There's an interesting discussion going on at one of the specialty listservs to which I subscribe. (The English major in me just made me rewrite that sentence so it didn't end with "to"--stupid snarkin' prepositions!) It's a problem I've seen across lists though--certainly not limited to only this one.
Within the span of a couple of days, two library students posted--verbatim--the same assignment and asked for help. The assignment was about current resources being used by said specialty librarians, what they subscribe to, what kinds of issues they are facing, and other general questions. I've seen student requests that were basic details about the listserv that should have come up during the most rudimentary of search engine search too. This was slightly more specific than that but not much.
A couple of days later there was a thank you posted from one of the students (she has a memorable name--which may or may not be good considering current events). Then started the discussion-- when we we're approached like this, cold calling if you will, what is our responsibility as professionals? An interesting set of opinions came out from it. Generally, everyone who chimed in felt there was information that we could and should provide--if we had the time and felt we were willing to contribute. It was perceived as a type of interview. Then someone pointed out that while we could probably make the assumption that these were legitimately students, the open nature of joining the list meant that it could be someone doing market research and that we might be providing them free opinions. Not that we're against providing free opinions (actually--people pay us for our opinions, isn't it great?) but we like to know to whom said opinions are addressed.
Overall a firm opinion was not really declared--there were a few "just ignore it if you don't have time" and a few "but we're here to help" although I think the majority of the responses I saw fell in the middle in a category of-- please student, identify yourself, ask if you could interview a few of us off list for a class assignment, and go from there. I think it sounds fair.
It's a difficult spot for the relative newbie (mwah) and the seasoned professional. We're here to help. On a listserv we understand reaching out for information and I'm the first to admit I've posted a "HELP HELP NOW" question when I had a patron standing in front of me and I'd just totally blanked out on the subject matter at hand (determining the value of stock certificates anyone?). But like parents, we have to decide when "helping" means we end doing the assignment and the child (student) just copying without effort. It's easier to throw back when it's the "how many people are subscribed to this listserv and who does this listserv appeal to?" type of question (yes, another preposition sentence---darn it!). When it's a little more in depth it's quite the gray area. For the future though, I think I like suggesting that they request to interview a few listserv members off list rather than post their list of questions. Certainly after a couple of weeks on list they should have an idea of who some of the more vocal members are.
The final amusing touch to all of this came this evening. Someone tracked down the professor and said professor has already been speaking to these students because this was apparently not how the professor intended for them to go about this. His rather terse email was almost immediately followed by a lengthy explanation from the student with the more memorable name.
Back to my db's--Stephi sent me a ton of work today and I don't even want to look at the emails from VA