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 dont 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, its 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 Id 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 doesnt sound particularly appealing.
And the libraries Ive mentioned largely dont 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 cant see what they are without looking inside them, I would definitely be interested.
If libraries, arent, 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 dont 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, whos been subscribing since 2006).
As for reading other blogs using a feed reader, Im 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 Im bored with the work Im doing, or Im 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 theres 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 its 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. Its even more complicated when I start to wonder whether thats really what I actually want to do, or whether Im just looking for an excuse to waste time.