Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide, Second Edition. By Michael P. Sauers. Information Today, Inc, 2010, paperback ISBN 978-1573873994, 322 pages.
Michael P. Sauers is a trainer in Internet technologies and this book is intended for librarians who have heard of blogging and RSS and want to start using these tools as soon as possible, but who may not have the expertise or confidence in their ability to start by themselves.
The book provides a practical, how-to guide for those librarians thinking about starting a blog, whether for personal interest, professional development or for their institution. It also covers the use of RSS (this can stand for any one of the following: Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) feeds as a tool for keeping up to date with items, news stories or blog posts of interest. It does, of course, also tell you how to get your own blog enabled for others to follow it on RSS. It covers micro-blogging in the form of Twitter, giving an option for people to consider whether this might be more useful for their needs.
Chapter 1 introduces the concepts of 'blogs, bloggers and blogging.' It explains the history of the blog and why it can be a useful tool for librarians. Sauers looks at the differences between blogs written by individuals for their own purposes, subject blogs about particular topics and organisational blogs such as those maintained by libraries for the purposes of providing information to users. He also examines the impact that blogs have had on traditional media and on search engines. This provides a sound background and also serves to help readers decide whether or not a blog would be right for them. The conclusion to the chapter is formed by Sauers answering the question 'Why blog?' It sums up the content of the chapter and provides a good segue into the second chapter which examines a select few examples that are considered, by the author, to be excellent blogs by librarians.
This chapter mostly comprises extracts and screenshots from the selected blogs. The title, author, URL and a brief description precede each excerpt so you can find the full blog yourself online and understand a bit more about why the blog exists and the author's reasons for maintaining a blog. There are lots of examples and they cover the three types of blogs that were identified earlier in the book; personal, subject-related and organisational.
Following on from chapter 2, this chapter covers part 2 of the library blogosphere and looks at the people behind the blogs. The author has contacted the writers of the blogs featured in the previous chapter, either through networking at conferences or via e-mail and asked them a series of questions including 'why do you blog?', 'What do you see as blogging's greatest strength?' and 'What do you see as the greatest problem with blogs?'. The answers are very interesting. They may help people thinking about starting a blog to decide whether it would be right for them and what they might want to write about. However, the main piece of advice that comes from this chapter is that you should only start a blog if you have something to say, not just once, but regularly.
Chapter 4 is a thorough how-to guide for creating a blog. There are step by step instructions for creating an account and a blog on Blogger. Sauers explains his reasons for focusing on Blogger and he does say that many blog providers are very similar. He takes the reader through the different functions available and how best to use them. There are lots of screenshots to illustrate the steps and there are examples to follow to get a feel of how things work.
When introducing the reader to a topic for the first time, Sauers takes the approach of explaining the background to inform the reader why a certain thing is the way it is. In this chapter he starts by covering the history of the development of RSS. I found this useful as I like to know how something has evolved; it also helps the reader to understand why something might not be as intuitive as expected or why it doesn't quite work how you imagine it should. However, if you're not interested in the background and just want to move on and get RSS working, then you can skip this section without serious consequences. This chapter also covers how to find RSS feeds and what to do with them once you have found them. This links neatly into the next chapter on how to set up and use an aggregator to get all your feeds and updates in one place.
Again, this chapter has a thorough how-to guide, this time for setting up a feed aggregator (or reader). The differences between the types of aggregators that can be used are explained and the relative merits of each type are outlined. Using Google Reader as his example, he then takes a step-by-step approach to explaining how to set up an account and how best to get it working for your needs.
It is pointed out at the start of this chapter that there are feeds available for the blogs discussed in the earlier chapters but that they won't be covered again. This chapter covers more resources, beyond blogs, that could have potential use for, or be of interest to, librarians such as news, subject guides, podcasts, online shopping search updates, traffic conditions updates and even cartoons. There are short descriptions of each resource and copious numbers of screenshots to support the text.
This is another liberally illustrated, how-to chapter. Once you have set up your blog and know how to use RSS, and given how useful RSS has proven itself, it's likely that you will want to make sure other people can access your feeds. Sauers does offer options for different ways to create feeds, but the step-by-step guide is for ListGarden, a free Perl program which allows the creation of feeds without having to write any code.
After looking at how to set up your own feeds, the chapter looks at how to get other Web content to feed into your Web site or blog, for example, headlines from a news service. There is another how-to guide looking at a slightly more basic program and then one with more functionality; such as being able to grab content from more than one source, search it and then display the results on your site. This is probably the most technical chapter and is one for people who are feeling confident with what they've learnt so far and want to add more functionality to their sites.
Having covered the long form of blogging, Sauers finishes off by looking at microblogging and Twitter. He does pose and answer his own question 'Why use Twitter?' and if you are interested you can read further. Some people won't be and, in that way, it makes this chapter the perfect way to round off the book. It feels like a natural way to finish, looking to the future and new tools that could be of use in addition to blogs or as a previously unconsidered alternative. He does, of course, do his step-by-step guide to setting up an account on Twitter. He also provides some advice about Twitter etiquette and how to get Twitter to work for you. This includes making sure your profile and biography are complete so that people can discover things about you and determine whether they consider you worth following or not.
This chapter is very impressive as it manages to avoid assuming a certain level of knowledge and covers the aspects of Twitter that can be confusing and off-putting for newcomers to the service such as @mentions, hashtags and retweets. He also addresses some of the less well covered topics on Twitter such as: how to do basic and advanced searches; different Twitter clients; and Twitter-related tools that are available on the Web, and what they can add to the experience.
This is an interesting and thorough book which uses a simple and consistent approach to help the reader with new technologies. It reads like an extended training session (in a good way) and the approach feels friendly, while the author's experience as a trainer really shows. If you want to use the how-to guides it would be best to have the book next to your computer so you can follow the instructions and use his practice examples to gain confidence in navigating the tools he covers.
Blogging and RSS is focused on the blogging environment in the United States of America but that is to be expected as the author is American. However, while it does examine some American blogs and bloggers in detail, it nonetheless provides an excellent, universal guide to the mechanics of blogs (and RSS). This is a very sound introduction to the subject and provides some history and background as well as the practical how-to guides. It manages to be clear without patronising and does illustrate how blogging, RSS and Twitter can be used by librarians to the benefit of their services or for their own professional interest and development. I think this book would be excellent for total beginners as well as for those readers, like me, who have picked up bits here and there but would prefer a little more knowledge and confidence in what they're doing with blogs, RSS and Twitter.