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Saturday, February 19, 2011

RSS and the Possibilities

Recently, I had the chance to briefly talk to the Director of Library Systems at WSU Libraries, where I work, about how WSU Libraries use RSS feeds.  We were both sitting in the same supervisory training session and he was able to show me on his smart phone.  Not surprisingly, I had been using RSS feeds every time I loaded the library’s web page or used its vast collection of Libguides and had not realized it.  The director mentioned that his department also used RSS within the Washington Digital Archives of the Washington State Library system for monitoring the archive’s most recent additions and other system updates.  We did not get to discuss the topic much more, since our training was starting soon, however it did manage to pique my interests more than they already were.

I took a closer look at the Washington Digital Archives Web site also noticed that the site offers an RSS feed to its site visitors for the latest news regarding the archives.  But that was all that was available for users.  It was still great to see how that site used it.

All this, along with the materials I read for class this week, made me think about how I did not realize I had been consuming information via RSS for a while now.  The push and pull nature of RSS has a passive nature to it, when considering it as information being consumed on a library’s portal or homepage.  Users are not necessarily aware they are using it or aware of its presence.  That is one of the most appealing aspects of the technology, users do not need to have an awareness or a high degree of technical know-how in order to use it to consume the information it provides.

This is mostly true for those information creators as well who want to use RSS as a way to update their users quickly and with the least amount of hassle.  For instance, free RSS softwareis available for bloggers and webmasters alike that generates the javascript code needed for embedding in a webpage to provide the content from another page.  One site is rss-to-javascript.

I feel like m eyes have been opened even wider than before, because of the seemingly infinite ways RSS can be use, and not just for libraries.  One of the articles I read this week for this blog post was “35 Ways you can use RSS,” by Steve Rubel, which was written in 2006, so I’m sure there are even more ways RSS has been implemented since then.  Some noteworthy uses mentioned in his list were “get the tides for virtually any coast in the world,” “identify key blog phrases or themes”, and “track the latest uses of RSS.”  

I had used RSS before and was aware of how to subscribe to blogs and other Web sites using an aggregator, but I was not aware of the multitude of other ways to use this technology for libraries or otherwise.  I learned that not only can RSS be used by librarians to keep their patrons up to date on new materials at the library, but it can also be used by library patrons to stay on top of changes to library database subscriptions (via Libguides or otherwise), to gather content and information from other Web sites for library patrons to consume, and it can be used to alert patrons of changes to their library account (overdue books and fines) or that third parties provide ‘hack’ RSS software for library patrons to gain access to their library accounts at libraries that do not already provide the software, such as LibraryElf.

I’m sure there is much more out there for me to learn about RSS and how it can be effectively used by libraries.  The different ways RSS can be used seem to be endless, there are many possibilities.  My own awareness has been heightened by what I’ve learned this week and I am excited to learn more.
For anyone still not sure about how RSS works, I found a short video on (3:45) explaining how to use the great technology.


  1. I think you bring up an excellent point about how the passivity of RSS feeds can really benefit both the information provider and the information user. The user wants updates and the provider wants to send them, but having the conduit to do so like an RSS script makes it that much easier for everyone to send and receive the information they want. I think this ease to it also makes it that much more appealing and approachable for public libraries to utilize RSS feeds and be in constant contact with their patrons or users.

  2. You make a great observation, M.Clark. RSS is a fantastic way to keep your library patrons informed in a timely manner of the current events and issues of your library.

  3. Love the video! Didn't we watch something like it for LIBR 203, or am I misremembering?

  4. Glad you like it. The format and presentation style is similar to a video I watched for LIBR 240 last semester. I very well could have been part of LIBR 203. :)

  5. Great video, it’s very informative! I agree that the possibilities of using RSS seems endless. It’s a great mechanism for filtering and disseminating information. I had been introduced to RSS prior to this course, but never fully realized its potential use in libraries. One great blog (The Moxie Librarian) that really opened my eyes to the potential use of RSS in libraries is Cheryl Wolfe's 10 Ways Libraries Can Use RSS. While RSS seems to be a very useful tool, I think that some libraries are going to have a difficult time marketing this tool to patrons. Libraries are going to have to convince patrons that the information available through the RSS feed is worthy of subscribing to, which may take some convincing. I know as a patron I would not feel the need to subscribe to a library’s RSS if the only information I received was of a mundane nature.