Make RSS feeds from Alliant library databases your personal research assistant

Some of you may be familiar with a tool called RSS, which allows one to receive updates about new content posted to blogs and other sites.  Instead of checking the same twenty to thirty websites each day to see if anything new has been posted, one simply subscribes to the rss feed of each site using a “rss reader” such as Google Reader (  Then all that is necessary is to check your reader for new content, which will have been automatically downloaded.  If you haven’t used rss feeds in the past, you might want to give it a try, as it is a great way to keep up with news from lots of different sources.

An additional advantage, and the main purpose of this post, is that many of the databases available through Alliant’s library support rss feeds of search results.  What does this mean?

Let’s say there is a student working on her dissertation, and her area of interest is the psychology of pet owners.  She could go to the library databases, choose PsycINFO, and after some trial and error determine that by searching the descriptors “Pets” and “Ownership,” she can find results relevant to her work.  If she wanted to stay current with her topic on an ongoing basis, she could make a note reminding herself to run this search once a week, twice a month, or however often seemed appropriate.

Or, if she is a savvy user of rss feeds, she could make things much easier on herself, by setting up an rss feed which will automatically notify her any time new records matching her search appear in the PsycINFO database.  To do this, one must simply click on the small orange box (the logo for rss) on the search result screen.


This will open a popup which includes the details about the rss feed or “alert” being created:

The URL circled above can be copy/pasted into an rss reader.  After this is done, the reader will now contain a new subscription which will be automatically updated any time the database in question receives new records which match the search criteria originally defined (“DE pets AND DE ownership,” in this case).  Reading this new feed looks like this:


The “beauty part,” as they say, is that our patron can now sit down each day to go through her news feeds, checking the New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and so forth, and at the same time find out if there are any new scholarly articles relevant to her interests.  It’s somewhat like having a personal research assistant feeding one new material as it becomes available.

This has been a very brief introduction to how rss works and how you can use it to assist you with your research.  For more information, the BBC has a very nice overview of the concept, or feel free to contact   Finally, please note that the examples used here will not work on all of Alliant’s databases, as some database providers have not yet implemented this functionality.

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