“RSS gets you found in places you normally wouldn’t be found.”
—Jenny Levine, Conversation, Community, Connection, and Collaboration: Practical New Technologies for User-Centered Services Roadshow
- Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0)
- Rich Site Summary (RSS 0.91, RSS 1.0)
- RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summary (RSS 0.9 and 1.0)
- Real-Time Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0)
In plain English: RSS lets you create content in one place and display it in other places, such as in RSS aggregators (also called “readers”), which pull in various subscribed feeds to let you read them in one place. It is the back-end of XML-encoded content—from a blog or other source—that sits on the server behind your Web presence; therefore, the easiest way to think of RSS is as the first abbreviation listed above—Really Simple Syndication. Whenever the source gets updated (whether it’s a blog post, your calendar of events database, or a more static HTML page), the RSS feed gets updated and any aggregator subscribed to that feed is notified there is new content available.
“RSS File Format,” Wikipedia Definition, June 2006 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_(protocol)
Scripting News http://scripting.com
“Automated Web Surfing,” by Dave Winer www.reallysimplesyndication.com/2005/09/11
My favorite definition, and one that’s useful for teaching RSS to folks who have no experience with it, is from Dave Winer, one of the pioneers of RSS technology and a blog author atScripting News: “When people ask me what RSS is, I say it’s automated web surfing. We took something lots of people do, visiting sites looking for new stuff, and automated it. It’s a very predictable thing, that’s what computers do—automate repetitive things.”2
Libraries should provide RSS feeds for three simple reasons that we’ll explore in this chapter:
- So anyone (including you) can slice and dice your content in multiple places!
- So your audience can subscribe to your feeds with an aggregator!
- So your staff can subscribe to your feeds and other resources!
- Display other feeds on your library’s site, such as a news feed for top headlines;
- Syndicate your existing resources; for example, provide feeds of new materials added to your catalog and other library content; and
- Let patrons slice and dice library content!
What type of content could a library push out, via feeds, from its Web site, making it available for users to subscribe to through an aggregator or for inclusion on other Web sites? Here are few suggestions:
- new book lists
- readers’ advisory recommendations
- resources for researching current events
- assignment alerts
- new resources and databases
And the easiest way to do it is to start a blog!
- Feedster, www.feedster.com
- PubSub, www.pubsub.com
- BlogPulse, www.blogpulse.com
- Technorati, www.technorati.com
RSS Feed Aggregators
Google Reader www.google.com/reader
“Library Blogs on BlogBridge,” by Jenny Levine www.blogbridge.com/archives/2005/12/jenny_levine_jo.php
“The State of Online Feed Readers,” by Frank Gruber www.techcrunch.com/2006/03/30/the-state-of-online-feed-readers
In addition, the new RSS search engines offer much more current results, because they can index your content whenever your RSS feed is updated (as opposed to Google’s less frequent indexing of your HTML pages).
As Karen G. Schneider noted in her Free Range Librarian Blog “Lists Versus Blogs: Wait and See” post, “Donning my Librarian Internet Index hat, we had a remarkable education when we added RSS feeds. Now people find us through the blog-finding agents. Librarians, including me, suck at marketing, but by adding RSS feeds, we stumbled onto a way for the audience to find us, instead of the glacially slow process of dissemination through our existing readership.”3 In other words, it is good to be found in as many places as possible, especially those places that index the most current content.
In “Taking Advantage of Web and Library 2.0” on his blog (Blyberg.net), John Blyberg, network administrator and lead developer at the Ann Arbor District Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote:
You might as well face the fact that if you develop something that generates content, RSS or Atom feeds will need to follow. Libraries and RSS make very good bedfellows as the endless discussion about it shows. Judicious use of feeds is the key. Having a prefabricated routine for generating these feeds is a very good idea, especially if you plan to create a lot of them.
There are a number of determinations you need to make when creating a library feed. Of course, there may be other questions you want to ask. I’m pointing these out because you’ll need to think about some of this as you develop these services.
- Determining what should go in the feed. What content is suitable for syndication?
- How should the feed be formatted? What should the feed content look like? Often times you’ll want feed data to be presented differently from the way it is on the Web.
- How often should the feed be updated? Will the feed update nightly, hourly, or as content is generated? If a lot of content is generated on a regular basis, you might want to consider digesting it so you don’t annoy subscribers.
- Will feed items update? Will pre-syndicated items update or will an update spawn another RSS story?4
How to Display Feeds on Your Library’s Site
When you want to parse RSS on your library’s server, look at: Blogfeed—www.kalsey.com/tools/blogfeed/default.htmLastRSS.php—http://lastrss.webdot.czMagpie—http://magpierss.sf.netRSS Feed Magic—http://dev.izibox.isa-geek.org/RSSFeedMagicFeed on Feeds—http://feedonfeeds.comRSSMix—www.rssmix.com (combines multiple feeds into one)
On our Roadshow tours, Jenny Levine provides a handout to audience members, which includes the following RSS feed-display instruction:
The first method is the easiest, especially for those libraries that don’t have their own server or techie to install and configure software. Just plug the URL for an RSS feed into the site’s form, and it will generate the necessary code to display headlines from the feed. All you have to do is copy that code and paste it into your own HTML page. Once live on the web, headlines from the RSS feed will appear on your page and will magically update every time the original site adds new content!
The second method is the safer of the two and is more efficient, but the tradeoff will be the need for staff time and resources. It will require someone install the software (Magpie, for example, is one of the most popular), configure it, and embed the code in your HTML pages.
However, no matter which method you use, displaying external feeds on your site can make it more dynamic and interesting. Or, you can just display your own content from one section of your site on another section, taking advantage of the opportunity to reuse information you’re already creating or posting.5
When I talk to my staff I describe RSS as simply another method for publishing information about the library. I think the primary benefit for patrons is that RSS allows them to receive library information in the way that best suits them. RSS is Ranganathan’s Fourth Law in action: “Save the time of the reader.” Perhaps the top benefit for the library is that patrons are receiving information about library services that they might otherwise be too busy to get on their own if they must to go the library website to get it.
Glenn Peterson, Hennepin County Library, Hennepin County, Minnesota
Librarian Steven Bell discovered the benefits of feeding library Weblog content into courseware via RSS:
One benefit for libraries blogging to courseware is seizing a leadership role for the library in creating awareness about and education in the rapidly evolving technologies of blogging, news aggregation, social networking, and search personalization. In my own academic community, blogging to courseware has produced the added benefit of sparking faculty interest in RSS technology. Several faculty members expressed an interest in understanding how blogs, RSS, and news aggregators can help students learn about their disciplines. For example, a science professor wanted to feed postings from a blog about the everyday, practical applications of scientific principles into his chemistry course, finding it an excellent way to help students make connections between course content and the world beyond the classroom.6
Jay Bhatt from Drexel University is taking it further; he is aggregating topical RSS feeds from authentic sources (such as Tables of Contents from Ingenta’s serials) into specific courses. This becomes a very powerful way to embed library resources where the students already are, pulling together relevant information from the library’s catalog, databases, and external, librarian-endorsed sites. To top it off, Bhatt is also using RSS aggregators to teach students how to evaluate and filter their information flow. In other words, he’s teaching information literacy through the use of Bloglines! And it’s working. According to Bhatt, “My consultations with students most of the times result in students creating Bloglines account and adding feeds.”
- Your library staff will need to decide if the library is going to display another entity’s/institution’s RSS feed(s) or generate RSS feeds internally. It may be easier to start with simply displaying feeds on your library’s site. Adding a blog automatically gives your library a feed.
- Look for places RSS can save you lots of valuable time. Does an individual on your library’s staff type up new arrivals to the library collection weekly, and then create Web pages or e-mail that content? Find ways to automate this with RSS (a blog announcing new material in the library collection is the easiest) and save hours of staff time yearly.
- Determine if your library would like to build an RSS-fed portal or offer a list of starter feeds for your users. There are many ways libraries can facilitate RSS for our users, many of which draw upon our traditional roles and skills as a profession. For example, librarians have always engaged in collection development, and we can fill a need for our patrons in this area with RSS. We are trained to find and evaluate authoritative and useful information for our users, so what if we find authoritative and useful RSS feeds for them? For those users that want to learn about aggregators or who like to do things for themselves, we can help them find relevant feeds and subscribe to them. Science librarians can recommend science feeds for their local communities (as Emily Alling has done at the University of Massachusetts, http://people.umass.edu/ealling/feeds.html), while public librarians can localize content and recommend feeds of interest to the local community. School and academic librarians can recommend lists of feeds for class projects or entire departments. And special librarians can customize recommendations for their industries or organizations. It is really just an extension of the traditional role of trusted guide that we have always played for our patrons.
Thanks to many of the new tools we’re discussing, librarians also have the chance to easily create portals of information so that users don’t have the time or desire to learn about all of this. Thanks to syndication and sites such as SuprGlu (www.suprglu.com), libraries can build a one-stop site of aggregated feeds for free and simply point users to it.
SuprGlu: Piecing Your Web Together www.suprglu.com
Community Portal: La Grange Park Public Library http://shiftedlibrarian.suprglu.com
For example, Jenny Levine built an example community portal for the La Grange Park Public Library in Illinois (http://shiftedlibrarian.suprglu.com); it displays, on one Web page, headlines from the library’s blog, pictures from the library’s Flickr account, bookmarks from the library’s del.icio.us account, upcoming events from the library’s calendar, localized news from Topix.net (http://topix.net), and headlines from the local newspaper. Because it is all built on RSS feeds, the site runs itself automatically, always updating whenever new content is added to any of the sources. It cost nothing to set this up, other than an hour of time to create the SuprGlu account, find the RSS feeds, enter them into SuprGlu, and choose a template. Now the Library can link to this site as a community portal for local information without ever forcing users to learn about RSS, XML, or aggregators.
- Train staff and users! The most important thing you can do for your staff—for all staff members—is to show them how to aggregate RSS feeds. That training opens up a valuable, timesaving tool for them. The same goes for library users. Turn them onto the ease of RSS, tout your own feeds in classes, and continue to promote your feeds every chance you get.
It allows us to get new stuff out to subscribers. Patrons wouldn’t necessarily continuously revisit a page on our Web site (say, a “new mystery novel” page)—they’re much too busy doing other things. But they will subscribe to an RSS feed for our mystery page. That allows us to push out our new materials to them. We can push out not only new books/materials, but also any related events, too.
It’s another way to attract patrons to our library and introduce them to our services. Once subscribed via RSS, we in essence have a “hook” in them—and can send them whatever we want to. Honestly, I’d also have to say our RSS feeds have brought our library and our website some national attention, too—since we were an early adopter of RSS feeds.7
The average American Internet user is not sure what podcasting is, what an RSS feed does, or what the term “phishing” means …
Pew Internet & American Life Project, Public Awareness of Internet Terms, www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/161/report_display.asp
- RSS is a great way to push out a variety of content to our patrons
- Patrons will find our feeds and subscribe to them, even if we don’t advertise them
- For them to be heavily used, we need to advertise them—inside and outside of the library (we have not done any of this, unfortunately).
- Staff members need to be educated about RSS feeds—what they are and what they do. If they don’t understand the functionality and purpose, they won’t tell patrons about them.
- Administration needs to understand the purpose and functionality, too—if they do, then they’ll start a top-down push for staff to understand them and to push them out to patrons. If they don’t understand them, the feeds will go stagnant (unless a staff member takes ownership of it).8
Librarians’ Internet Index, “What’s RSS?” http://lii.org/pub/htdocs/understandingrss.htm
Kansas City Public Library, Computer Guide, “Subscribe to Our Subject Guides” www.kclibrary.org/guides/computers/index.cfm?article=read&articleID=109
Be sure to market your feeds to others in your local community! Public libraries can talk to local government entities, the park district, schools, sports clubs, and other bodies about displaying library content on their Web sites. School and academic libraries can market feeds to specific departments, class projects, and throughout the institutional portal/Web site. Special libraries can offer a wealth of feeds targeted at their various audiences, such as medical news for hospital libraries, industry news for corporate libraries, legal news for law libraries. The possibilities are endless, and it gives you the chance to recommend appropriate feeds, teach information literacy, or even just show some leadership in the area of technology!
Danny Sullivan, “Making an RSS Feed,” SearchEngineWatch (April 3, 2003), http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/article.php/2175271 (accessed June 5, 2006).
Roland Tanglao, “Remixing RSS: Past, Present, and Future,” Idea Alliance (2005), www.idealliance.org/proceedings/xml05/ship/152/rssRemixing.html (accessed June 5, 2006).
Roy Tennant, “Feed Your Head: Keeping Up by Using RSS,” Library Journal 128, no. 9 (2003): 30, www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA296443.html (accessed June 5, 2006).
|1.||“RSS File Format,” Wikipedia Entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_(protocol) (accessed June 5, 2006).|
|2.||Dave Winer, “Automated Web Surfing,” Really Simple Syndication: Scripting News Inc. (September 11, 2005), http://www.reallysimplesyndication.com/2005/09/11 (accessed June 5, 2006).|
|3.||Karen G. Schneider, “Lists Versus Blogs: Wait and See,” Free Range Librarian Blog (January 29, 2005), http://freerangelibrarian.com/2005/01/lists_versus_blogs_wait_and_se.php (accessed June 5, 2006).|
|4.||John Blyberg, “Taking Advantage of Web and Library 2.0,” Blyberg.net (February 9, 2006), www.blyberg.net/2006/02/09/taking-advantage-of-web-and-library-20 (accessed June 5, 2006).|
|5.||Jenny Levine, “Conversation, Community, Connection, and Collaboration: Practical New Technologies for User-Centered Services Road Show,” (2006). (More infor-mation at: www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/02/on-the-road-with-jenny-and-michael.html, accessed June 5, 2006).|
|6.||Steven Bell, “Where the Readers Are,” Library Journal (October 15, 2005), http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6269278.html (accessed June 5, 2006).|
|7.||Information provided from e-mail correspondence with David Lee King, June 4, 2006.|