Gripe 1: Inappropriate Email attachments

June 2, 2010

Thank you all for the suggestions in the comments of the previous post and I will try to address those large issues in future posts.

But first a more minor gripe:

Event notifications to librarian email lists where the information is in the attachment. Only the attachment. And the attachment is a .pptx file. And the powerpoint is a one page flyer for the event.

Now you may think that this is a very particular gripe but I have seen it enough times – with variations – that I feel the need to gripe.

What is wrong with the practice?

  1. Putting the information that you are trying to communicate only into an attachment effectively buries it. Your reader will need to open the attachment before getting the information wasting their time (shall I invoke Ranganathan?). This also means they are less likely to read it at all- wasting your time composing and sending the email.
  2. Putting the information only into the attachment also hides it from my email search function. Maybe I do read it but then lose it and am trying to find it again.
  3. It also hides if I want to mark the event in my calendar. I use Outlook and can drag and drop and email to the calendar to create an event. If the information is in the body of the email it also becomes the body of the event which is convenient but not if its only in the attachment.

So maybe you put the information in the email as well as the attachment? Better but still problematic.

  1. I have worked in a small library where my total email box limit was 30Mb. Any attachments inflates the size of the email you send. An attachment in a file format that is naturally large increases the chances that your email will not even reach me.
  2. Maybe I don’t have the software that will open the attachment. I can only open a .pptx easily with the Office 2007. I only got an upgrade a couple of months ago and many people still have not. I may be reading your email in an environment that doesn’t use Microsoft at all.
  3. Maybe I am reading your email of my mobile device? Much less likelihood of downloading the attachment in the first place and of being able to open it.

So why send an attachment at all?  I wouldn’t but as most of them seem to be “pretty” versions of the information I would guess the senders are perceiving a need to provide the information as a flyer that people can put on a notice board. I would question that need but what would be a better format?

Well a PDF version of your file would be a much smaller size and a more universally accessible. Most people have Adobe Reader. You don’t even need the expensive Adobe Acrobat to convert Office documents to PDFs. There are many free PDF converters or “print to PDF” utilities on the web. If you don’t have admin rights and need to make a case to your IT for installation I would think that there are enough times that a librarian needs to create a PDF that you should be able to do that.

There are some larger issues raised in this minor gripe. A librarian regularly doing this shows:

  • inconsideration for the information needs of the email recipient
  • unawareness of the issues of using particular file formats and of inflated file sizes
  • unawareness of the multiplicity of email environments and digital divide issues in our professional community

and maybe that’s what really gripes me.


4 Responses to “Gripe 1: Inappropriate Email attachments”

  1. Penny Says:

    yes. oooohhh yes. so true.
    the other one is creating an email newsletter when a blog would do the job better.

  2. apubliclibrarian Says:

    well said – I have done the search for an email thing which is so frustrating when you know it has to be in the inbox.

  3. CW Says:

    I wonder how it happened – so many of our colleagues got stuck in the 1990s when it comes to use of the internet…

  4. snail Says:

    When I was managing an ALIA elist I used to keep a 40k limit on emails and would occasionally have arguments with folk wanting to post their big “really important” flyer.

    Once I accidently hit approve instead of reject and sure enough got a whole batch of rejections from various mail servers due to either file size or content type.

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