How a Listserv Created a Community
Twenty years ago, HardCopy—the listserv for print professionals serving in the educational space—was born. Here’s the story.
In the mid 1990s we were just beginning to get comfortable with technology. Most of us had e-mail accounts, the World Wide Web was emerging as a new communications tool, and many of us were looking for ways to use this new technology. Distribution lists of individuals with common interests were beginning to appear. We were all learning how to communicate electronically.
Al Geddes at the University of Delaware, and I both had an idea around the same time: wouldn’t it be great if we could connect higher-ed print managers electronically. We could share experiences, get answers to technical and management problems and more. Little did we know.
Al and I ran into each other at the IPMA conference in Nashville in 1995. We were both collecting e-mail addresses for a new listserv. I had more names but Al had a name—HardCopy—and was working with his IT folks to get it set up using a listserv package called Majordomo. Since Al was further along in terms of actually getting the thing set up, I gave him my names and e-mail addresses. HardCopy went live a short time later.
A year or so later Al called to tell me that he was leaving higher ed and asked if I wanted to take over HardCopy. Of course I did, not knowing what a time sponge managing a listserv in 1996 could be. At that time HardCopy consisted of 168 email addresses. I promoted the list every chance I had: in conversations at conferences, in my presentations and articles, in e-mails to colleagues.
I managed the list until 2001 when I left the University of Louisville to become VP/CIO at Juniata College. By then the list had grown to over 500 names. I was reluctant to continue managing the list at my new school because, frankly, I didn’t know if a small college would have the technology resources to dedicate to a print managers listserv.
After a search, Goeff Bant, former print director at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, stepped up. Goeff ran the list for a few years until he moved back into the academic side of things, at which time Maury Kane from Temple University took it over and managed it until he retired. Maury was delighted to oversee the list during the nine years it resided at Temple, and was always impressed by the politeness extended and wisdom exchanged between the list members. Maury passed the list to Catherine Chambers, print and mail manager at Virginia Tech, and when Catherine moved to Alfred State, the list moved with her.
HardCopy was a leader in electronic communications. In many ways it was social media long before FaceBook and Twitter. We talked about print and mail issues, to be sure, but we also talked about what we were doing. Important events in our lives. Those sorts of things. We were a family.
True story which some of you may have heard before: My daughter attended college in California, which was a long way from Louisville where I lived at the time. She called one day to tell me that her car had died and she didn’t know what to do. It had been towed to a shop, and the shop owner was telling her that the repairs would be expensive. Yada, yada, yada.
I didn’t know a soul in the town where she lived, but Paul Molfino, the in-plant manager at UC-Santa Cruz, and I had shared our thoughts on a variety of print-related issues on HardCopy. I had never met Paul, but he was the only contact I had. I sent him an e-mail, told him what was going on, and asked if he knew anything about the shop or, if not, could he recommend someone that wouldn’t rip off a young college girl.
Paul did so much more!
This manager whom I had never met and only knew through HardCopy visited the repair shop, reviewed the repair proposal, and negotiated a better deal for my daughter, and checked the work to make sure it was done properly. He was like a surrogate dad to someone he only knew electronically.
That’s what I’m talking about when I refer to HardCopy as a family.
That story is not an exception. It’s the rule. More than one couple met on HardCopy and decided to join their lives together. Friendships have begun and flourished, equipment was purchased, problems were solved . . . the list goes on forever.
Membership criteria has remained constant for 20 years. First, you have to work in print/mail in education, although some former higher-ed print managers maintained their membership after moving to other public sector print management positions, and retirees are welcome. The other? No vendors! HardCopy has always been and continues to be a place members can communicate freely about their experiences with vendors and equipment without fear of reprisal. That’s one of our strengths.
Another is our diversity. On December 10, 2015, Hardcopy had 532 members from 351 institutions and 6 different countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Scotland and the United States.
So, Happy 20th Anniversary HardCopy. Thanks for all you have done to bring us closer together. Facebook and Twitter may be flashier and YouTube may have videos, but when it comes to communicating with 500+ of our closest colleagues and friends, you’re the best. If you work with document design and/or production in the education space and want to know more about joining the list, contact me at email@example.com
Related story: The Price Is Right. Or Is It?
Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.
Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.