Campus Goes Online for Parenting Tips
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Need advice on your fourth grader's Pokemon addiction? Looking for a good deal on a breast pump? When buying a used Volvo, which year is best?
In search of answers to questions like these, hundreds of campus parents turn to the UCB Parents mailing list, a volunteer-run e-mail newsletter for parents affiliated with Berkeley.
Information on the list is divided into four categories -- announcements, marketplace, recommendations and advice.
"Sleep is the number one topic that parents seek advice on," said Ginger Ogle, manager of the digital library project in computer sciences and founder of the list serve. "People have very strong opinions about the best way to get a child to sleep."
A recent spate of advice in the list serve offered such divergent views as "babies and toddlers must learn to fall asleep on their own," to "we experimented with sleep aides, such as melatonin and tryptophan," to "we do a family bed, which is working very nicely for us."
"Because campus parents are from diverse cultural backgrounds, a variety of suggestions, some that you may never have thought of, are offered," said Ogle. "This is helpful for parents when deciding which course of action to take."
The list started with 14 computer science graduate students in 1993.
"We were working on a proposal for parental and maternity leave for grad student parents in the department, so we created a mailing list to rally the forces," said Ogle. "The faculty accepted our proposal, and we subsequently used the list to get an office for parents in Soda Hall, along with changing tables in the men's and women's restrooms."
Now six years later, the list, which is moderated by four volunteers, boasts more than 1,500 subscribers. Its success, says Ogle, is due in part to the convenience it provides for busy parents.
"If your car breaks down, most campus parents don't have time to get on the phone and call various car repair shops looking for the best deal and service," said Ogle. "But they can request information through the list serve and within a day or two get a number of recommendations from folks who have had good experiences."
Sometimes the recommendations warn subscribers to stay away from certain businesses because of bad service, says Ogle. On a few occasions, this information has actually gotten back to the business owner, prompting them to contact the list serve themselves to defend themselves.
"It's useful for subscribers to know about bad experiences as well as good ones," said Ogle. "But we are also committed to posting the opinions from both sides of a controversy."
The list serve has, on occasion, received criticisms of the university, especially on the subject of child care, and these opinions are published as well, says Ogle. "The lack of child care on campus is big issue with parents," she said. "Right now, only 40 spots for staff are available, and this is unacceptable to many people."
But the mailing list has also been beneficial to the campus, says Ogle, because it helps create a sense of community at Berkeley, especially for parents who are new to the Bay Area and unfamiliar with the various resources available.
"They use the list to find out about schools, set up childcare, get recommendations for pediatricians and even to find short-term housing," she said.
Berkeley students who aren't parents have also discovered the list serve and use it as a source of information for their studies, said Ogle. Public health students used it to poll parents on the treatment of head lice, and a journalism school student solicited comments about the diaper policy at Strawberry Canyon pool for a story on water contamination.
A UCB Parents Web site was created as a compliment to the list serve, said Ogle. It serves as an archive to the hundreds of recommendations and advice items that have been posted on the list serve over the years. Users can search the archive for the specific information.
In addition to the archive, the Web site offers links to other parent resources and a listing of frequently asked questions. A joke page is also featured, with such nuggets as: "What is the definition of amnesia? A condition that enables a woman who has gone through labor to have sex again."
The list serve now has two offshoots -- one for single parents and another for parents with teens, which has more than 300 members.