Alerts and RSS

Keeping Up-to-date with Research Articles Using Electronic Technology

Beginning in 2008, the AMNH Library started shifting many journal subscriptions from print format to electronic-only. Since fewer print journal issues are available to browse for new content, this is a good time to review how you can take advantage of electronic technology to monitor newly published articles in your field of interest.

There are two technologies that can be used to electronically monitor new content: email alerts and RSS feed readers. With both of these technologies, you can choose what content you wish to monitor, and have it sent to directly to your email account or your feed reader, making it unnecessary to regularly search databases or visit journal websites to find new content. However, you should note that not all publishers, vendors, and databases providers support these technologies, or they may support one and not the other.

Email Alerts

Email alert services offer a way to have new content sent automatically to your email inbox. Setting up an email alert requires free registration with the publisher, vendor, or database provider offering the service. Registration allows the company to store a profile of what you want to monitor, along with your email address, so that you can be notified when newly available content fits the parameters you have established.

If you like, you can set up a filter in your email account so that these incoming messages can be viewed in a separate folder, rather than with all of your other incoming emails.

RSS Feeds and Feed Readers

An increasing amount of web content is published in a format that allows you to subscribe to it and monitor it as it is published, much like you might subscribe to a print newspaper to monitor the news every day. Such web content is syndicated, which means that it is sent out to anyone wishing to subscribe, and the name for this technology, RSS, stands for Really Simple Syndication. In order to monitor and read new content published using RSS feeds, you will need to set up an RSS feed reader (also known as a feed aggregator or news reader). A feed reader is separate from your email, but still operates a lot like an email inbox. A feed reader is a personal web space where you can log in and view your subscriptions to various types of content. Some people find a feed reader useful for managing certain tasks without cluttering up their email inbox - but this is just personal preference. However, if you are also monitoring blogs, news sites, or other types of web content that is syndicated, then a feed reader can help you manage all of this in one place, which may make this technology a handier way to keep up-to-date. Furthermore, while email alerts require that you register with the publisher, vendor, or database provider, this is not always necessary with RSS feeds.

Feed readers are so common now that they are often built in to web browsers or part of the package of applications you get with a Hotmail, Google, or Yahoo email account. You might want to explore this list of web-based feed readers. If you set up a feed reader, then you'll want to start subscribing to some feeds. As you surf the web, look around on the sites you visit for this icon:  RSSsmall.jpg

or icons like these: 






Instead of an icon you might also see a text link such as: "RSS Feed," "XML RSS Feed," "RSS," or something like that. If you see one of these icons or links on a site, it means that a feed is available, and if you subscribe to it, you can view that site's newly added content using your feed reader. More information about how to set up a reader and add feeds is provided below, but you can also get a good overview of how RSS feeds and readers works by watching this 4 minute video or this 8 minute video.

Example: Setting up a feed reader
To set up a feed reader using Google Reader you will first need to register for a Google Reader account. If you already have a Google email account, you can use that as your login. Once logged in you may see a welcome screen or a screen that tells you your reading list is empty, but to the left you should see a link to "Add subscription" as shown in the graphic below. This is what you will click to add feeds to your reader.


Monitoring Research Topics Using Email Alerts or RSS Feeds

You might decide that you want to monitor newly published articles on a particular research topic in which case it is usually a good idea to set this up in a Citation or Full-text Database, as this sort of database is not restricted to the journals published by a particular publisher and will allow you to throw as wide a net as possible to gather articles on your topic. You will likely have to go through several steps where you register to create a profile, conduct a search, save it to your profile, and request that the search be automatically and periodically run against any new content added to the journal or database so the results can be sent to your email or feed reader. The exact steps will depend on the publisher, vendor, or database provider.

Example: Setting up an email alert to monitor topic results in Zoological Record
You will need to register with ISI Web of Knowledge (the name of the search interface for Zoological Record) in order to set up an email alert. To register, just click on the link to Zoological Record from the Library's Citation & Full-text Databases page. You'll see a link at the top of the resulting screen to "Sign In." Click that, and then click the link to "Register" in the section called "Customize Your Experience." Register in order to set up a login and password for yourself.

Now, let's say you were interested in having any new articles on the species Mugil trichodon sent to you by email as they are added to the database. Go to Zoological Record and conduct a search on this species. Once your search is done, click on the "Search History" link at the top of the results page. You'll then see a link to "Save History/Create Alert" - click this and log in. On the next page you will see that you can name the search, and make adjustments to the format, etc. Make sure to check off the box that says "Send me email alerts." When you have finished making selections on this screen, click on the "Save" button to save your history to the server. You will now get monthly emails letting you know if anything new has been added to the database matching your search criteria.

Example: Subscribing to an RSS feed to monitor topic results in Zoological Record
You will first have to register and establish a profile in order to set up RSS feeds in Zoological Record. Information about how to register is provided in the example above. You'll also need to conduct a search on a topic within the database - go through the same steps described above, but this time try doing your search on amphibia. When you get to the page where you name your search and make other adjustments, don't click on the box that says "Send me email alerts." Make all the other adjustments that you want on this page, and then click on the "Save" button to save your history to the server. On the resulting page, click on the link that says "RSS Feed: XML." Then copy the URL of the next screen. Now open your feed reader and look for options to add a new feed (in Google Reader, click on the link to "Add subscription." You will be prompted to paste in the URL of your feed, which is the URL you just copied. Take a look at the screen image below showing your newly added feed in Google Reader. You can see the name of your feed on the left under the green bar and the articles from the feed show up in the main reading area to the right.


Monitoring Journals Using Email Alerts or RSS Feeds

It is usually quite easy to set up monitoring of journals important to your research - many publishers have a direct link for setting up either an email alert or RSS feed on the home page of the journal. Often it just takes one click to request that tables-of-contents be automatically sent to your feed reader, while sending this information to your email account is more likely to require that you first register with the publisher to create a profile (once you have done so, in the future you will only need to sign in to your account to add another journal to monitor).

Start by navigating to the journal's home page. Conducting an Internet search will usually get you there the quickest, or navigate from the Library's E-journals list (if there are several links, choose the one that goes directly to that journal's publisher, if possible).

Whether you want to set up an email alert or an RSS feed to get updated content for a journal, expect that you might need to poke around a bit on the journal's website to look for the links that will help you set up these features. Usually these links are quite obvious, but be aware that different publishers organize their sites differently, and may use slightly different terminology to describe these services.

Example: Setting up an email alert to monitor new content in the journal Science
The main page of the journal Science has a link to "Alerts" on the blue bar across the top of the page. Clicking that link will result in a page with a list of different email alerts that you can set up, and a button to "Add/Edit/Delete Alerts." Click that button and then sign in with your Science login and password. If you don't have one, then you will have to click on the link to "Register" and go through the process of registering in order to set up a login and password.

Once you have logged in, you can select which alerts you want to receive, such as the weekly table of contents of Science. Click on the "Submit" button once you have made your selections, and you should be all set to receive regular email alerts.

Example: Subscribing to an RSS feed to monitor new content in the journal Science
The main page of the journal Science has a link to "Alerts" on the blue bar across the top of the page which you should click; on the Alerts page, you will see a link to "RSS Feeds XML" in the left column under the section called "User Tools." Click this link and then choose the feed you want by clicking on the feed and copying the URL of the resulting page. Now open your feed reader and look for options to add a new feed (in Google Reader, click on the link to "Add subscription." You will be prompted to paste in the URL of your feed, which is the URL you just copied.

Take a look at the screen shot below showing how your reader looks once you have added the Science feed. If you select a feed from your subscription list on the left (which now has two items) it will be highlighted, and the items from that feed will show up in the main reading area to the right.


More Tips on Using RSS Feed Readers

Web sites that offer RSS feeds often have quick links to some of the most commonly used feed readers, so that you can quickly access and add the feed to your reader without copying the URL (you will still be prompted to log in to your reader.)

Once you have added some feeds to your reader, explore a bit. Feed readers have a variety of options for organizing your feeds into folders, marking off items after you have read them (so you know what you have read and what you still need to read), sorting items in your feed by date, unsubscribing from feeds, etc.

As mentioned above, you might want to take a look at this 4 minute video or this 8 minute video for a good overview of how RSS feeds and readers work. Sometimes it helps to see the process in action rather than read instructions.

Access from Outside the Museum

When you set up email alerts or a feed reader in order to monitor articles electronically, articles will likely appear in your email account or feed reader as a list of bibliographic citations, often with a link to the full-text of the article. If you click the link from a networked Museum computer, you should be able to go right to the full-text of the article on the publisher's website (assuming the Library has a subscription to the journal). If you click the link from home (or anywhere else outside the Museum), then you will probably not be allowed access to the full-text. This is because access to the electronic subscription of a journal is based on your computer's address. The Library has provided the publisher with the entire range of Museum computer addresses in order to allow anyone using a Museum computer seamless access to content, but we are not able to provide the publisher with all of the addresses of computers that Museum staff use outside the Museum. Thus, publishers will not recognize Museum staff using an outside computer as legitimate subscribers to their content, and content will be blocked. You can still get access to full-text content from home, just not directly from the hyperlinks that show up in your email message or feed reader. Instead, you will have to access the journal directly from the Library's website, as this will prompt an authentication process to verify that you are a legitimate user. See our off-site access access information for further details.

Additional Help

If you have a list of electronic journals or topics that you wish to monitor and you want help setting up email alerts or RSS feeds, please contact the Reference Desk (x5400 or Email) for assistance. We are happy to help!