Using RSS in the Library

On those occasions when I have introduced RSS feeds to my faculty members or clinicians, I’ve often encountered resistance to the possibility of their usefulness. The strongest objection I hear is related to the idea that this is merely one more thing they’ll be obliged to read or check or maintain on some level and they simply do not have the time to do so. I find this a legitimate sentiment as I often believe very much the same thought. Do I really need to pile any more (too often trivial) information into my already overloaded brain? Do I really want to take the time out of my day to do such? Too often, the answer is no.

Trying to keep an open and creative mind, though, I’ve been thinking about how this tool might be better used to meet an information need of a patron without adding the dreaded extra time and effort. A familiar theme is reappearing in many of my thoughts along these lines and that is the idea of recapturing what librarians once held quite dear, i.e. mediated services. With the novelty of self-serve library resources possibly wearing off, is there not some way for those of us in the profession to reinsert ourselves into a place we once inhabited? The reasoning now is different, of course. People can access databases freely, perform searches for themselves, and retrieve their desired resource(s) without ever needing the help of a librarian. However, an interesting trend I’ve been noticing is that the more SOME patrons realize the power of the tools we use, the more they realize they don’t really want to deal with them. The basics are fine, but they seem in some cases to be saying, “Could you do it for me?”. Perhaps we can.

There is, of course, that age-old philosophical debate in library theory that revolves around whether or not we should give someone a fish or teach them to fish (or something like this). Yet I’m not proposing taking over some aspect of library service because I believe a patron is incapable of doing it. Instead, I’m suggesting that we perform some services for a patron as a way of making their work easier. Providing such support for researchers and faculty and clinicians is warranted. Librarians are service providers and mediating the information needs of our clientele is indeed a service we can re-take on.

To relate this idea back to RSS feeds, perhaps the idea is to discover with a patron how the information obtained from using this technology might be beneficial to them and then to mediate the process for them. Maybe I set up the search myself, along with an accompanying RSS feed, and then I vet the information for them, reviewing new abstracts or TOCs and passing along the relevant bits to my patron. This saves them the time of doing such on their own, it offers a contact point between me and my patron, and it provides them a true experience of personalized service – not just some website’s idea of personalization –  from their library, thus adding value to our institution and our role.

It’s “extra” work for me, but hey… isn’t this what librarians used to do on a regular basis? Perhaps we’d do well to take it up again.

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