correspond with frequently. This will save you all kinds of time because the system will store and remember your addresses for you. Very likely, it will also allow you to assign an easily remembered "nickname" to each person you add to your address file. Then, when you type the mail command followed by the nickname you have chosen, your system will automatically supply the correct address and the form of the name (not the nickname) that you have designated to be printed in the mail header.

Finally, if your system allows it, you may want to design and create your own "signature file." You'll see mine below:


                /     /)       Ellen Chamberlain, Librarian

               /____ / )              Bck2eln@sc.edu


               )_____)/)           801 Carteret Street

               )_____)/       Beaufort, South Carolina 29902


Signature files can be very helpful and informative but there are cautions I would like to give you regarding them. Before creating a signature file of your own, wait until you read what I have to say about them in a future lesson on "Netiquette."


  1. Send an email message to yourself
  2. Send an email message to someone you know
  3. If you're politically minded, send an email message to the President (president@whitehouse.gov), the Vice President (vice-president@whitehouse.gov) or maybe you'd prefer to write Newt Gingrich (gingr_ne@rep.house.gov) or Rush Limbaugh (70277.2502@compuserve.com).
  4. To sample a "mailbot" (an automated service for replying to email requests for information), you can request the FAQ on the LDUL linguistic project. LDUL (Languages Documentation Urgency List) is an automatic mailbox and database for the collection and retrieval of information on how urgently the individual languages of the world are in need of documentation. Simply address email to:


    Leave the message area blank (or enter anything; the system will ignore it) and for the subject of the message, enter:

    about LDUL


You'll find lots of helpful information about effective email style and writing techniques in:

     Angell, David and Brent Heslop.  _The Elements of E-Mail Style_.

         Addison-Wesley, 1994.

There are tips on communication, productivity, organizing mail messages, addresses, and specific instructions for a variety of email packages in:

     Lamb, Linda and Jerry Peek.  _Using Email Effectively_.

         O'Reilley & Associates, Inc., 1995

In addition, the basic Internet primers referenced in Lesson 2 will provide you with more info on email systems; also, contact your local system administrator -- your institution or service provider may actually have documentation on your email system written specifically for you!


Following is an on-line reference for those of you with a WWW browser:

Sherwood, Kaitlin Duck. _A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email_ (another style guide for electronic mail) at:

* "BCK2SKOL" is a free electronic library classroom created by Ellen Chamberlain, Head Librarian, University of South Carolina Beaufort, and Miriam Mitchell, Sr. Systems Analyst, USC Columbia. Additional support is provided by the Division of Libraries & Information Systems, University of South Carolina Columbia.

Your feedback and support for BCK2SKOL are appreciated; please email link updates, suggestions and comments to: eechambe@gwm.sc.edu

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Links checked 9 March 1998. See the BCK2SKOL homepage for course update details.
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