Book Review: Blogging and RSS - A Librarian's Guide
Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide. By Michael P. Sauers, Information Today, 2006, 272 pages, paperback ISBN 978 1 57387 268 3
At the time of review, Amazon UK had over fifty different titles for sale on weblogs and RSS feeds. How do you choose which to read? When faced with a new technology or service, it's useful to have instruction designed specifically with you in mind as the reader and learner. In 'Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide', Michael Sauers does exactly that and pitches directly to a specific audience. Those interested in this book will presumably be librarians and information professionals and will probably already have an idea of what a blog is, and some knowledge of RSS feeds. Starting with introduction of each topic, Sauers outlines the mechanics involved and moves on to the practical 'nitty-gritty' of setting up your own blog or RSS feed.
Interestingly, Sauers has chosen a format that represents the character of social technologies in general - an engaging, informal tone and an understated approach to the technical operations behind these services. There are lots of examples provided, allowing the reader to observe different approaches. This is supported by interviews with well-known library bloggers, although originality points are lost here as anyone who's read Rebecca Blood's 'We've got Blog'  back in 2002 will recognise this interview technique for sharing experiences. It has to be said that there is the risk this text will date quickly as Web sites and their content change, and indeed the technology reported here will change, perhaps giving this book a short shelf-life.
The book has been neatly divided into two halves, with the first four chapters focusing on blogging and blog development. The introduction gives a very brief description of a weblog, and goes on to provide anecdotal evidence on the effects blogs are having on the distribution of information in the traditional media and in libraries.
The next section concentrates on introducing the reader to the 'Library Blogosphere'. Part One provides numerous examples of blogs from individual librarians, and blogs from libraries. Each example includes the title of the blog, the author, Web site address and a snippet from one of their blog posts with corresponding screen shot. While the screen shots are a nice idea, they do lose quite a lot in translation from screen to black and white small print.
Part Two offers a series of interviews with librarian bloggers, exploring their experiences and their recommendations for those new to blogs (frequently 'don't blog unless you've got something to say!). While the bloggers interviewed represent a range of library sectors, they are predominately North American which presumably reflects the geography of early blog adopters.
The next chapter moves along to the mechanics of blog creation. There is a brief section about Web, server or client software-based blogs, but for the most part Sauers uses Blogger  as the foundation stone for describing how to create a blog and becoming familiar with the blog landscape. There is quite a lot of detail here from the basic to advanced set-up options for Blogger, some of which has changed already as Blogger has moved onto a new version but as Sauers notes, the help files on Blogger will be more up-to-date than the instructions supplied in this book. That said, the information here is detailed, with numerous screenshots supplied at each step. This then segues nicely into the idea of keeping up with Web sites which update regularly, and content syndication with RSS.
The second half of this book delves into RSS feeds. This is possibly the most useful section as Sauers provides a comprehensive introduction to RSS (useful as RSS feeds are notoriously counter-intuitive), followed by a chapter on aggregators and then noteworthy feeds. The introduction to RSS defines the file format and gives a short history of its development (with an invitation to the reader to skip this section as it is admittedly complicated and esoteric). This is followed by a useful breakdown of the components of an RSS feed file (with fuller examples in the Appendices) and an outline of feed types such as on-screen and behind-the-scene feeds, again illustrated with screenshot examples.
Once feeds have been described and identified on a Web site, Sauers then moves on to deciphering content contained in an RSS file with the use of an aggregator. This chapter again uses examples to illustrate the concept and again has very heavy use of screenshots. Sauers continues to lay the foundations of subscribing to feeds through use of the popular Bloglines  Web site as an example of the basic components of aggregators. This is really a very comprehensive introduction to many of the Bloglines features, including adding feeds, importing and exporting feeds, finding new feeds from blogrolls, managing your Bloglines account, and so on. This section concludes with an overview of podcasting and RSS, and the use of iTunes to subscribe to audio files.
Again using the technique of learning by example, the next section contains 'noteworthy feeds' of interest to library professionals. This really does demonstrate the potential RSS represents, from announcements on new materials from libraries, newspaper feeds, journal table of contents alerts to LibraryElf's  due date reminders for loaned items.
The final section deals with possibly the most technical topic: that of creating feeds. This covers 'hand rolling', or writing an RSS file by hand, to semi-automated services that add the relevant code and may publish a feed to a server but still require the content to be created. The final section covers fully automated RSS generation, using functions built-in to services like Blogger. This section is wrapped up with a brief look at placing outside RSS content on your own Web site using services like Feed Digest , with a caution on potential fair-use issues and clarifying the content creator.
In his Afterword, Sauers emphasises that putting into action what has been learned from this book is the next step, and encourages his readers to go out and 'tell their story'. Those who would welcome a little more background before delving into the world of blogs and RSS are provided with an extensive list of recommended reading. All in all, this title does what it says on the tin - it offers an introduction to blogs and RSS using plenty of examples for inspiration - but read it soon, before the technology moves on.
- Blood, R. We've got Blog: How weblogs are changing our culture. New York: Perseus Books, 2002.
- Blogger http://www.blogger.com
- Bloglines http://www.bloglines.com
- LibraryElf http://www.libraryelf.com
- Feed Digest http://www.feeddigest.com