Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bringing RSS to faculty (without their knowledge)

The ability to get RSS feeds from journals is a fantastic service of Ebsco and a handful of other places. The vast majority of our faculty have not adopted RSS, so I wanted to find a way to put the content in a format that they already use: e-mail. I know there are e-mail alerts that can be set up in most databases, but that requires getting people to set up log-ins, identify journals of interest, and set up those alerts. Work like this is the perfect opportunity for librarians to step in and provide a value-added service.

The Steps

1. I identified a list of journals that might be of interest to our faculty and staff. These included general titles, such as College Teaching, Academe, and Liberal Education, as well as teaching in specific disciplines, such as the Journal of College Science Teaching.

2. I created a login for our library in Ebsco and set up RSS feeds for all of the journals that I wanted to offer through the service.

3. Using our library consortium's access to SurveyMonkey, I created an online "form" for faculty and staff to select journals of interest to them.

4. As requests came through SurveyMonkey, I created one RSS Feed from all of the individual feeds from Ebsco using Yahoo! Pipes. If more than 7 feeds were requested, I truncated each feed so that the resulting feed would not be too large in size for the next step.

5. Using Feedburner, I took the RSS feed from Yahoo! Pipes and set up an e-mail subscription to that feed. Feedburner allows you to personalize the activation message, which allowed me to respond to any additional requests.

It was a lot of work, but the response from the college community was absolutely phenomenal. I did not expect quite so many requests, or for people to select quite so many journals. There have been a few glitches with Feedburner that I'm still trying to straighten out, but other than that, after I set them up, I won't have to do anything until the feeds in Ebsco expire.

We're a small institution, so it was feasible for me to set up these alerts individually. If I were working with a larger population, I would probably create packages of journals for people to subscribe to (categories such as General Higher Education, College Teaching, etc. - each with three or four journals. ) This would cut down on the number of feeds created through Yahoo! Pipes, which was the most time-consuming part of the whole process.