Tell me about your adventures with pre-internet physical bulletin boards
February 28, 2023 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I am firmly millennial, and have grown up with the internet my whole life. If you are looking for something, you find it online, but there are glimpses of the past around New York, where people still hang up paper advertising apartments for rent, or parties you might go to. I am wondering about the times before online was ubiquitous, and I know about classified ads, but I've heard legend of public bulletin boards where you would go to find out about stuff, and/or post your own bulletins.

Wondering if MeFites have stories that might illuminate my imagination of these glory days. Would individual businesses have bulletin boards for their customers to peruse and post? were they on public street corners, maintaining themselves? was it just paper on every phone pole?

Please regale me with your memories of connecting with paper in physical space.

Thank you, as always.
posted by wowenthusiast to Human Relations (63 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
As an older millennial thirdworlder (that second half is going to a key factor for firmly millennial people sharing a collective memory of practices from the older generation imho): for paper ads that requires ppl to call you, you would take the extra step of creating pre-cut stubs at the bottom inch or so of the paper. You write your name and number repeatedly in vertical direction, and you cut the lines between each name+number, so people can easily tear off to keep. Handy way to limit interested callers too.
posted by cendawanita at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2023 [13 favorites]

I remember physical bulletin boards for discussion being a thing in high school and college (90s-early 2000s, the internet was around but not like today). In HS, I got into a heated debate via post-it note with someone on a bulletin board posted in one of the student rooms.

In college, activities and events were definitely posted up regularly and perused, and people would write on papers and add commentary and opinions. When I was in HS, I went to visit my sister at her college where there was butcher board hanging in the bathroom stalls of school buildings and students would have debates and share options all over them, and they'd be replaced periodically- one of the highlights of the visit for me.

I think all of this is still around, but to a lesser extent. I live in Philly and physical bulletin boards are around all over on poles, in coffee shops, etc. I assume schools still hang signs in hallways, etc. I don't think it was much different then, there was just more of it, and more content on the bulletin board, and it was relied on more.
posted by bearette at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2023 [6 favorites]

I still see those paper ads with tear-off phone numbers all over...
posted by bearette at 9:55 AM on February 28, 2023 [14 favorites]

We still have them in my small town! Most of the local grocery stores have one. The department store in town has one. And all the public libraries. Each place has their own rules for posting. Some boards are super neat and tidy (public library), and others are a battlefield of overlapping flyers and bent pushpins (department store).

Edited to add: I'm also a millennial, but I didn't have internet until I was into my late teens. Life in a rural and remote area.
posted by eekernohan at 9:55 AM on February 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

The internet was around when I was at university but the web was very young and it wasn't heavily used for this sort of thing. All the state universities across the US had dozens (maybe a hundred) of physical bulletin boards across campus. People would post any and every kind of events there, from sleazy mlm 'jobs' to parties, concerts, free food/club activities, movie premier posters, new restaurants etc.

Some had phone numbers, some had dates and times, almost none had email. There was no etiquette, people would just post over whatever they wanted. A crust of several inches would build up, and once a semester or so they'd send out workers to shear them back down. They'd look weird and empty for about five minutes before they were completely encrusted again.

That was the public system where all you needed was a stapler, there were also lots of controlled-access boards, where only people with a key or other explicit permission could post.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

The village of Eastsound, WA on Orcas Island has a post office with a very long corkboard wall. Lots of announcements of events and ads from local businesses. Last time I was there, I remember tearing off a bit of paper with an email contact for Zoom-based Japanese lessons. A decade ago this might have been a phone number, instead.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

Not paper, but…

When I was a student in the mid-90s, there was a cubicle in one of the University ladies’ toilets that was “the problem toilet.” It was like a problem page. People would go in there, and write a short paragraph on one of the walls about whatever was troubling them. Then other people would spider diagram suggestions and solutions. All totally anonymous, of course.

Every now and then it would all get painted over by maintenance, and the whole thing would start again on the blank canvas. You’d go in sometimes and all the other cubicles would be empty, but there’d be a queue to get into this one.

And that, children, is what we did before AskMetafilter.
posted by penguin pie at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2023 [87 favorites]

Used to be you'd find a community bulletin board, as described, in any supermarket, near the doors. You could post anything but someone would police them occasionally, removing anything unauthorized. Haven't seen one of those in the US in a long time. Spotted them more recently, in the library or at schools, but the rules for posting there are a lot stricter.
posted by Rash at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

With enough tenacity you could probably see this yourself if you try enough post offices, ymca's, public libraries, co-op grocery stores. they're usually near the entrance.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2023 [7 favorites]

Are there really places where this isn’t done anymore? I live in a rural area and bulletin boards are quite active still. Outside the food coop, just inside the general store, at the kiosk in the town square, various places at the university. It’s extremely pleasant to pass ten minutes or so looking at all the flyers.

Anyway one flavor of bulletin board back in the day the “ride board.” This was where you would post where you were driving or where you wanted to go, and prospective passengers or drivers would contact you. As a child I was a passenger in a car from Michigan to California full of people who connected through the UM ride board.
posted by HotToddy at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2023 [9 favorites]

I was just looking at a community one over the weekend (found a picture - Carrot Commons on the Danforth in Toronto). It had a whole bunch of notices including some handwritten ones looking for a roomate, a handy man, a meditation group, a MLM, a whole bunch of small local businesses like dog walking, and a prayer to a saint.

Most grocery stores still have them too.

There was a rideshare board and corner in the Annex (near the University of Toronto) as well.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

The food co-op I worked for (Wheatsville) had a 12'x6' pinboard on the front of the store until 2008. Staff took everything down at the beginning of the month and removed any racist or sexist materials. Rooms and apts for rent, music events, art openings, things for sale, services such as massage, lost and found pets, all kinds of performances, a chaotic collection of private and public notices.

There were a few other large bulletin boards all over Austin at eateries such as the Omlettrey, and Magnolia Cafe.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:05 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

There were public advertisement/public service bulletin boards at the grocery store, post office, laundromat, library, convenience store, coffee shop (by the bathrooms/payphone). There folks posted flyers (often you had to ask permission and they had to be dated and the board was cleared once a month or so) or business cards.

When I was in college we used the bulletin boards in our respective departments or dorms for personal messaging. You'd write someone a note, and fold it up with their name on it and post it on the board in the area for DMs. As the receiver you were responsible for checking the board at least once a day. If you posted it, and it was still there, you knew they didn't read it yet. There would be general messages, like folks asking for a ride over the holidays or posting looking for passengers for a jaunt to big concert/regional competition. Some with the laundromat in town, folks would post about furniture for sale, lost pets, rideshare, opportunities. There wasn't as much dialogue as now, but people would "comment" on flyers. (Like a guitar lessons ad might have someone scribble on it "she's the best!")

The interesting part about BBs was they really seemed curated for their audience. The laundromat stuff was appropriate (furniture for sale, rides) for that community and the stuff at the library was more about education and connection (book clubs, daycamp for kids, tutoring).
posted by typetive at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

At my undergrad institution people also would put flyers (generally, if I recall correctly, 1/4 letter size rather than full letter size) about things on the dining hall tables.
posted by redfoxtail at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

In the early 90s, I went to college several states away from where my mom lived. I had an old car and was going to drive home for Christmas break, a two day drive. I hoped to find others to join me -- to share the driving and expense of gas -- and didn't know anyone else from my mom's town, so I posted a note on the ride share bulletin board in the campus student union. Note that this was specifically a bulletin board for sharing car rides from our campus/college town to other places. I'm sure I put down my dorm room landline number; I know I had an answering machine to get calls when I was out.

I heard from two women, both also freshman and both whose families lived about an hour from my mom. So the three of us, who hadn't met before, did the two day drive together. We stayed overnight at the home of one of their parent's friends, about halfway. I remember us singing along the way, and hitting a nasty snow storm right at the end of the trip.

I don't remember their names and it wasn't a particularly memorable trip beyond what I've shared, but it certainly was made possible by the ride share bulletin board.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

When I was in college in the 70s, during finals week, someone on the floor would put up a sheet of paper with a general question, and then people would write their answers on the paper. The specific one I remember is, "Who is your favorite Beatle?" I think I remember that one mostly because someone wrote Betelgeuse with a little drawing showing its location relative to other stars. This was way before the movie of that name, so just knowing the word Belegeuse and then thinking to make that an answer was very impressive.

(CW: murder) Notes asking for rides were very common on university bulletin boards. In 1969, University of Michigan student Jane Louise Mixer was murdered by a serial killer after posting such a note. More here.
posted by FencingGal at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2023

Our local grocery stores and laundromats had them. I got my first cat from a listing in our church bulletin that had similar notes.
posted by soelo at 10:33 AM on February 28, 2023

Along with what everyone else has mentioned, yes individual stores often had bulletin boards, and I swung by the music (as in instrument) store routinely just to see what was on the board. Art and craft stores also had them, and honestly I'm pretty sure JoAnn at least still does because that's where the knife/scissor-sharpening-truck schedule is usually posted.

During the late era of the bulletin board, the Copy Shop was also a major hub. Maybe you had a printer, but probably not, and while there were often photocopiers in grocery stores and the library, the former were often terrible quality and the latter were often inconvenient unless you were already there. So if you needed to print out something nice or in bulk like flyers or invitations, you went to the copy shop. They were always way too brightly-lit and a little bit grotty and the people who worked there were usually your weirder flavor of nerd, and for whatever reason - the cross-section of humanity, I guess - they were just about as good as laundromats for diversity of content. And of course if you lost or found a pet you should definitely check the nearest copy shop bulletin board because that's where the flyers got printed and the first one always went up there.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Our local grocery store had a bulletin board in the 80s. It was located in the vestibule/entryway and there were index cards available for people to handwrite advertisements which they'd put up with a thumbtack. I feel like they might have had some forms with labeled blanks for certain types of postings like things for sale, but I can't swear to it. I think some pre-printed flyers were also put up.

There is a diner in my home town that still has a bulletin board in the entryway. It's completely pre-printed flyers and business cards these days.
posted by kite at 10:48 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I love the idea of the problem toilet. The closest I've seen is women warning women about horrible men they dated in some bathrooms.

We still have physical bulletin boards here ("the original social media," my coworker said). There's rules as to which boards are public vs. for department only, sometimes things layer on top of each other, sometimes idiots just post the same flier over and over again 20 times for some weird reason, some people do have tearoff tabs. You don't see them in businesses much (I think one bookstore here has one, and one of the grocery stores), mostly they are on public poles or on college campuses.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:49 AM on February 28, 2023

I remember these at the front of the commissaries on military bases when I was growing up. Military wives did most of the shopping there. There were posts for babysitters, pets wanted or pets needing new homes, cars for sale, baby items for sale, lots of Avon cards.

Well into the internet age, the little used bookstore/pizza place downtown here in Colorado Springs had a bulletin board. Jobs, rides wanted, childcare, the occasional insurance agent business card. And always, ALWAYS, at least one for guitar lessons. (Come to think of it, the little coffee shop in Denali had a bulletin board for the locals. Several for rides wanted, vehicles wanted, art and jewelry, hiking and technical gear for sale.)
posted by mochapickle at 10:49 AM on February 28, 2023

Not New York, but last year I curated an online exhibit (opening IRL on April 8th!) about the history of street posters in Toronto. You can view all of the posters which will be in the physical exhibit here.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

Your Friendly Local Game Store likely has an actual bulletin board to help people find groups, trade games, etc.
posted by Etrigan at 10:52 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

I just had a whole-body flashback suddenly remembering that there were some places so precious about their bulletin boards that they were glass-covered and locked so your index cards had to go through moderation to make it up there.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:55 AM on February 28, 2023 [6 favorites]

Also, my wife works at a university and I can confirm that poster boards in student centres are still very much a thing. Every inch of them is covered in posters for events both on and off campus.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

I once met the girlfriend of a friend from Hometown State who had gone to the same East Coast university as me purely through the coincidence of responding to a rideshare flyer she'd posted on the school's post office bulletin board (I didn't know it was her before I responded!). I didn't actually end up hitching a ride with her, though.
posted by praemunire at 10:57 AM on February 28, 2023

These are still very easy to find around college campuses, in my experience - not just on the campus itself, but in all sorts of local shops, restaurants, library, sometimes a designated outdoor spot, sometimes people just tape stuff all over a bus shelter to turn it into a makeshift bulletin board.

Typically the etiquette was (from, say, the late 90s to 2012, the last time I had a role that involved me putting things on said boards) to ask the shop owner if they were okay with you putting up a flyer. Occasionally they wanted to look it over first and would have you leave it with them, more often they would just wave you to put up whatever. Boards on campus were mostly a free-for-all but sometimes there would be a dedicated one for e.g. a specific academic department to put up only relevant things. That was often in a locked glass case and curated by the department, so if you wanted to try to make a case for your flyer belonging there you could go to the department admin and ask them about it, but you were mostly out of luck.

Ideally you'd have your own pushpins or stapler but there are/were always leftovers from other people that you could mooch if you ran low. (If you were carrying your own, inevitably at some point in your afternoon of flyering, your little pushpin box would open in your bag and you'd be picking thumbtacks out of your purse lining for days.)

If you couldn't find a clear space to post your thing you had to make some judgment calls about what to cover up - I'd try to find either an event already in the past, or something crappy like a scammy sounding job "opportunity", to cover up. Sometimes you would cover up the flyer of some other org or event you were opposed to, like, I used to put up a lot of flyers for the campus women's center and given the choice I would cheerfully paper over whatever the campus young Republicans were up to.

On campus, someone would come through anywhere from once a month to once a semester and scrape everything off the board, and then the ecosystem would rebuild itself.
posted by Stacey at 10:59 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

some telephone poles have generations of staples from flyers: music, lost pet, political, ads, ....
posted by at at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is an old picture, but the bulletin board it's from is a long-standing community institution. It's an actual covered structure on a busy corner (Google streetview). It will build up a thick encrustation of ads and announcements along with occasional art and manifestos and on no discernable schedule will get stripped back to plywood and staples. In recent years, the local BID has had more frequent full-side posters for local events so I suspect someone finds it too chaotic and unaesthetic, but presumably has enough sense not to propose outright removing it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I passed four of these bulletin boards just today. Laundromat, library, food store, hardware store.
posted by Marky at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I worked for 15 years at a vintage clothing store, in the basement of a downtown Victorian building. The entire stairwell was a freeform bulletin board for campus events, theatre and especially the flourishing punk rock bar band scene. My days were punctuated by the sound of staplers and packing tape as the homemade photocopied posters went up. Part of my job was removing the stale-dated posters, and picking staples out of the wall.
Cheeky posters from competing vintage clothing stores were also removed.
posted by antiquated at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is still pretty common in the UK where corner shops (convenience stores) or newsagents will have a space in the window with a plastic postcard holder and sometimes a smaller cork board where people will post adverts (fairly large example in the photo). It's usually for things like cleaning services, painting and decorating, gardening services, rooms available to rent, man-with-a-van removals, 'massage' services, that kind of thing, as well as flyers for exercise classes, slimming clubs, etc.
posted by essexjan at 11:36 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Oh, and a Seattle coffee shop I used to frequent had a corkboard where musicians posted fliers about their events, people looked for roommates, or other contact requests or offers were tacked up. Again, mostly email and web contacts, but the occasional phone number shows up. It's all still there as far as I know, but it's been a few months since I last visited.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:44 AM on February 28, 2023

Early Gen-Xer here. Some of the music stores I used to frequent provided a bulletin board in one corner where people could post small notices of upcoming gigs, individuals looking for bands, bands looking for musicians, used instruments, etc. I'm out of that world now so I have no idea whether anyone still does that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:48 AM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

NYC-centric - you used to be able to browse a little at St Mark's books and then head upstairs to the Sunrise Mart where there was a robust bulletin board for Japanese speaking residents and students. You'd always end up staring at that and all the little kanji freebie publications while you waited for the teeny tiny elevator to show up.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

Your setting: Berkeley 1990 - 1994.

Giant bulletin boards on Sproul Plaza and other key outdoor locations that were free for all with some slight informal social order regarding posting-over of things that were near-term dated.

Bulletin boards in dorms, lab and classroom buildings all of which had elaborate (and varying) rules for pre-approval, tear down, that were zealously enforced by custodians. Legendary example was a heavily trafficked classroom building entry where anyone could post, but no one could post over and all postings were torn down at the end of the day. People hid out overnight in closets and toilet stalls in order to get their posts up first.
posted by MattD at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

In Medium, a few years ago, Ted Silar: Where Did All the Community Bulletin Boards Go?
I actually made so bold as to ask a [supermarket] manager why. "Corporate doesn’t like it," he said.

Widening the ambit of my search, I finally did come across some community bulletin boards. Way out in the country. The farther out, the more bulletin boards.
posted by Rash at 1:46 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

When I was a student in the mid-90s, there was a cubicle in one of the University ladies’ toilets that was “the problem toilet.”

While visiting a friend in Ireland during college, I discovered a similar thing in a cubicle in one of the ladies' rooms there; only it was for asking info about specific guys. "Who can tell me about the blond guy in 4th Chem?" "He's into hurling and he has a twin sister - go for it!" or "Can anyone tell me about Brendan in 2nd year marketing?" "He's mine - BACK OFF!"

.....I think that also may have been where I saw an exchange that has lived in my brain for the past 40-odd years since and that had an impact on my sexual habits:

"Q. My boyfriend says he wants to try anal - has anyone done that? What does it feel like?"
"A. ....Have you ever shit backwards?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:50 PM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

When I was in college (mid-2010s) people used listservs and group texts and Facebook for casual things, but big events (anything sponsored by a department, public events from student groups, theater) were still advertised through posters around campus. This mostly meant stapling big posters to bulletin boards or lampposts. There were always a lot of these events, and lampposts poster collections could grow unwieldy, with posters stapled to the sides of other posters and branching out until they couldn't stay up anymore.

There was etiquette around not covering up key information on other posters and not taking down posters until the event had passed, and intermittently there would be discussions (usually via listserv) about these things. Taking down someone else's poster was a serious matter! But people still did it, sometimes to put up their own poster, sometimes just to be destructive, sometimes because they had an objection to a group or event.
posted by earth by april at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2023

In the early 80's, while in college, there was a ride share board that had a particular subset dedicated to rides to and from Grateful Dead shows. "Looking for a ride (roundtrip -- pun intended) to Hampton show March 30th. Will pay for gas or grass." Or, "Going to the Spectrum for shows. Need a place to stay. Willing to pay for gas and show medication. Couches ok. Beds better."
posted by JSM at 2:04 PM on February 28, 2023

I’m an Old. At 39, in the early 90’s, I found a roommate via a bulletin board I used at UW. Neither of us was a student. She was my roommate for the next year and half or so.
Way back, in about 1962, I used “ride boards” which were where people who needed a ride put up info about where they were going/when, and people with a ride to share put up the same info.
The first time I used one, I found a hitchhiking partner from Phoenix to Denver. That was not a trip I wanted to hitch alone. We had an adventure where we were dropped off near the summit of Raton Pass in the night. There was a street light where we were dropped off. There were also lots of coyotes. After a few hours, with even fewer cars having passed, we took a ride in the first car that stopped. There were 3 guys in the front seat. We got in the back, and then noticed the back windshield was missing. We got out at a truck stop about a 45 minute ride down the road. We then got a ride with a semi driver, who took me right to my door in Denver.
The second time I used one, I found a ride from Denver to Miami. The car was an MG, so that long trip was done in a semi-reclining position - good thing I was a teenager. That trip was also adventurous. It was high summer, late June. We stopped for the night in New Orleans (only time I’ve ever been). The down the road in Pass Christian, the right tie-rod end broke. I had the feeling this was the most exciting thing the motorheads in that town had seen in a while. Naturally, there were no MG parts available nearby, so the mechanics (and a host of onlookers) worked through the night and into the next day to fix us up. Did I mention it was hot? The ride ended when my driver lost his wallet at a gas station in Tallahassee. I caught a bus the rest of the way to Miami.
posted by dbmcd at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

I'm older GenX. In college in the back half of the 1980s there was a ride board in the Student Union. It was a wood bulletin board in the shape of the US, with a hook in each state and a supply of info cards where you could leave a note that you were looking for a ride to X or looking for riders to help share gas expenses. (Gas was under a dollar a gallon back then.) I got to FL and back on Spring Break (from IN) my freshman year via the ride board, and a lot of students more local used it regularly to get to and from home in other parts of the state.

Also, back before cell phones there was often a bulletin board near the office at campgrounds, so you could leave a note for a late arriving friend telling them which campsite you were in.
posted by COD at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I rent a space at a music rehearsal studio, and there is a large bulletin board at the entrance where people post flyers for upcoming shows, music gear for sale, musicians wanted, and various other related topics. The place has been in business since the 1980s and the bulletin board seems a holdover from those times.
posted by zombiedance at 2:39 PM on February 28, 2023

I remember a board near the grocery check-out with little cards - like index cards but custom printed - that you could write a tiny classified ad on, and then post it by tucking it between grooves on the board. This random page has images of similar boards.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Before cell phones became ubiquitous, SF conventions would host a low-tech "message board." All members' names are printed on a long list, supplemented by an alphabetical index card box. To send a message, write on the card, file it alphabetically, then flag the recipient with a pushpin.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:03 PM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

I got a cross-country airplane ride once via a college ride-share board. It was 1975, bulletin board at the University of Pennsylvania, I was aiming to get home to Los Angeles. Got a phone call from a private pilot who was going to be flying from Philadelphia to L.A. and offered to take me if I would split the cost of fuel and pay for my own motel room (given airspeed and weather delays, we had two overnight stays).
posted by Creosote at 4:46 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

> I once met the girlfriend of a friend from Hometown State who had gone to the same East Coast university as me purely through the coincidence of responding to a rideshare flyer she'd posted on the school's post office bulletin board.

A lot of things had to fall into place for my wife and I to even meet, but one key piece in the puzzle was her spotting a "room for rent" poster put up by one of my best friends on a university campus bulletin board. She moved in, a month or so later I returned from a trip and needed a place to couch surf until I got a job, and 23 years later here we are.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:03 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

When Whole Foods was young every store I went into had a community bulletin board, usually thick with ads for yoga classes or doula services, or house-moving services. There were usually boldly-posted instructions on what postings were appropriate, and how long before the ad would be taken down.

I've been in several unions, and every one I've been in had a mandated union bulletin board with instructions on how to contact a union shop steward or officer. Remember Norma Rae and the battles over the union bulletin board?
posted by citygirl at 5:04 PM on February 28, 2023

My supermarket had one where people had to write out their info on a specific 3x5 card with lines for specific info (name, contact info etc.) And when I was looking for a babysitter in 1999 I placed ads on several college area babysitting job boards. If I recall correctly, I did email the info, and the colleges printed it out and either posted in on a bulletin board, or put it in a three ring binder.
posted by momochan at 5:27 PM on February 28, 2023

My fancy East Coast college had a” ride board” where people could post about looking for passengers or looking for a ride to just about anywhere.
I went home to Montana on drive with some people I didn’t know. Worked out fine.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:04 PM on February 28, 2023

My college dorm-equivalent had a book which was, I think, originally a 'suggestions' book for the common room. By tradition, we would use it pseudonymously to have long and arbitrary conversations about whatever topics came to mind. I remember the Iraq war being one topic of conversation, as an example, but there was no particular rhyme or reason.

At that time there were online bulletin boards (eg, Usenet newsgroups), but at that time most people were not internet connected and would not have made the connection.

(I'd completely forgotten about that, thanks for the reminder!)
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 6:17 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

In 1998, I worked and lived on a tiny island conference center with two phones to the mainland and one emergency satellite phone. There was a corkboard in the back of the house where we'd have questions of the day (open ended where you'd write an answer or multiple choice, voted with check marks.) People would flirt, draw unflattering caricatures, ask for favors, talk shit about other departments, perpetuate in-jokes--all the stuff you do when you are together with a small crew 24/7 all summer, and most of the stuff you'd say in a large group chat of mostly college aged kids.

The message board also had a sort of running tab for the snack bar. You could pay for a specific item at the snack bar without taking it, write up a coupon for said item (as inappropriate or polite as you wanted), and put it on the board. It was on the honor system, but the message board was right next to the snack bar, so the snack bar staff would know if you tried anything. It was basically a public, meatspace Venmo.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Gen X here. Many (most) public places had them. Supermarkets, libraries, YMCA, schools and universities, churches, bars, various shops like record stores, bookstores, sewing supplies, and appliance repair. It was how we found a guitar teacher, ballet lessons, lawn services, lost & found, selling secondhand furniture. Some boards were more public and generic (supermarkets), some were more private and specific (sewing supplies). Message boards tended to be quite local, as classified sections in the newspapers and circulars were still quite active too, and classified were what you would use if you wanted more than hyper-local reach. Some places curated or organised their boards; some didn't. Eventually someone would have to come along and remove the accumulated crust of staples and tacks.

I worked promotions for my university radio station in the late 80s, and my "job" was to draw/hand letter flyers for upcoming shows and programming and then plaster them on boards all over the campus. I also did this for local bands in high school and college. This is what planted the seed to my eventually becoming a communication/information designer.
posted by amusebuche at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2023

Response by poster: wow spectacular responses, dear MeFites!
Y'all are ceaseless in your charm and good humor. Thank you as always.

(also plz dont let this stop you if you have additional reminisences)
posted by wowenthusiast at 9:31 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

1. Our library still has a bulletin board in the 'anteroom' (you go through the entrance doors, it's a medium large space with a hall to the left where public meeting rooms, doors ahead to enter the library proper, and the large bulletin board to the right. It's populated mostly by information bulletins for local organizations, classes which may be offered in the library, and information about social services you might need and how to contact the providers.

2. I wish I could show you the walls of our local college radio station's offices. I am "older", and don't attend the school, but I once won a guest DJ spot and found the walls _covered_ with posters for bands that only the college station had heard of (yet). I found it very cool.

3. Also college-related, and this might be a sub-category of "bulletin boards", but near many college campuses you would find telephone poles _covered_ with announcements for bands play at various music venues.
posted by TimHare at 9:48 PM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Small communities within large communities used these. For example if you wanted a babysitter within two blocks of your home so you could drop your kid off and go or reasonably expect them to be on time showing up at your house. There probably WAS a daycare center, but those commonly only took kids that were fully toilet trained and no one old enough to attend kindergarten. There was no point putting an ad in the city newspaper, or responding to adds from people offering babysitting services in the paper. They might easily be five to thirty miles away. Instead you went to the usual store where you got groceries - on foot, of course, because it was within two blocks, and put a note on their bulletin board.

It was the same if you wanted someone to shovel your driveway - no snowblowers, just a kid with a before school and after school job - you checked if any young person had posted a note there, and if you didn't see one, you posted one of your own.

And if you lost something, say your jacket, that was where you posted a lost item note. And if you found something you could check the bulletin board for notes about it.

There would be notes about church suppers too - if you went to the Methodist church you might be more than happy to attend a church supper or a rummage sale or a concert at the Lutheran church and the Baptist church, but not being a member of the congregation you'd find out via the bulletin board.

The local municipal sports complex would post their seasonal programs, and people without cars - which was most people in the urban centre of large cities with public transit - would post things for sale, pictures of the puppies they had to give way, FREE TO A GOOD HOME, and tutoring services, and apartments for rent.

It was exactly the same as the classified section in the newspaper, except that it covered a five block radius of the grocery store, or the library. And in a big city that was important because you couldn't effectively put that information in the classified ad or you would get people calling you from fifteen miles away with a ginger cat they found that was definitely not your ginger cat that you had lost.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:28 AM on March 1, 2023

I've heard legend of public bulletin boards where you would go to find out about stuff, and/or post your own bulletins.

Yep I live in a rural area of Vermont and we still have a number of bulletin boards. I also remember the before-internet era where the print ones were one of the main informal ways to communicate certain things. So right now my town has at least these bulletin boards

- friendly local market has a bulletin board that is mostly businesses, local events (music stuff especially) and people offering holistic-type health and wellness services
- library has a big bulletin board which offers social service flyers, lots of announcements about library programming and some legal notices
- laundromat has a bulletin board with library programs, small ads (business cards usually) for local contractors, some social service ads (job corps type things especially). I maintain this one.
- Town hall has a bulletin board with legal notices and posters about legal things usually printed by the state and/or information about state stuff
- There's an information kiosk in town that has flyers for events, some local For Sale stuff and occasional civic notices (i.e. "Sign up for summer rec programs!")
- There used to be one in the supermarket which had a lot more "for sale" stuff and some local events flyers but they took in down within the past few years

Ones I can remember from my past which stood out, mainly in Seattle

- Local coffee shop had a bulletin board which was mainly for sale and people looking for roommates and missing pets. I found several roommates using this one.
- Undergrad library had a big Question Board which would have questions people would put into a reference box and then which would be answered by librarians, usually local "Questions about the area/school" stuff. I still remember there was a section of this board which was labeled some version of "Questions which have bothered people since the beginning of time" or something which were for more existential unanswerable questions and it was always good for a laugh.

Seattle also had SO MANY music posters on light poles until they finally outlawed them sometime in the 90s. Light poles would be a huge place to look for what shows were playing locally, especially for smaller bands. You can see a picture on this blog post of what every light pole (seemingly) looked like.
posted by jessamyn at 9:12 AM on March 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

Some flyers were purely a form of self-publication. Like, you could write a screed about lesbianism or the Iraq war or why music sucks these days, and post it on all the phone poles. (Businesses with bulletin boards were less likely to be okay with this stuff.) Unlike today, people would actually read this stuff. This is because we didn't have blogs or Youtube.

Some flyers were like little teasers for a longer video or podcast — saying "we have facts and opinions, come here if you want to know about them." Like, if you hung up flyers advertising a lesbian coffee meetup, some of the goal was social networking (like now). But back then, a big part of the goal was to draw in lesbians who need more information so you could pass it on in person, whether or not they stuck around in the community in the long run. This is because we didn't have Google or the Youtube recommendation engine.

Some flyers were like graffiti: little pieces of art or poetry or nonsense, sent out into the world to find an audience. A lot of towns had serial flyer-posters who kept putting stuff up in the same vein and kind of became minor public figures among the sort of person who hangs out downtown and reads flyers. I guess the best analogy for that might be Weird Twitter.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:28 AM on March 1, 2023

I had a friend in college who liked to put up flyers saying things like "Come vote on what I should change my name to! 12:00 on May 3 outside the art museum!" Another was "Come vote on whether I should shave my beard!" Total strangers actually showed up and voted, and if I remember right, my friend followed the Will of the People on both issues.

I think people still do that sort of stunt on Youtube and Tik Tok. In the 90s it was a weirder thing to do, because (a) you had to show up in person, and (b) there was no benefit to the organizer in terms of "engagement" or follower count. I don't even think we made any lasting friends out of it. It was just strange people who were bored downtown/on campus wanting a strange moment with other strange people who were bored downtown/on campus.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:34 AM on March 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

I also remember going around in the seventies and putting up the gay dance posters on the street light post for a couple of blocks in every direction from the McGill University campus, which we had to do several times, as any of them in the vicinity of a church was at risk of being pulled down on Sunday morning.

Posters announcing demonstrations went up on lamp posts too. One anti-Franco demonstration in Montreal was held in front of Iberia, the Spanish airline's storefront down on Ste. Catherine Street.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:10 AM on March 1, 2023

I live in Melbourne CBD (so definitely not a rural area) and they're very much a thing here still! To the point that flyers/paper advertising is still a pretty viable means of marketing.
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:55 PM on March 1, 2023

I once worked with a guy who asked way too many of our female colleagues out. He didn't over pursue, or ask more than once, but his question was always the same. One day on the bulletin board someone had posted a printout of his face with "Hi, I'm [redacted]. Want to get dinner?" and the tear off phone number tags.

It was the best thing.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:17 PM on March 8, 2023

I had a friend in college who liked to put up flyers saying things like "Come vote on what I should change my name to! 12:00 on May 3 outside the art museum!" Another was "Come vote on whether I should shave my beard!"

This is a weird sort of Rosetta-stone thing: I stumbled upon a web site once called "The Swarming Midget Band Name Archive", which was a database of band names up for the taking; people could write in with suggestions, and the website host would slot them into their various categories ("food-related names", "short names", etc.). They also maintained a list of links to the web sites of bands who actually claimed any of the names off their lists.

But the best bit was: they explained the origin of the archive came when the webhost was in college, and was totally stumped when it came to what he wanted to name his band. So he grabbed a piece of paper, scrawled "NAME MY BAND!" at the top, and stuck it to the outside of the door to his dorm room, with a pen attached. He ended up having to add more pieces of paper, and loved some of the other names so much he started a more widely-available database.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on March 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

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