As access to the internet is becoming easier worldwide, email is used increasingly for all kinds of enquiries, comments, and exchange of information among librarians. A wide audience can easily be reached through mailing lists which are ideal forums to quickly and inexpensively disseminate information among peers, to put forward information requests to a large group, and to participate in discussions among colleagues from all parts of the world. In astronomy, most librarians are subscribed to at least one of the mailing lists Astrolib, PAMnet (Special Libraries Association (SLA) / Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics (PAM) division mailing list) or PAM-APF (SLA-PAM - Asia/Pacific Rim Forum (APF)). While some messages are cross-posted to more than one list, each list focuses on slightly different audiences. Astrolib, founded in 1988 following the first LISA (Library and Information Services in Astronomy) conference, targets well topics that are relevant to astronomy librarians worldwide; in addition to librarians, several astronomers have joined this list because of their interest in information and documentation issues in general as well as database and technology-oriented topics in particular. PAMnet covers also physics, mathematics and computer science library matters; here are subscribed many editors and other publishing staff who share their insight into publishing procedures with the library community. PAMnet traditionally has been an active mailing list where not only new products and services are announced, as often is the case on subject-specific lists, but extensive discussions take place (Duda, Meszaron & Markham 1997). The third, PAM-APF, focuses on issues of special interest to the Asian and Pacific Rim area, in particular to developing countries in this region.
Typically, a few subscribers of mailing lists are very active participants, while the majority only ``listens''. However, the importance of passive participation in listservs is immense, especially on mailing lists with an international audience where librarians from all parts of the world share their points of view and thus increase awareness of problems in countries other than our own.
Email communication works best with those colleagues who have previously met. As electronic mail lacks some important features of personal communication (body language, tone of the voice, etc.), knowing each other personally helps to avoid misunderstandings, in particular if senders and recipients don't share the same communication mentality, cultural background, command of language, etc. Additionally, it encourages electronic contacts that might not otherwise be made. As observatories are often geographically isolated, it is difficult for our professional group to meet in person, and these rare events are therefore highly valued. For astronomy librarians, LISA conferences are important opportunities to get to know colleagues. Two questions in our survey focused on the LISA conferences and their respective benefits. Of the respondents, 49% had attended at least one of the three conferences; more specifically, 17% attended LISA I in 1988, 30% LISA II in 1995, and 36% LISA III in 1998. Almost 67% ranked enhanced future communications after meeting colleagues as the number one positive outcome. This confirmed the conclusion of the ``Open Forum on Optimizing Communication Amongst Astronomy Librarians'' held at the end of LISA III; the audience felt that the mixture of conference participants, consisting of librarians, astronomers, computer scientists and publishers, was very helpful in understanding concerns and positions of the other professional groups (Regan 1998). Other benefits of LISA conferences as noted in comments on our survey responses are learning about new astronomy products and services sooner and more effectively than otherwise possible (22%) and learning about new and better library management techniques (11%). One colleague stated that LISA conferences made her realize that effective communication among librarians can make more resources more accessible for astronomers all over the world. Without exception, the respondents felt that the conferences were useful to them. Other comments confirmed the strong sense of cooperation and solidarity among astronomy librarians and even pride in belonging to this professional group. This may have the positive effect that the more active librarians become, the higher their self-esteem will get, which in turn makes them even more active - a divine (as opposed to vicious) circle.
Since LISA II, it has become a tradition that a small group of librarians, ``Friends of LISA (FoL)'', mount a fundraising effort for each conference and are successful in partially or wholly funding dozens of librarians from developing countries who could not otherwise attend. All preparatory and organization work of the FoL committee is done by email as the group members are located in different parts of the world.
Another important venue for astronomy librarians is the SLA Annual Conference which is held each year in early June. The conference program comprises numerous presentations and discussions on virtually all topics of interest to information specialists. In addition, a wide range of Continuing Education courses is offered; these are half or full day professional development courses that allow librarians to gain an insight into topics with which they are not yet familiar.
The problems associated with conference attendance are obvious - expenses are high (registration fee, travel costs, etc.), and attendance approval requires a lot of support from the authorities in our institutes who decide on funds allocation. Fortunately, LISA conferences seem to be increasingly recognized by astronomers and observatory directors which may improve chances for even increased future attendance.
In 1999, the PAM International Relations Committee under the leadership of Jeanette Regan, librarian at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, established the PAM International Membership Award (PAM-IMA) which, together with the PAM International Travel Award (PAM-ITA), is awarded each year to a librarian from the developing world; the award allows him/her to attend the SLA Annual Conference and become an SLA member for two years in order to interact more with colleagues in the association. In addition to recognizing the achievements of the recipient, the award has also other communication benefits as it bonds the librarians' community and publicizes the network and conferences.
Astronomy librarians traditionally have been good at resource sharing. In addition to interlibrary loan, many collaborative projects have been initiated over the years, including databases of preprints and observatory publications, union lists of journals, meeting lists, compilations of book reviews and the Astronomy Thesaurus (Shobbrook & Shobbrook 1993). Many of these projects would previously have been very time consuming and difficult to compile because librarians in several far flung locations are involved in the production; they are now much more easily and effectively completed, almost entirely by email, and made available to the astronomy community on the world wide web.
The need for more formal cooperation among astronomy librarians is reflected by increased membership in the professional organizations that enable us to join forces. A well-structured approach, in particular regarding publishers, often leads to far better results than attempts from individual librarians. Many astronomy librarians have already joined the Special Libraries Association, in particular its Physics-Astronomy-Math division; currently, SLA comprises members from approx. 60 countries. Special attention should also be given to regional groups, for instance the Asia/Pacific Rim Forum (PAM-APF) that concentrates their efforts on developing countries and the problems libraries and scientists are facing in these areas, the ALOHA librarians on Hawaii and the network of astronomy libraries in India (Vagiswari & Louis 1998).