Book Club for Kids

I think this is really neat. The Roselle, Illinois, Public Library is publishing a kids-only book review weblog: Blogger Book Club.
Kids in grades 4-6 can sign up to be authors. The Youth Services department has selected a set of books for review (mostly nominees for the 2004 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award). These young bloggers can then post their reviews of any of the books they have read. Registered bloggers can also comment on other blogger’s reviews.
In addition to the rules for bloggers, the library also has a separate page of explanation for parents — a clever move to assuage any doubts parents might have about their children becoming public writers.

Government Documents via RSS

Here’s a quick and easy way to augment your Government Documents collection: FirstGov, the U.S. Government’s web portal, now offers RSS feeds in a range of subjects. Each of these broad topics has a number of entries underneath — and they’re obviously planning for a lot more:

So if you’re interested in Product Safety Recalls (XML) or National Agricultural Statistics Service News (XML) — or lots of other stuff — here’s your place to go.
What a simple way to keep your patrons up to date on whatever part of the bureaucracy is of interest to them…
[Updated 19 May 2005 to correct URLs which I’d butchered by mistake.]

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.

Talis ILS Working on RSS

Talis, makers of an integrated library system (what we’re calling the library catalog these days), are working on building RSS into their product. A brief white paper on their site outlines the uses they see for RSS as a patron communication tool. They are also looking at RSS as a simple way to pass information about, for example, new acquisitions, from the main catalog to local systems. (Via Tate’s Space.)

It’s Not Stealing — It’s Syndicating

There are a number of tools out there that allow you to easily take someone’s RSS feed and plug it in to your web page. The little-known secret is that at least one of them requires no programming knowledge beyond basic HTML and — for the adventurous — a bit of CSS.
Feed2JS, created and maintained by some clever people at the Maricopa Community Colleges, is a free service that takes an RSS feed you specify, wraps it in some CSS, and delivers it through a one-line JavaScript tag in your HTML document. Wait, it’s really not even that complicated.
For an example of how this handy application works, go to my library’s home page. Notice the headlines under the heading “The Ginn Weblog.” Those headlines are drawn dynamically from the Ginn Library’s weblog, the GinnBlog. Whenever we publish something new to the blog, the newest article appears at the top of the list on the library home page, and the oldest one goes away. Automatically. The code to it, provided through a web form at the Feed2JS site where you simply paste in the URL of the RSS feed, is simple:

<script language="JavaScript" src="
ginnblog%2Fmt%2Findex.rdf&num=3&date=n" type="text/javascript">

(I also had to play a little bit with a CSS style sheet to make the headlines fit into the space on the library home page and to match the font, size, and color of type on the page -- but that was just as easy as adding a few elements to my site's style sheet using the directions kindly provided.
Maricopa is feeling the pain of lots of people using this script, downloading reformatted feeds from their site. If you plan to use it heavily, they'd appreciate it if you downloaded and installed the PHP scripts to your own server...
Feed2JS is a very easy way to take advantage of RSS feeds -- news, weather, your library's blog, you name it.
Let me know if you're using this tool on your library's site by leaving a comment with your page's URL.

Minnesota Offers Blogs for All

It’s probably far from a secret, but the University of Minnesota library offers everyone in the University community a weblog of their own. UThink has been around just over a year — they celebrated the service’s first birthday on April 12, 2005 — and has an impressive level of use:

As of [12 April 2005] UThink has 1,231 individual blogs, 2,200 registered blog authors, 17,654 individual entries, and 12,486 comments to those entries…. [Of the registered blogs,] UThink has about 400 active blogs and a blog abadonment [sic] rate of about 65%. Some of you may be stunned by this data, but it shouldn’t be that surprising given that about 66% of blogs are abandoned in the “blogosphere” at large. UThink, it seems, is no exception.

Just think what a powerful communication tool your library could offer your user community. Whether for book discussions, community organizations, “birds-of-a-feather” gatherings among patrons with similar interests…. The possibilities are amazing.

Course Management and RSS

Here’s an idea from Frequently Answered Questions about librarians embedding resources in course management software via RSS. She begins:

Frequently Answered Questions: Embedded librarians

“Embedded librarians
The Iraq war brought us the concept of “embedded journalists”. Now we have the concept of “embedded librarians”. An embedded journalist is supposed to have better access to a story; an embedded librarian provides better access for students to him/herself and to the library’s resources.”

She notes that embedding the whole librarian may be impractical, and suggests, in the alternative:

“It is also possible to embed RSS feeds in a webpage. Using an online bookmarking service, a librarian can create an RSS feed for a collection of resources, including websites, databases, even searches and specific articles within the databases. If the professor keeps the librarian updated on new assignments, new resources could be added regularly. LTA#44-Integrating RSS Feeds into your Course Management System gives a good description of how the technology works.”

RSS and Libraries

I had the pleasure of attending the Syndicate, Aggregate, Communicate: New Web Tools in Real Applications for Libraries, Companies and Regular Folk conference earlier this week. While I was familiar, for the most part, with the technologies that were being discussed, I came away truly impressed with the variety of applications of these technologies that my fellow librarians have already come up with.

So I started looking for resources that described all these neat library-specific applications of RSS. And nothing leaped out at me as that collection point. Which brings us here — to RSS4Lib. I’m not entirely sure what I want this blog to be. Something of a mix between a clearinghouse of novel uses of RSS and a place to brainstorm new ideas.

So who am I? My name is Ken Varnum. I’m a librarian at the Ginn Library at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. I’ve been doing web site design, information architecture, and project management in libraries for 11 years, at the Ginn Library, Ford Motor Company’s research library, and the Open Media Research Institute. I have an abiding interesting in building information systems that give my customers access to the information they need before they have to ask for it. And that is why RSS grabs my interest so strongly.