Thing 2 of 23: if you build an RSS feed, will they come?

On the 23 Things course, the second thing we have to do is set up an RSS feed and explore how we might use this. As a librarian, I immediately find lights switching on in my head at this technology. Current awareness! Save the time of the reader! And then reality cuts in, with the perennial question of information overload. How do you give the user what they want to know, but not what they don’t want to know? Switching to my scholarly user persona, I regularly use four different research libraries (and I used even more when I was doing my PhD), so that libraries need to think quite carefully about what they include. With that in mind, it’s interesting to have a quick look at how some research libraries structure their rss feeds:

Library of Congresss – a large number of very specific feeds – including ones for different types of events, for news from particular divisions, as well as a separate one for changes to opening hours and emergency closures.

British Library – one podcast feed and an e-mail sign-up for an events newsletter.

Cambridge University Library – includes a general news feed (nothing separate about hours/closure) and one on the Arcadia project. The one on ‘new’ electronic resources proves not to have been updated since Nov 2008.

Senate House Library – a single feed of news (including events, library closures etc).

All this is both more and less than what I’d actually like to have. I would like a feed of practical information about the library (closures/changes to services etc), and having a separate one for events also makes sense, as do feeds for specific projects. But how much general ‘news’ from any corporate body is things that they want to tell you, as opposed to things that you actually want to know about? A feed full of press releases doesn’t sound particularly appealing.

And the libraries I’ve mentioned largely don’t seem to be doing one of the obvious thing, producing feeds of new books and electronic material. Maybe in some cases the files would just be too big. But if I had the chance to know about new books in the UL at Cambridge without having to stand by a bookcase full of books from which someone has helpfully removed all the dust-jackets, so you can’t see what they are without looking inside them, I would definitely be interested.

If libraries, aren’t, on the whole, using feeds in ways I might find useful, the obvious area where they would be of use is for reading blogs. Indeed this blog itself has a feed, but I don’t know whether anyone is using it. If you are, could you show up in the comments, please, and let me know what you think about using rss? (In contrast, I do know who subscribes to my posts via e-mail, so can I give a shout-out to monkeyluver141, whoever he or she is, who’s been subscribing since 2006).

As for reading other blogs using a feed reader, I’m now playing round with Google Reader and I can see how it could be done relatively easily and it would save me time, and yet…here we get to the subjective bit. I read blogs, even medievalist ones, primarily for fun and stimulation, not for immediate practical benefit. I go to them when I’m bored with the work I’m doing, or I’m in the mood for a particular kind of writing or topic. I am devoted to some blogs for a while and then go off them, not always for entirely coherent reasons. Reading blogs via a feed reader would be efficient, but it would turn blog reading into something more like work and less like play. It would become more about new things I ‘needed’ to read, and lose some of the random browsing side of it. Maybe there’s some kind of halfway house – there are useful blog rolls such as the one at The Ruminate that show you when a blog was last updated, and so whether it’s worth going to check it, without getting too in your face about it. (I want to see if there is a way to add something like that to my blog).

I may well keep on using Google Reader for some specific feeds, such as events. But the reality currently seems a long way away from its vision of easily keeping up to date with all your favourite websites. It’s even more complicated when I start to wonder whether that’s really what I actually want to do, or whether I’m just looking for an excuse to waste time.

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6 thoughts on “Thing 2 of 23: if you build an RSS feed, will they come?

  1. Hi. I read your blog via RSS feeder, and I use Google Reader. I quite like using Google Reader. I don’t think it takes the fun out of catching up on blogs, or make it feel like work. Although there is that part of my brain that feels compelled to eliminate all the ‘unread messages’ in Reader, I will save posts that I suspect will be particularly entertaining or too long to read when I’m glancing at the ‘inbox’.

    One of the other RSS feeds I subscribe to is the Brotherton Blog (http://brothertonblog.blogspot.com/), the blog for the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds where I am pursuing a PhD in medieval studies. Unlike the library blogs you mentioned in your post, the Brotherton does post information about new books, which is the main reason I subscribe. More specifically, they will post a link to a page listing new books. I find this very useful, especially since they eliminated the new book shelf in the library.

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  2. I really like using bloglines to read blog and rss feeds as it lists each feed separately and tells you the number of new posts in each feed. This for me accentuates the newness element whilst allowing me to read everything from one page; it’s like having lots of little pockets of new information but all from one source!

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  3. Thanks for the comments – I think I’m starting to see how I might be able to use feeds constructively, particularly for sites that don’t update very often. The Senate House library feed includes a Book of the Month feature from their special collection and that would be enjoyable to have regularly (though maybe it would be better in a separate feed of its own?)

    I don’t know why some academic libraries have New Book feeds and some don’t – it would seem an obvious service to include.

    As for using Google Reader, I do find it daunting when I’m told I have 198 new items from the 23 things blogs. Part of me wants to reach for the delete key at that point, but I don’t think there is actually one, is there? That takes a bit of getting used to.

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  4. Part of me wants to reach for the delete key at that point, but I don’t think there is actually one, is there?

    Click ‘Mark all as read’ — they disappear (because it’s showing you the new, unread stuff) but remain searchable.

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  5. It is possible for Cambridge University libraries (including Colleges) to have RSS accession feeds. The libraries@cambridge team set this up as a scheduled query, which libraries can sign up to. There’s a fairly long list of libraries that already use this feature, but perhaps others don’t know about it?

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