Creating a Librarian’s Info-Portal with Netvibes and RSS

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What Web page comes up when your staff members open their Web browsers on the service desk or at their own desks? Is it the library’s Web site? That’s a good choice, especially if you have constantly updating news on the front page of your library blog. Perhaps you have your catalog, a search engine, or a commercial news site? All are OK choices–but why not build your own info-portal for your staff with the best of all of these worlds?

RSS (really simple syndication or rich site summary) allows us to put content from one place into another with some reasonably simple coding. Pair that with a Web-based aggregator site, and you have everything you need at your fingertips.

For this example, which was born out of one of the group projects I assign in my Internet Fundamentals class, we’ll use a site called Netvibes and explore all of the features it offers by creating a portal for library staff. (Other sites that would yield similar results are SuprGlu and Pageflakes.) Follow along with these steps to build a resource that your librarians and staffers may come to use a lot!

Create the Bare Bones

Visit Netvibes at www.netvibes.com and sign up for a free account. All you need are an email address and a password. For your portal, configuring a project-specific email such as portal@yourlibraryserver.org will make it easier for multiple library staff members to edit the portal architecture and content. Once you have created your account, Netvibes will send you an email reminding you of your login and password. Then you are good to go.

When you log in to your page, Netvibes displays a starter page with default options and the following text:

This is your personalized page, you can now modify everything: move modules, add new RSS/ ATOM feeds, change the parameters for each module, etc. Your modifications are saved in real-time and you’ll find your page when you get back on Netvibes.com. If you want to be able to access your page from any computer, you can sign in (at the top right) with your email and a password.

The content is available from the “add content” button at the top left of this page.

In a nutshell, Netvibes will help you easily configure your portal–and use it on any computer! Access in your work area, at the reference desk, at circulation, or even at home is possible with this Web 2.0 tool, which will aggregate new posts and information automatically. Clicking on a subject line will display the full story within the portal. Clicking on the title in display mode will open a new window to the original post.

Populating Your Portal with Popular Feeds

After creating your initial site structure, you may want to meet with your staff to discuss the portal and to decide what might be included. Brainstorm to create a list of library and librarian blogs, news sites, local content, and any other useful resources you can pull in. The only requirement? The resources you select must have an RSS feed.

For this sample portal, we’ll use the Kankakee Public Library (KPL; www.kankakee.lib.il.us) as our fictional locale. For yours, use your own library’s feeds and pages for inspiration. Need another reason to establish a library blog? This is a good one!

Name the site by clicking on the page title at the top and typing in a title. Next, name the tab. (Netvibes allows multiple tabs in its portals, and we’ll use that feature in a bit.) I’ve titled the first tab–the start page for the portal–”KPL News & More!”

Now, click on Add Content to get started. A sidebar of tools will appear on the left-hand side. Click on Add a feed and paste the URL for any Bite’s feed into the box that appears. Netvibes will verify the feed and then open the module on the portal page. You can click on the top of a module box, hold the mouse button, and drag the box around the page to make whatever layout you desire.

First up, we’ll add the library news blog feed, the library director and assistant director’s blog (She Said/He Said), and the Library Musings blog from KPL staff. Note that the page also includes a Web search module for access to Google, Yahoo!, and more. I’ve also added a feed from two useful library news sites and blogs, LISNews and TechCrunch.

Localize the portal by configuring the Weather module to display your town’s weather, and scout out a newsfeed from a nearby newspaper, TV station, or news aggregator. Other local sites, blogs, or feeds can be added to round out the information resource. For our KPL example, I’ve used a feed of news from Topix.

Pictures–Worth 1,000 Words

Including images is a great way to let staff know what’s happening in the library. Note that, in the Add Content section, there is a Flickr feed module included as a default. For our example, I’ve customized it to KPL’s Flickr feed of photographs of the library, programs, and events. Copy the feed URL and paste it into the Flickr module. The photos, and all of the feed content on the page, will update automatically.

If you don’t have a Flickr account, you might add a feed to an appropriate Flickr tag or group, such as the Libraries and Librarians group, to see what other library folk are doing. Remember, Flickr is only $25 per year for a Pro account!

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Use Tabs for More Content

Add new tabs to configure other useful pages. For example, a page devoted to libraries and librarians’ blogs might serve as a useful tool for monitoring the discussions there. A calendar module is available as well as a notes module to create a planning and organizational page.

Another way to use tabs that takes the portal to the personal level is to create a tab for each member of your team. If you have four or five staff members (or more), make a tab in Netvibes for each of them and then allow them to customize the pages with their own content. Each person may want to include his or her own favorite blog feeds, news sites, keyword searches, and more.

Each member of the staff could edit his or her pages via the one email address and password we set up in the beginning. Note that this is not a private portal, but yet another way to customize for staff involvement and experience. Other staff members may find some useful resources they didn’t know about by browsing the personal tabs of the library Netvibes portal.

Email and Other Modules

Note that in the tools sidebar you can add email modules. This is perfect for your email reference service or for departmentwide or librarywide email addresses. I wouldn’t recommend configuring an individual’s email in this type of portal, though, because all staff members will have access to all of the tabs. Brainstorm what you might do with the email modules and this tool, however–you may find some unique uses.

We’ve just scratched the surface with the creative modules and tabs available in this system–there’s much more to explore. Add podcasts to the mix. Insert a Meebo module (automatically placed in a new tab) to have easy access to your library’s instant messaging account. Create searches via the search module for topics of interest to staff, which can be pertinent to projects or planning or “ego” searches to see who is saying what about the library out in the blogosphere. Note that you can add fun stuff as well: an analog dock, sudoku puzzles for that quick mental break from library work, comic strips, and so on.

Using this free, integrative Web 2.0 tool could be a beneficial way to improve communication among your team or staff. It will help to keep folks in-the-know about library news and new initiatives, plus you can use it to create an interactive, localized internal portal. Try it and please let us know what innovations you create with Netvibes.

Resources Discussed

Netvibes: www.netvibes.com

Kankakee Public Library: www.kankakee.lib.il.us

LISNews: www.lisnews.com

TechCrunch: www.techcrunch.com

Topix: www.topix.net

Flickr: www.flickr.com


This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine April 2007, published by Information Today Inc.

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