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A Guide to RSS and Alerts

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It is an XML format that is used to share and distribute information on the web, such as headlines from publications, tables of contents for journals, and results of database searches. RSS allows a user to monitor feeds for new information without having to bookmark or regularly visit a web site or check for new information in an index or database. RSS feeds can also be set up in some library databases or journals from publisher web sites.

See the YouTube Video RSS in Plain English for more information:

RSS feeds can be viewed when convenient using a feed reader. Unless specified, they are not delivered via e-mail. RSS feeds can be set up in any resource with an RSS symbol:
RSS Icon A RSS Icon B RSS Icon C RSS Icon D

Setting Up an RSS Feed

To subscribe to a feed, a feed reader is needed. Several types of feed readers are available:

  • Browser based readers - Browser based readers are plug-ins that can be downloaded for Internet browsers. Some suggested readers: Sage (for Firefox), NetNewsWire and Safari (for Macintosh) or Active Web Reader (Internet Explorer).
  • Desktop (stand alone) readers - FeedDemon, RSSReader (Windows) or NetNewsWire (Macintosh).
  • Web-based readers - Google Reader, MyYahoo or Bloglines.
  • Mobile Devices - NewsGator Go! (Windows and Blackberry) or NetNewsWire (iPhone). Web-based readers (Google Reader, MyYahoo or Bloglines) can also be used on mobile devices.

Choosing a Reader:

Many people prefer to use one type of reader over another. Browser readers (plug-ins for Internet browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer) and Desktop readers are not portable; feeds can only be accessed from a single computer. Web-based readers are portable, and can be accessed from any location; they can even be used with mobile devices.

Finding RSS Feeds

Start with general journals and magazines in a specific subject area. For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science offers feeds on a wide variety of topics through their EurekAlert! system. The Chronicle of Higher Education also has a daily news feed. Several directories to RSS feeds are available to help identify feeds on specific subjects. They include:

Many journal publishers and societies also offer RSS feeds that provide the complete table of contents of journals or information on recently published articles:

A directory of U.S. government agency RSS feeds is also available at the U.S. Government RSS Library. To check for feeds from a scientific society in a particular subject area, see the University of Waterloo's list of societies at the Scholarly Society Project.

What is an Alert?

Alerts are e-mail notifications about recently published information. They can contain information about a specific topic from multiple sources, such as the results of a saved search in an index or database that contains citations to articles in multiple journals, or the most recent table of contents of a single journal. Alerts are regularly delivered via e-mail. Alerts from indexes and databases may also contain links to full-text articles. Alert results can also be downloaded to citation management software, such as RefWorks.

Setting up an Alert

Many indexes and databases allow searches to be saved. Some indexes use these saved searches to generate an alert message when new information on the topic is available. The procedures for saving searches and setting up alerts are different for each database. The links below can be used to link to instructions on how to set up an alert in a particular index.

Vendor Index or Database Link to RSS & Alert Guide
American Chemical Society SciFinder Scholar (Chemical Abstracts & American Chemical Society Journals) See theKeep Me Posted documents
American Institute of Physic AIP Journals Alerts and RSS Guide
American Mathematical Society MathSciNet Not Available
American Physical Society APS Journals Alerts and RSS Guide
CABI Publishing Leisure Tourism Database Alerts Guide
CQ Press CQ Electronic Library; CQ Encyclopedia of American Government; CQ Public Affairs Collection; CQ Researcher Online Saved Searches
CSA Criminal Justice Abstracts; Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts; Physical Education Index; RefWorks (Citation Tool); Social Services Abstracts; Sociological Abstracts Saved Searches and Alerts
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Digital Library Alerts
EBSCO Host Academic Search Premier; America: History & Life; ATLA Religion Database; Business Source Elite; CINAHL (Nursing, Allied Health); Communication & Mass Media Complete; Education Abstracts; Encyclopedia of Animals; ERIC; Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia; General Science Abstracts; GeoRef; GreenFILE; Health Source: Consumer Edition; Health Source: Nursing/Academic; Historical Abstracts; Hospitality & Tourism Index; Humanities International Index; Intl. Bibliography of Theatre & Dance; Intl. Political Science Abstracts; Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts; MAS Ultra - School Edition; Military & Government Collection; MLA; MLA Directory of Periodicals; Newspaper Source; Philosopher's Index; Primary Search; Professional Development Collection; PsycINFO; Regional Business News; SPORTDiscus; Teacher Reference Center; Textile Technology Index Alerts, Journal Title Alerts, and RSS
U.S. Department of Education ERIC (through ed.gov) Saved Searches and RSS
First Search AGRICOLA (Agriculture); Anthropological Literature; Applied Science and Technology Abstracts; Art Abstracts; ArticleFirst; Arts and Humanities Search; Catalog of U.S. Gov. Publications; ClasePeriodica; Ebooks; ECO; EconLit; ERIC; Essay & General Literature Index; GEOBASE; Library Literature; MEDLINE; PapersFirst; ProceedingsFirst; World Almanac; WorldCat Saved Searches
Gale Expanded Academic ASAP RSS and Saved Searches
Highwire Press Geoscience World Alerts
Ingenta Ingenta Connect RSS and Saved Searches
Institute of Physics Institute of Physics Journals Alerts, Saved Searches and RSS
ISI Biological Abstracts  
Johns Hopkins University Press Project Muse Alerts and RSS
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Liebert Health Science Journals Saved Searches
NewsBank America's Newspapers Alerts
ProQuest ABI/INFORM (Business); Criminal Justice Periodicals Index; Dissertation Abstracts Alerts, Publication RSS and Search RSS
ProQuest Gerritsen Collection (Women's History) Saved Items
ProQuest International Index to Music Periodicals Saved Items and Searches
Society for Industrial & Applied Mathematics SIAM Journals Online Alerts and RSS
H.W. Wilson Biological & Agricultural Index; Readers Guide Abstracts Alerts and RSS