InfoIssues: September 2005 | Mansfield Library | The University of Montana-Missoula

The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

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A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

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To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.


Issue of the Month: September 2005

Blogging and RSS in Libraries

-Jennie Burroughs, Assistant Professor
Government Documents Librarian

Blogs

Blogs have gained a lot of attention in the media over the past few years. Even with the buzz generated over blogs during the 2004 election, a 2005 Pew Internet & Life survey reported that 62% of online Americans aren’t sure what blogs are. However, the use of blogs is growing—50 million American internet users visited blogs in the first quarter of 2005 (about 1 in 6 Americans). Though most commonly associated with political ramblings and personal diaries, blogs are flexible tools that can be used for many purposes, and they are increasingly being used by libraries.

So what are blogs? “Blog” is the shortened version of “weblog.” A weblog “is a web-based publication consisting primarily of periodic articles (normally in reverse chronological order)” (Wikipedia). People can create weblogs with any number of software tools. Some weblog software is web-based, some is downloaded. Some blogs are hosted on free web servers, some are hosted for a fee on internet service provider (ISP) servers, and some are hosted on company or library servers. Blogs are appealing to librarians and other would-be web publishers because they are simple and fast to create and update (type up your content and the software knows where to put it, how to archive it, how to convert it to XML). Blogs are easy to customize, and they are a potentially low-cost enterprise. Blogs are useful tools for providing current, custom information for users of a library (or a particular subset of library users, like an academic department). In addition, blog content is easy to find; there are new search engines (like Technorati and Google Blog Search) devoted to blogs, and blog content is already being indexed at the post or article level by standard search engines.

Libraries are using blogs in many ways and for many reasons. There are library blogs that highlight upcoming events and new resources. Some blogs highlight information from different departments within libraries. Some blogs are designed to alert users to a specific type of information; for instance, at Mansfield Library, there is a blog designed to keep users informed of newly released government information. Some libraries use blogs to facilitate internal communication; similarly, it would possible to use blogs for project management. Overall, the most common use of library blogs is keeping library users informed of new developments and fostering a sense of community.

RSS

“RSS” is another newly developing technology that is gaining more attention. There are variations, but RSS most frequently stands for either “really simple syndication” or “rich site summary” (Wikipedia). Essentially, RSS is a file format in the XML family that is easily read and interpreted by news aggregators (also referred to as feed readers, RSS aggregators, or news readers). A news aggregator is a piece of software that can be used to keep track of updates on blogs and other websites. Aggregator software can save the time of internet users by automatically checking favorite websites or RSS feeds multiple times per day for new content. Instead of going to a website to see if it’s been updated, the aggregator will let you know when new content has been posted, and it will do this because it can read the XML in an RSS feed and recognize when changes have been made.

RSS is commonly associated with blogs because blogging software can automatically generate an RSS feed. However, RSS is very flexible and has other uses. For instance, the University of Montana Law Library uses the RSS feed of the Jurist to create the news ticker on their website. Also, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of Alabama are both experimenting with creating RSS feeds of newly received or cataloged books. What these RSS uses have in common is the ability to update library users quickly about new stories, new books, new events, new content.

With the growing use of blogs and RSS, libraries will be adapting their services to incorporate and take advantage of these new tools. Libraries are already exploring ways to catalog, cite, and evaluate blogs. This is another example of the ways libraries change and grow as new information technologies are developed.

To learn more about blogs and RSS, try these links:

BlogBib: An Annotated Bibliography on Weblogs and Blogging, with a Focus on Library/Librarian Blogs...
http://blog-bib.blogspot.com/

RSS Quickstart Guide
http://channels.lockergnome.com/rss/resources/articles/quickstart.phtml

A Weblog Webliography
http://kairosnews.org/blogbib

weblogs: a history and perspective
http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html

What is RSS?
http://rss.softwaregarden.com/aboutrss.html

To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, Key Constituencies Committee.