Databases, journals, blogs, and news outlets can automatically send their readers updates through Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (RSS). Rather than having to journey out and check a multitude of sites on the off chance that they might have an update, users can sit back and have any and all updates sent to them. This is dandy, but we need a way to handle, sort, and organize this influx. To this end, a news aggregator to handle RSS feeds is a marvelous thing.
Users of Microsoft Office can handle their RSS feeds through Outlook and take advantage of the same extensive filing, sorting, and searching capabilities available for e-mails. However, some workplaces (like my school district) disallow the account settings modifications that enable Outlook to add RSS feeds. The most popular option among RSS news feed readers is Google Reader, which wins the “my choice” award. It is flexible and adaptable so users can personalize and sort their incoming feeds.
Libraries use RSS feeds in the way other organizations do, to send information to their patrons and customers. They also use RSS to monitor items of potential interest to their patrons and then pass those items along, serving as an information middleman. Like with blogs, libraries can serve a specific niche by watching for items of special interest to specific patrons. However, most exciting is the capability to create a custom RSS feed for a database based on a search query of your choice. You can create a search query and then set a RSS subscription to alert you whenever something is added to that database that matches your search criteria.
These specialized services help libraries meet the education, resource, and information needs of their patrons. More importantly, however, the power of RSS helps libraries fulfill this vital role in a most important way: meeting these needs before the patron even knows to go looking to have them filled.