If you have visited the UCLA Library home page recently, you may have noticed an announcement regarding RSS feeds for recent acquisitions. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of RSS feeds or have an idea what they are but have never used one, check out this short video called “RSS in Plain English.”
The Library RSS feeds are still a work-in-progress and deserve a few explanatory notes. The feeds currently available enable you to browse quickly through books and other materials that have recently been cataloged at UCLA Library. The feeds are categorized by subject area (e.g., Language and Literature) or discipline (e.g., Comparative Literature, English). Sounds great, no? But here are things to keep in mind: These feeds are generated automatically from the library catalog. Because these are materials that have been recently cataloged, not all of them will look “new.” For example, because the Library hired a Middle Eastern languages cataloger not long ago, a backlog of Arabic language materials has begun showing up in a variety of disciplines and subject areas, causing one to wonder why the Literature Selector or Women’s Studies Selector is buying so much in Arabic. Or, in another instance, an older book that has gone missing may be replaced, thus leading to the appearance of a book from 1953 on the recent acquisitions feed.
Another wrinkle in the feedscape is that these feeds are configured on the basis of the Library of Congress Classification System. As most scholars in literature–and especially comparative literature–know, it is extremely difficult to put the work that we do in tidy boxes. The Library of Congress Classification System is not particularly good at providing easy ways to categorize interdisciplinary topics (and sometimes not very good with the more conventional topics, either). So when I sit down to create a feed for British literature, a field with established LC classes, the task is not so difficult; however, when I want to create a feed for comparative literature, I am left scratching my head. There is a very small LC sub-class devoted to comp lit (PN851-884), but surely that is not adequate for keeping comparativists up to speed on library acquisitions related to their work. What is not potentially within the purview of such interdisciplinary scholarship? One solution is to encourage interdisciplinary folks to subscribe to several feeds, and that is what I may need to recommend for the moment, until I am able to find a better solution.
So why bother with RSS feeds for recent acquisitions at all? Because–forgive my choice of metaphors–RSS feeds are one arrow in a quiver of methods to keep oneself informed. RSS feeds are best used for serendipitous encounters. You browse through the latest titles on your feed reader and if there is something interesting, great; if nothing catches your eye, you have only spent 30 seconds or so on it and can move on to something else. I use the feeds to increase the chances that I will encounter new books entering our library. And as I get to know you and your research interests, I will occasionally forward a serendipitous encounter your direction, either via this blog or straight to your individual inbox.
If any of you would like help setting up a feed reader, drop me a line. It only takes a minute, and once it is set up, it takes very little maintenance.