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


So Long Bloglines, And Thanks For All The Feeds

   September 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Bloglines tombstoneBy now you've probably read other peoples' laments about Bloglines closing down. It makes me sad because I've depended on it for years, personally and for work.

I'm hoping someone will take over Bloglines and continue it, but just in case, I've been testing replacements and thought I would share my findings. (I've heard that RSS readers are a thing of the past, but I have also heard the same thing about email, radio, and libraries, which are also things I use almost every day.)

Anyway, the two I looked at were Tiny Tiny RSS (tt-rss) and NetVibes. There are also others like Google Reader, Pageflakes, FriendFeed, but I already knew I wasn't interested in those.

My criteria was basically everything I liked about Bloglines - a tool that let me get at the information I wanted to read, rather than getting in the way. Specifically, these were:

  • organize feeds into categories
  • sort feeds any way you want, not just alphabetically
  • bookmark posts to read later
  • load quickly
  • email posts to people
  • posts go away automatically after you view them
  • three view options for posts - titles only (click to expand to read fully article), post summary, and full post. And the view option can be set differently for individual feeds

Tiny Tiny RSSTiny Tiny RSS
One catch with tt-rss is that it's not just an online reader like Bloglines, but software you install and host yourself - or, if you're like me, ask someone else to host for you (word up, Chris). But listen to this: Blake Carver of LIShost.org has created LISfeeds.com to host tt-rss for librarians to use! So if you can't host it yourself but would like to use tt-rss, contact Blake to create an account. Thank you Blake!

  • simple and clean interface
  • didn't see a setting for view options - it displays the titles and you have to click to expand
  • can organize feeds into categories, but sorting within categories is just alphabetical
  • doesn't always display videos inline (Netvibes seems better on that score)
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish to remove them)
  • a little slow - switching between feeds, marking as read, etc. - just everything seemed sluggish
  • unsure about updating - button doesn't always seem to work, so Chris created a special url that forces updates (which take a few minutes)
  • harder to read/skim, because titles are same font and weight as everything else on page
  • lots of options listed under articles, which I don't use and kind of distract me
  • couldn't find a way to email posts
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

NetvibesNetvibes
It looks like Netvibes' online RSS reader is just one portion of what they do. It's all I want though, so I just ignored all the widgety dashboard parts.

  • the overall interface is nice, but reading posts was still a little easier in Bloglines
  • top portion of the screen seems wasted - Bloglines devoted entire screen to feed reading
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish
  • setting in top right lets you chose display options per feed - title list, full post, or mosaic
  • a little bit slow - not horrible, but just enough to make me notice it
  • allows categories, and has drag-and-drop feed sorting which is nice (and easier than Bloglines)
  • plays videos inline, which Bloglines had problems with
  • updating can be wonky (which happened to Bloglines too) - sometimes you have to click into each category before new posts are displayed
  • a couple times every feed showed tons of new posts, but most didn't have anything new - but Bloglines did this too
  • it looks like one bad feed can prevent a whole category from loading - I had to delete and then re-add PLA blog feed because it wasn't working for me (but had to go through the category feed by feed to find it)
  • there's a link on each post to click right through to the comments, which is nice
  • one minor annoyance is that the posts' "mark as read" button is all the way on the right side of the screen, which is a pain with wide screen and a trackpad, because everything else I need to click is on the left side. But there is a "mark as read" button for the whole feed right where it should be
  • seems to randomly import posts from long ago, but might be because I'm just starting with it
  • have to either scroll past a post or manually click to mark things as read?
  • opening one article automatically closes another, which means you can't have more than one open at a time
  • handles oddballish feeds better than Bloglines, like Twitter streams and Flickr recent activity
  • does allow emailing posts, but I think it might send a link that requires a Netvibes account to clickthrough to - unless I'm doing it wrong
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

At the moment, I'm leaning towards using Netvibes. Mainly because it's a little bit faster, it lets me email posts (I'll have to work on the link issue though), I can set individual feeds to show either just titles or entire posts, and it seems closest to what I was used to Bloglines. I'm still sad about Bloglines, but I think I could get used to either of these.

Oh, but something else: since I've been using Bloglines for 5-6 years, I have hundreds of posts bookmarked in there, which I now what to retrieve somehow. Sigh, change.



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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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Standing on the Keyboards of Giants

   April 21st, 2007 Brian Herzog

During Jessamyn's Pimp My Firefox talk at cil2007, something occurred to me. So much of the code used on websites today was written by someone else - themes, rss feeds, widgets, etc.

I think this is great, as freeware/open source/creative commons all allow people to share good ideas - repacking them, repurposing them, resuing them.. you know, recycling.

(not to mention that this has been my style of coding ever since I started coding in 1996. I am almost exclusively self-taught, which means I learned from seeing something I liked on the web, viewing the code, and figuring it out. Often, this meant I grabbed the code and tweaked and modified it to do what I wanted. You can learn a lot through trial and error)

Site Made with Recycled Code iconSo, it was during that session that I got the idea for this new movement, the "made with recycled code" movement. By "movement," of course all I mean is create a little icon and stick it on my webpage. And not being a graphic designer, it's not even a very good icon, but I think it's a catchy phrase.

If you like it, grab it from flickr or the psd file from my website (big [575x575px, 316kb]; small [130x130px, 119kb]).

cil2007, code, coding, freeware, jessamyn, jessamyn west, made with recycled code, open source, recycle, recycled, recycled code, rss, site made with recycled code, themes



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CIL2007 Sunday & Monday

   April 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

computers in libraries 2007 badgeA coworker of mine and I are in Washington, DC, this week for the Computers in Libraries 2007 conference. So far, I’ve been to just three sessions (and some sightseeing), and it’s already worth the trip.

First I went to Michael Sauers’ Sunday afternoon preconference session on integrating RSS into websites. This notion had always kind of intimidated me, outside of the built-in feeds provided by WordPress. But Michael showed us about 20 tools over the course of three hours which can make adding feeds very easy. Those that looked the most promising were:

  • ListGarden for writing the rss code and managing the feeds (it also supports podcasts and has built-in ftp feedspring and RapidFeeds)
  • feed2js for getting an rss feed to display on a webpage (like rss viewer, rss2html, feed digest, grazr and many others)
  • RSSCalendar for a free, web-based, rss-fed calendar of events (which can also be outputted to your own website)
  • Something that was neat, and I might like to try, was feed2podcast, which will automatically read your text feeds and convert them to podcasts in a computer's voice
  • All of this and more is available on Michael's cil2007 del.icio.us account

Next was David Lee King's Monday morning session on planning and implementing Library 2.0 projects. This was a quick session on why and how libraries can use Library 2.0 tools, and what absolutely must be kept in mind – planning. He covered blogs, wikis and flickr in very general terms, focusing mostly on why proper planning is important, and what could happen when projects are launched without planning. Basically, a lot of effort is wasted, not to mention an opportunity to communicate with patrons.

Then it was on to Jessamyn. I love her. Her pre-lunch talk was on how to sup-up your Firefox browser. She shows a bunch of plug-ins, extensions, and skins, and, in her own way, convinced a crowd of hundreds why Firefox should be on every library's public computers. I only hope they take her advice, and that I can convince my library of this.

She also spent a lot of time on greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that allows you to run little scripts to modify webpages. I've played a bit with greasemonkey in the past, but it was great to see what someone else does with it. Now I've got some ideas, and that's when I'm at my most dangerous.

The schedule for Tuesday looks like it'll be a little more filled out. Plus, the exhibit floor will be open all day, so I can talk to some vendors, too. And then in the evening, I'm meeting up with my cousin Elizabeth, who recently relocated to the DC area after finishing her MBA. So all in all, it should be a good day.

cil 2007, cil2007, computers in libraries, computers in libraries 2007, david lee king, greastmonkey, jessamyn, jessamyn west, libraries, library, michael sauers, public libraries, public library, rss



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Using Page2RSS

   March 1st, 2007 Brian Herzog

Page2RSS logoMy library has both a website and a blog. The blog, powered by WordPress, has an rss feed built in, but our website, which is mainly static html, has no rss feature.

Until we can convert to a more Web 2.0 way of doing things, I've been testing the talked-about Page2RSS service.

I set it up for our homepage, and so far, it works well. It is not pretty, but it works. I feed it into my bloglines, and it displays only whatever html code has changed on the page. Which means, the output depends on the changes, and hence is not necessarily formatted in a nice or readable way.

But for my purpose, it works well. It seems to check for update once every one or two days, and our homepage is updated with about the same frequency.

(Which, honestly, in my overbearing and nitpicky way, is part of the reason I am monitoring our homepage. Rather than having a single person updating the website, we've got about seven or eight, all with differing skill levels, interest and time availability. I cringe at way some of our pages look, because a basic understanding of web coding would take care of a lot of the problems. But I don't want to step on anyone's toes or hurt anyone's feelings, so I don't say anything and just do what I can.

But our homepage is different. I will correct things other people did, if I can make it look better. So, by monitoring our homepage via Page2RSS, I can see when other people make changes, and if a little more editing needs to be done. I feel like a jerk doing this, but I'd rather our patrons see a clean and useful homepage than one with obvious mistakes.)

So if this test continues to go well, we'll be able to offer an rss feed to patrons, which is the ultimate goal.

libraries, library, page2rss, public libraries, public library, rss, rss feed, rss feeds, website, websites



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More NELA residue

   November 2nd, 2006 Brian Herzog

While attending the sessions at NELA, I was keeping a running list of social networking websites I had never heard of before, but that I thought might have some application within the library. I intended to post about all these last week, but forgot until Chris happened to mention one in an email. I know I'm probably the last to hear about such things, but here they are...

  • Readers Advisory-type Websites
  • last.fm: Pays attention to the music you play on your computer or ipod, and keeps a running list in your music profile on their website. Your profile can be viewed by others who share your taste in music, and you can find new music to listen to by finding other people who share your tastes (like Chris does)
  • AllConsuming.net: This website covers anything and everything that people consume, but the section that interested me was, of course, the books section. Search for a book to find people that are currently reading or have read it, reader reviews, and also links to other books read by these same people - I like the "read-alike" aspect of this website (although I wasn't too impressed with the design)
  • 43Things: A website where people can keep track of the things they want to do with their life, like "write a novel" [4312 people] or "learn Klingon" [29 people]. It's a way to meet people with similar interests, and have people find you
  • WebShots.com: Very similar to flickr (which I use) but apparently attracts more youngies than old people like me - but it's always good to know what the kids are up to. They also seem to have more "mature content" control than flickr does, which I found interesting
  • "Enhance Your Website" Tools
  • Even I had heard of Meebo.com, but MeeboMe.com was new. It lets you embed an IM chat window right on your website, so client software does not need to be installed on a computer. I really like this idea. I have been trying to get IM Reference going in my library, and this might be the way to go. I think, just like Meebo, it works with AIM, MSN, Yahoo and GTalk, so this would be a great tool to have available on the library's public computers. I have to play with it more, but I'll keep you posted
  • Feed2JS.org: Again, this requires more playing on my part, but from what I understand of it, this tool lets you convert RSS feeds to javascript code, which can then be easily embedded on a website. So, if I wanted to display the posts from a Weird Al Yankovic blog (and after all, who wouldn't?) right on my own homepage, this tool allows me to do so

So many websites to keep up with. The distressing part is trying to get this information to my patrons (of course, they might know about them long before I do). It seems to me that making a webpage bibliography of these is a bit anachronistic, but will serve until I find something better - so if you know of a better way, please comment and let me know.

43things, allconsuming.net, books, chris, feed2js.org, flickr, im, last.fm, library, meebo.com, meebome.com, nela, readers advisory, rss, social networking, webshots.com, websites



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