or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Doing Selection Via RSS

   March 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

review journalsI have always struggled with doing selection, but it only recently occurred to me that technology could make the process easier.

My normal procedure for selection was to pick one Friday a month and go through whatever review journals I could find in the library that I hadn't already looked at and read reviews. This rarely happened each month as planned, and I'd slip further and further behind - making catching up that much more daunting.

I decided my relying on journals was the problem - it wasn't something I routinely did, so it was easy to forget or ignore. But, I do check rss feeds in my Bloglines account almost every day, so I thought if I could get reviews delivered to me (into a "Selection" folder), selection could become something I did for a few minutes each day, instead of an entire afternoon once a month.

So far, I've found a few good sources for rss feeds, and am always on the lookout for more:

  • Feeds from BookLetters
    My library subscribes to BookLetters to offer our patrons readers advisory resources through our website. Most of their various reading lists are available as rss, so that's perfect. I added the Books on the Air, Book Sizzle (ie, "hot" books), Nonfiction Preview and Nonfiction Best Sellers feeds, although they have plenty more to choose from
  • Feeds from Amazon.com
    Amazon also offers both best seller and new release lists as rss feeds. Each grouping is also broken down by subject, so I can grab the feeds for just the nonfiction subjects I do selection for - for instance, Travel best sellers and Travel new releases
  • Feeds from Library Journal
    Library Journal offers a ton of different feeds, but I'm still experimenting to see which is the most useful. Most include subjects I'm not interested in, or news and articles beyond just book reviews, so I'm going to keep refining how I use their feeds. However, as opposed to being a "new" source like BookLetters and Amazon, this is just getting in a new format the same information I've been using for years

Of course, I'm not abdicating my responsibilities as a professional librarian just because I'm getting information from sources other than print journals and vendor catalogs. I still read the reviews, check local holdings, and make educated decisions about the books on these various lists, just like I would if I learned about a book from a print journal.

As I see it, here are the pros of this method:

  • It fits better into the way I work, which means it gets done better and faster than something that doesn't (which means my patrons get better service because I'll mark books to order on a daily basis instead of a monthly [or worse] basis)
  • My library is very much a popular materials library, and these are reliable sources for what's popular right now
  • When reviewing books on Amazon, a greasemonkey script linking right from the Amazon page to our catalog makes seeing if we already own it very easy (another greasemonkey script lets me add it to our ordering queue with just a single click, too)
  • If a title is showing up on multiple lists, it's a pretty good indicator of how many copies my patrons will demand

However, there are also things to watch for:

  • Amazon often pushes things, like Kindle editions, that I'm not interested in
  • Re-releases and paperback editions will also show up on these feeds, and since the greasemonkey script does an ISBN search, double-checking with a title search to make sure we don't already own a copy is important
  • Many new books don't have online reviews (even using my online book reviews search)

I've only been using this method for a couple months, but already I feel like I'm ordering more books, and more quickly. Anything that makes selection easier is a step in the right direction - and it's certainly easier than trekking all over the building to find out who had Library Journal last.



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Go Ask Mickey

   February 27th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Mickey Mouse imageOne of the things I enjoy the least about being a librarian is doing selection - picking which materials to buy for the library's collection. Sometimes, though, an item comes along that obviously need to be purchased. Witness Disney's new "Let's Talk About Puberty" DVD set.

collection, disney, let's talk about puberty, libraries, library, materials, selection



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