Thing 4: RSS

This week we’re looking at RSS. When you started this project, you each set up a learning journal to share your reflections during the program. And you’re all doing an amazing job of connecting with other folks in the program by reading their learning journals. But with over 30 people participating, it would be really hard to visit everyone’s learning journal every week to see what’s new. During this lesson, we’re going to learn how to use the magic of RSS to keep up with these learning journals, news sites, blogs and other sites that interest you by PULLING information to you with a feed reader. And we’ll also look at how RSS can help your PUSH information out to your community.


Keeping up with information on the Web is a challenge, sometimes an overwhelming one. Back in the early days of the Web, we could check out one or two “site of the day” services and feel like we were keeping up. Not any more! Keeping up with even a single topic now requires lots of searching and sifting through content.

If you read more than just a few blogs and visit news sites frequently, you might find you’re spending a lot time going back to each site to see if there’s anything new. If a blogger hasn’t posted anything in a week or two or there isn’t any breaking news on your favorite web site, then you’re spending a lot of time for no return.

RSS feed readers and personal home pages can save you lots of time by doing the time consuming & tedious work of checking all your favorite blogs and news sites for you. When you visit your feed reader or personal home page, you’ll see nicely organized list of anything that’s new on all the blogs and news sites you follow. Handy way to save tons of time! To see how it works, check out this quick video.

So, What’s RSS?

RSS is short for “Really Simple Syndication”, which sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way for delivering regularly updated information over the Web. It’s very much like subscribing to a print magazine or newspaper that gets delivered to your mailbox or front door whenever a new issue is published. This saves you the hassle of having to go to your local newstand everyday to check for the latest issues. Similarly, you can subscribe to the RSS feed of your favorite blogs and news sites and get the latest information from those sites delivered to you, rather than having to check the sites over and over for updates.

What kinds of sites have RSS?

Look for sites that are have frequent updates, they’re the most likely to have an RSS feed. These are some of the types of sites that have RSS feeds:

  • Blogs come with RSS built right in. So if it’s a blog, it will have an RSS feed.
  • News sites like CNN and NPR
  • Library databases – Check out your Gale, Ebsco & other databases you pay for. They have RSS feeds for subject searches that will send you updates whenever a new article is published on a topic you’re interested in. Great for students doing research and needing to keep up to date on the latest articles.
  • YouTube & flickr – you can subscribe to all the videos/photos from a particular user account.
  • Book Publishers – get updates on their latest publications
  • Magazines – receive headlines and content from their latest issues.
  • Bookmark sharing services like delicious and diigo – get updates on new sites that have been added for topics you’re interested in.
  • and many more!

If you see one of the little orange icons or a link that says subscribe, rss, feed orsomething similar, then you’re visiting a site that has an RSS Feed and you can subscribe to it. If you’re using the Firefox browser, you’ll see an orange icon in the URL box for any site that has an RSS feed. Internet Explorer will show an orange icon on the toolbar for sites with an RSS feed.


What can libraries do with RSS? RSS can help us push library news and events out to our community members through our websites. And it also let’s us pull content from from other organizations, government agencies and businesses.

PUSH: Many library services have RSS feeds built right into them. Some examples of the types of content that libraries can push out to their communities via RSS include:

  • News & service announcements – Lots of libraries have blogs (with RSS built in!) for their library news.  Library customers can subscribe to the library news
  • Events – Many events calendars also have RSS feeds built in. eg: New York Public Library events feeds
  • Databases – Many of our big magazine/journal/newspaper databases have RSS feeds for subject searches and more.
  • Library Catalogs – Increasingly, library catalogs have RSS for subject searches, recent aquisitions and so on. eg: do a subject search in the Hennepin County Library catalog and you’ll get an RSS feed that will alert you to new books on that subject.
  • Book Reviews – Take a look at this library’s RSS feed of recent book reviews written by staff. Reader’s Club

PULL: We can also keep up with the news of our community via RSS feeds. Some of the interesting local news sources that you can subscribe to include:




There are a number of tools that you can use to subscribe to RSS feeds.

  • Web-based feed aggregators (Google Reader)
  • Personal Start Pages (iGoogle and Netvibes)
  • Some browsers (Firefox & Internet Explorer) have a built in feature to subscribe to RSS feeds.
  • Feeds can also be delivered to your email inbox with email software such as Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, or through services likeFeed My Inbox.

This week’s basic exercise will focus on setting up an iGoogle personal start page. But you can choose another tool if you’d like.

iGoogle is a personal web portal where you can add and organise your favourite web pages, RSS feeds and social networking sites. It also has all sorts of productivity tools like calendars, weather information, bookmarking tools, notepads and other “gadgets”.

NetVibes is similar to iGoogle. You can set up tabs for different topics, add content from the directory of widgets, add RSS feeds from anywhere. One important feature that sets it apart from iGoogle is the ability to make a public page on NetVibes. This is really handy for setting up pathfinders for students doing research, current awareness services for faculty or information portals for library patrons.

Google Reader is the most popular web-based feed reader at the moment. It helps you organize tons of RSS content in a streamlined way, making it easy to scan lots of posts in a hurry.


Your activity for this week is to set up a personal start page or an account with a feed reader. If you already have an account with one of these tools, test out a new one to compare them. Or test some of the advanced features of your favorite service. The most important thing is to explore and learn something new.

Step 1: Pick one tool to explore and set up an account.

NOTE: Don’t forget to write down your account info. Login, password, etc.

Step 2: In iGoogle or NetVibes, add some other gadgets/widgets that interest you. Can you find any library related widgets? Try searching for LISNews or PLA Blog or Children’s Digital Library or My Google Book Search Library.  

Step 3: Add some RSS feeds. Some ideas to try:

  • Your favorite blogs, news sites.
  • Subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog! Use the subscribe links over there on the right.
    • Note: if you’re using iGoogle in Internet Explorer, you’ll have to click on the “add gadgets” link in iGoogle. Then on the “add feed or gadget” option on the left. Type in the address of this site blog – – to add it.
  • You could also add the RSS feeds for some of the other participants’ blogs.
  • Do a search in one of the Gale or Ebsco databases and add the RSS feed for the search.

Step 4 : Write your learning journal post for the week. Please include “Thing 4: RSS” in the title.

Some ideas to think about as you write

  • What do you like about RSS and feed readers?
  • What features did you explore?
  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your work or personal life?
  • How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology to help connect with their community?
  • Did you find any great sources we should all add to our feed readers?

2 Responses to Thing 4: RSS

  1. Pingback: Week 4 is all about RSS | Learn with MHLS

  2. Oh my, its a whole new world that I had no I idea even existed! Sure, I’d noticed the rss button but I had no idea what it was. I’m fairly tech knowledgeable although I do tend to lag behind on new stuff. But this is great! I set up a iGoogle page because I liked the appearance of it the most. I went through and added various feeds and look forward to staying caught up on news and info.

    I would love to have an rss feed on our webpage so that our patrons can stay on top of program updates and new titles and services. I will be speaking with my director about this asap.

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