What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?


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What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?

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First things first: RSS

16th May 2008

RSS (usually standing for “Really Simple Syndication”), is crucial to your career.

No, really, I mean it. After all, if you’re a librarian, keeping up with information and current events is your job.

Think of it like this: New stuff happens all the time. In technology, new stuff is happening every minute. Who can keep up with all that?? Nobody. (And, if they tell you they can, they’re lying…bet on it.) The best most of us mere mortals can do is try to keep up using an RSS aggregator, more commonly known as a feed reader. We subscribe to information feeds from our favorite sites, and all of the information from those sites comes directly to our feed reader. We don’t have to check a site to know if something new has appeared; it comes to us. Would you rather pick up the pizza or have it delivered? I thought so. Especially if you want different pizzas from different pizza shops all at the same time.

Do you only check one single website regularly for news? Then you can skip RSS. For the rest of us who are making heroic attempts to stay informed, here’s how it works:

  1. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of feed readers. Make your life easy. If you already have a Gmail account, use Google Reader, which integrates right into it. Otherwise, get a Bloglines account (or a Google Reader account, you don’t have to use Gmail). Both are free and extremely easy to sign up for. Did I mention free and easy? Ok, just checking.
  2. Go to your favorite site. Look for something that looks like this:
    <–Standard RSS icon(Alternatively, it might be a button that says “Subscribe” or “XML” or “RSS” The picture you see, above, is the techically-correct icon, but not everyone has figured this out yet. Be patient.) Keep in mind that not every site or blog has an RSS feed available. There’s a way around that, but that’s for another day.
  3. Click the button, whatever it looks like. DO NOT PANIC.
  4. Depending on what browser you use, you will see either something that looks like an orderly list of the latest news from that site, or you will see XML code. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. All you care about is the URL of the page you just landed on. Copy it.
  5. Go back to your feed reader. Somewhere, will be a link that says something like “Add subscription” or “add feed.” Click it. Paste the URL you just copied into the field that asks for the URL. You will likely be asked for other things, like if you want to keep it private (so other people can’t see you subscribe to it.) Choose whatever you’d like for these other settings. You can always change them later. Click the final “submit” type button, and now you’re subscribed to the RSS feed for that site.
  6. The new items from that site will now be available via the reader. You should see the name of the feed appear in the list (usually to the left), and chances are good that the title is in bold and there’s a number next to it; the number tells you how many unread items for that particular site.
  7. Repeat for other sites and blogs you want to keep up with. Need some suggestions? Check out the blogroll to the left of this post. (The main OPLIN site will have RSS after June 30, but the rest all do now).

Still not getting it, or want to fine-tune your understanding? No problem. Check out “RSS in Plain English” from Commoncraft:

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