Why RSS, Anyway?

The New York Times had an article on Saturday — College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age — that got me thinking. The article describes how the University of Texas at Houston is converting its undergraduate library into an “electronic information commons.” (The books — about 70,000 of them — are being moved to other campus libraries where they will still be accessible to all.) As described in the article,

Their new version is to include “software suites” – modules with computers where students can work collaboratively at all hours – an expanded center for writing instruction, and a center for computer training, technical assistance and repair.

This reflects the changing ways that people, especially today’s teens and twentysomethings, approach scholarship.
Now, if physical libraries are being redesigned to provide space and facilities for digital learning and scholarship, then the library itself should make take advantage of the same technologies our patrons use. Give people what they want before they know they want it — or at a minimum, provide them with a suite of tools to make their quest for answers easier. Send them notices when books similar to items they’ve previously checked out are available. Let them save a catalog query as an RSS feed so they’ll know when new materials are available. Provide one-stop metasearch capabilities of all the databases the library offers. We are, after all, in the service industry — we provide people with the information they need to do whatever it is they do.

2 thoughts on “Why RSS, Anyway?”

  1. I’m all for robust and meaningful one-stop metasearching capability, but I hope you’re not suggesting we get rid of the books to make way for more technology. That’s not the answer.

  2. Not in the least! Books are the core of the library and will be for a long, long time to come. The University of Texas–Houston libraries are not getting rid of the books, either, although they are moving them from the undergraduate library to other facilities.
    I am suggesting the libraries must continue to be responsive to their patrons — in providing both the kinds of resources and the means of accessing those resources they want. I also believe that, to the extent possible, libraries should “compete” with the major technology/information services (Google, Amazon, etc.) by offering analogous services in analogous ways.

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