RSS is the biggest opportunity we have had since the Web.
Iâ€™m not kidding youâ€”itâ€™s that big, and if you donâ€™t understand it, you need
to. Itâ€™s critical that libraries understand RSS.â€”Jenny Levine, from the Chicago Public Libraryâ€™s 2005 Scholars in Residence Conference
"Really Simple Syndication"â€”That's what "RSS" stands for, says librarian Jenny Levine, whom most of you know as the library tech guru/information maven, "The Shifted Librarian." In her day job as a technology trainer at the Burr Ridge, IL-based Metropolitan Library System, Jenny helps libraries across the Chicago area integrate technology into library services. In her view, RSS could be the brass ring for librariesâ€”if libraries decide to go for it.
"Your library needs to provide RSS. This is critical; 2005 has been the Year of RSS, and itâ€™s going to explode even bigger next year," Jenny explains. "Even if you think your users donâ€™t use RSS, they are going toâ€”this is coming. There's an enterprise product based on Exchange Server, which is integrating RSS feeds into Outlook. All of the business users out there are going to get all of their internal data this way. So you have a choiceâ€”you can ignore it, OR you can start preparing your users for it. Because this is going to be a skill they are going to need."
The Public Library and RSS
Last week, Jenny Levine, along with Stephen Abram and Michael Stephens (this year's honored CPL Scholars in Residence), provided members of the Chicago Public Library staff with a day-long look at "Libraries Fit for the Future." During the November 9th conference, Abram, Levine, and Stephens each identified ways for today's public libraries to become "fit for the future"â€”to be the community place of choice, both physical and virtual, for users seeking out information.
Jenny covered wikisâ€”like the Library Success Best Practices wiki, created by rookie librarian, blogger, and soon-to-be published book author, Meredith Farkasâ€”Podcasting, non-library social online tools, i.e., del.icio.us and Flickr, but she really tried to hammer home the importance of RSS and blogging (in which RSS is inherent) and their value for libraries.
According to Jenny, "The best thing you can do is to start a blog; that immediately gets you an RSS feed. The best place to start this is in your â€˜Whatâ€™s Newâ€™ section, and if you don't have a 'What's New' section, you need to create one."
Jenny notes blogs can provide a few key functions for libraries. "They help you tell your story [display expertise and provide a conduit for developing information literacy skills], and they can help you manage whatâ€™s going on in your institution [efficiency]," she says.
In her presentation, Jenny plied the audience (which also included librarians from other systems in the region) with several "success stories"â€”libraries from across the country that have implemented the collaborative and social functionalities of tools utilized in the Web 2.0 worldâ€”like that of the library she refers to as the "Mecca of Blogging," the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan.
"That library went through the same thing youâ€™re going through," she explained to the CPL staff members. "AADL migrated to a new ILS at the same time as launching a new Web site."
Jenny then pointed out how the entire AADL Web site is blogging based and explained how AADL included the OPAC trick (as Stephen Abram dubbed it during his CPL presentation). "The library actually integrated the catalog and the Web site together, and the PIN number to log into a patron account is how a patron logs in to the Web site. Itâ€™s very closely tied together."
Setting up a blog isn't hard, and with free tools like Blogger, it's a cost-conscious marketing tool that funding-strapped libraries certainly can appreciate.
"And hereâ€™s what you get..." Then Jenny went on to explain how AADL's inaugural post, from its director, Josie (who, Jenny noted, did not include an "MLS" behind her name, did not include her last name, and didn't even capitalize the "J" in "Josie"), set the tone for the library's current and future patron/staff interaction. "That's how informal sheâ€™s being with her community," she added. "[You get] nineteen comments [on this one post]â€”because the community
can talk back on the Web site."
Jenny also conveyed how, after the launch of AADL's online catalog, the library garnered 72 commentsâ€”all in order to help the library staff de-bug the newly implemented OPAC. "Soâ€”instead of people walking up to the desk going, 'Why isnâ€™t this working?'; 'I hate this'; 'Why did you do this?'; or 'This is such a waste'â€”people are actually leaving constructive comments there," she explained. "The entire conversation is out there for everybody to see. There is nothing to hide on this Web site."
On the Cutting-Edge
Among the other library blogging/RSS stories Jenny highlighted (which are included in her CPL presentation here in PDF) were the:
Why This Stuff Matters to Libraries
If, after the stories of the early-adopter libraries (and there were more), you're still not convinced that RSS (and other Web 2.0 tools) can help libraries, Jenny suggests you read a recent piece that appeared in MIT's Technology Review. "Social Machines: Computing Means Connecting," by Wade Roush, provides a substantiative overview of how "continuous computing" (although some commenting on the article shun the term "computing"), via the burgeoning market of increasingly powerful mobile devices, "...enables people to both pull information about virtually anything from anywhere, at any time, and push their own ideas and personalities back onto the Internetâ€”without ever having to sit down at a desktop computer."
As information junkies, purveyors of information literacy skills, and librarians," Jenny told the CPL Scholars' audience, "every one of you should be [blogging]. Itâ€™s fantastic for [us]."
Roush's article also touches on the semblance of the "customized" electronic newspaper (a concept I remember being discussed frequently in my communications technology class as a telecommunications/journalism grad student in the early 1990s), which are now realities for those using aggregators like Bloglines (in which you can "Create a personal Bloglines page loaded with the freshest news about the things you love.") and news readers like MyYahoo!.
More information about the benefits of RSS and blogging for libraries can be found in the Biblioblogosphere, and recommended reading (from someone who has read it, or who, at least, has heard good things about it) in book form is Ben Hammersley's Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom.
CPL Scholars, Part 3, covering Michael Stephens's innovative vision for the fit libraries of the future, coming soon...