[A note on these columns: I'm writing for a wide variety of technology comfort levels, and I've only got a standard side of paper to do it in, so I don't tend to get too specific.]
Professional Developments: Taming the Online InfoClutter – Using RSS to Keep Current and Manage Overload
At the May Adult Services meeting, I demonstrated how I manage all of the electronic 'clutter' in my life. As you might have figured out from my previous columns here, there is a tremendous amount of online information published about librarianship today. So far, I've discussed why and some of what we need to keep on top of. This column showcases one example of how.
Whether we get our information from library publications, major news outlets or one of millions of blogs, there are too many sources to keep track of. More and more of these info providers are going electronic, and the latest addition to many web pages is a small orange square with white lines. That square is about to become your best tool in managing infoclutter: it’s a link for an RSS feed of that publication or blog.
RSS feeds allow you to subscribe to the latest posts and articles from a variety of sources, bringing the information to you rather than you having to go find it. You can use a feed reader such as Bloglines or Google Reader or the news section of My Yahoo or My AOL to collect and organize your various feeds. Creating the account usually consists of following the step-by-step instructions; I've found Bloglines to be one of the easier systems to use.
After you set up an account, you can treat your feed reader just like an individualized newspaper. Each feed is a section, and the various articles are contained within. Click on the feed you want to read, then skim down the list of article titles and leads and decide which you want to read in full. I don't read half of the things that come through Bloglines, but I do skim them and pick out the occasional idea or tool to look up later. If you want to save something to read it more thoroughly at another time, you can mark it "Keep New." To save a post on a particular topic, you can create a Clippings file for that subject and Clip and save the post there. There are more advanced features, but these are the most useful ones.
As you start out with reading feeds, I'd recommend one of two paths: 1) choose just a few feeds and get in the habit of reading them, adding more as time passes; or 2) subscribe wildly, and unsubscribe from the ones you’re just not keeping up with. Once again, the important piece is choosing a system that works for you. This is all about your needs and interests, and no one else is going to tell you you’re doing it right or wrong.
As librarians, we know how much information exists in the world, and we know that we can’t possibly keep up with it all. So the goal is to know about the things that interest, motivate and compel you, and to be aware of as much of the rest as you can.
Yahoo’s explanation of RSS feeds
A very comprehensive tutorial from Wizard Creek consulting
"Librarians Keeping Up and Making Time" by Emily at the Library Revolution blog
My Bloglines account, for one organizing scheme and blogs to read. If you'd like more information, please feel free to get in touch with me.
Free, online RSS readers:
Google Reader – works through a Google account
NetVibes – a more sophisticated customizable 'start' page
Yahoo Pipes – like NetVibes, but works through a Yahoo account