Keeping Current, Keeping Alert

Class notes for a class taught at Fondren Library, January 2009. Some links may
not be accessible if you are not on the Rice University Network.

Keeping Current, Keeping Alert

There is so much information out there. Journal articles to read,
research to keep up with, blogs and podcasts that have interesting
posts. How does a researcher keep track of it all?! This course will
demonstrate techniques to work with publishers content, and teach you
two methods of organizing your feeds.


How can you keep current? Email alerts, RSS feeds, Publisher sites, Internet sites

Current Contents database

Organizers: Google Reader, Pageflakes

Keeping Alert with Internet Sources


There are many different resources and ways of keeping current and there is not one single way that is the “best way.”

Choosing which database(s) to use for keeping current is similar to
deciding which databases to search when doing research. The following
criteria are all important to consider:

Coverage/Scope It is important to choose databases which are
appropriate to your area of interest. Databases provide a list of which
journals they index in order to help you decide if your subject is
covered appropriately.

Features Some databases include extra features such as
citation tracking or author finding which may be helpful when
searching. Explore a database’s help pages to find out how to best
utilise their search tools.

Currency Most databases are updated either daily or weekly
with new content. Information on how often a database is updated can be
found in the Help pages of that particular database.

Available Limits Part of creating a useful alert is creating
a specific search that will keep you up to date only with relevant
research in your area. Limits are a way to cut out irrelevant results.
Example of limits are language, publication type, even methodology and
population in some cases. Different databases employ different limits
and this may be a consideration when choosing which databases to set up
alerts with.

Frequency of Alerts Most databases allow you to choose the
frequency of alerts from daily to monthly. It is important to choose a
database that corresponds with how frequently you want to receive

Alert Preferences When signing up for an alert, you will be
given a number of options, depending on the database. These may range
from format to how often to receive the alerts to how long you would
like the alerts to last. Some preferences may be more important than
others and it is important to find a database that will suit your needs.

How do you sign up for alerts?

Individual journal providers usually have links to alerts on their
own pages. Some journal providers require only an email while others
require a full (usually free) registration.

Types of Alerts

Table of Contents Alerts

Having tables of contents e-mailed directly to you as new issues are
published can be a good way to keep up with a particular journal. Many
electronic journals offer this service, which you can usually find by
looking for “alerts” on the journal’s home page. Major publishers that
offer this service include ACM, AIP, ASCE, ASME, Elsevier, IEEE,
INFORMS, Nature, Science, Springer, and Wiley.

  • Identify journal titles of interest and receive an e-mail with the records of the latest articles available in that publication
  • Virtually browse the journal without the physical copy
  • In many cases you can create a TOC alert without having a subscription to the journal

Topic Search Alerts

  • Create a saved topic search in an article database
  • You can specify how often to be notified by email whenever a new article is published on a particular topic

Authors’/Institutions’/Research Groups’ Publication Alerts

  • Based upon a search for an author/institution/research group name
  • You can specify how often to be notified by email whenever a new article is published by a particular author or institution

Cited Reference Alerts

  • Keep track of when a journal article has been cited by others
  • You will be notified by email whenever a new article cites the journal article you are tracking
Alert Option Benefits Cautions
Tables of Contents Alert
  • Quick & easy
  • Often have additional functionality such as links to full-text
  • Ideal for researchers who want to stay on top of the trends in their field
  • All articles may not be of interest or relevant to your area of research
  • Not all databases index each journal cover to cover
Topic Search Alert
  • More focused than a TOC alert
  • Flexible – can usually choose how often to be alerted
  • Can set up multiple alerts at a time
  • Can adjust search as research changes
  • More time consuming to set up a search
  • May have irrelevant articles or far too many results if the search is not done properly
Authors’/ Institutions’/ Research Groups’ Publication Alert
  • Good for staying on top of a collaborator’s or competitor’s research
  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Must first know the name of the author
  • Possibility of more than one author with the same name
Cited Reference Alert
  • Beneficial if there is a key article or one of your own that you want to monitor
  • Useful for monitoring research being done in an area
  • May still have articles that are not directly related to your area of research

E-mail Alerts from Article Databases

These alerts enable you to create a search to be run automatically
as new records are added to an article database, with the results sent
to your e-mail address.

E-mail alerts have benefits including flexibility – you can choose
when you start and stop getting e-mail alerts and how often to receive
them. Although e-mail overload can be a problem when choosing e-mail
alerts, you can set up e-mail filters so alerts go to a separate folder
for you to look over at your leisure.

RSS Feeds

RSS Feeds – Real Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary RSS
is an XML-based format created to share web content (Çelikbaş, 2004).
RSS has a number of benefits including privacy, spam protection, and
easy cancellation. To subscribe to an RSS feed, you do not need to
provide an email address which protects both your privacy and makes it
easier to avoid email spam in addition to making it easy to cancel
feeds (Çelikbaş, 2004). In order to cancel a feed, one needs to only
delete a feed from a feed reader. RSS keeps you current by alerting you
when new content arrives or you can choose to peruse your RSS feeds at
your leisure.

RSS feeds provide the ability to keep track of frequently updated
web-based content without having to continually check the website for
new material. RSS aggregators (or readers) allow you to subscribe to
RSS feeds from any website that offers them. Many readers are
available, see

RSS is commonly used to stay current with news, but it can also be
used to receive tables of contents for journals or updated results of
database searches. For more information:

Science news RSS feeds:


Database RSS feeds:

Google Blog Search (see or Yahoo News (

Steps to sign up for an RSS feed:

  1. Get a feed reader/aggregator – either a program/add-on or a web site. 
  2. Go to sites and look for the word “subscribe” or RSS buttons –
  3. Click on button & copy the URL into your aggregator

Journal Tables of Contents by RSS:

An increasing number of electronic journals offer RSS feeds. Look for the RSS icon on the home page of the journal.


Use Fondren’s Indexes & Databases page: to find a journal homepage.

Publishers that offer feeds include AIP, Cambridge University Press, IEEE, Nature, Oxford University Press, and Science.

Need to find out the important journals in a field? A good database to use is: Journal Citation Reports:


Links to some databases, and services offered:


EBSCOhost (Academic Search Complete, Eric and many others )

  • topic alerts
  • TOC alerts
  • RSS feeds

Engineering Village (EI Compendex, Referex, Inspec)

  • topic alerts
  • author alerts
  • TOC alerts
  • RSS feeds (weekly, up to 400 titles)

ISI Web of Knowledge (Biological Abstracts, Web of Science)

  • topic alerts
  • author alerts
  • TOC alerts
  • citation alerts
  • RSS feeds


  • topic alerts
  • author alerts
  • TOC alerts
  • citation alerts
  • RSS feeds

Further Reading

What is RSS and how can it serve libraries?

Current Contents Current Contents quick reference card

Current Contents with Abstracts, published by the Institute for
Scientific Information, lists the tables of contents from approximately
6,600 scientific and technical journals. Five editions of Current
Contents are available online: Agriculture, Biology & Environmental
Sciences; Engineering, Technology & Applied Sciences; Life
Sciences; Clinical Medicine; and Physical, Chemical & Earth
Sciences. The database is updated weekly. The lag time between journal
publication and availability on the network is several weeks to a month.

Q: How often is data added to Current Contents Connect? A:
Data is updated daily each business day. Each daily load will be
cumulated under the Current Week file depth. Dates available are shown
under Current Limits next to the Timespan pulldown field.

Q: How many search terms can be included in one search set? A: Each search set can contain a maximum of fifty (50) terms separated by Boolean operators.

Q: How many records can I add to My List (marked list)? A: A maximum of 500 records may be added to My List.

Q: How many records can I view? A: The maximum number of records that will be returned for a search is 100,000.

Q: How can I mark a range of records? A:
You can now mark a range of records (e.g., 3 to 270) on the Summary
page. To aid you in keeping track of the total number of records that
are marked, the number of records marked is shown to the right of the
Marked List link

Q: How can I edit a set? A: You should go to Advanced Search in order to edit a set.

Q: What are the new search fields in CCC 3.0? A: GP=Group Author OG=Organization SG=Suborganization SA=Street Address CI=City PS=Province/State CU=Country ZP=Zip/Postal Code

Q: How can I get full text for records? A:
You can order records through Thomson Scientific ISI – Document
Solution or, if available at your institution, links to available full
text now display on the Summary and Results pages with your
institution’s OpenURL service.

Q: What is Author Finder? A:
Author Finder is a tool that makes it easier to find papers written by
a particular author. This is especially true for authors that have
common names. Author Finder is accessed from the products home page.

Q: How does “Search Within Results” function work? A:
The purpose of the “Search Within Results” feature is to allow users to
refine their search results by entering terms into the text box that
will apply a Topic search against the results in their current set of

Q: How do I use Author Finder? A:
Author Finder is a tool that makes it easier to find papers written by
a particular author. This is especially true for authors that have
common names. Author Finder is accessed from the product’s home page,
immediately below the Author field line.

Q: How do I use the new Analyze Records feature? A:
The results analysis extracts data values from a field you select and
then produces a report showing the values in ranked order. To perform a
results analysis: 1. Click the Analyze button on any Summary Results
page to go to the Results Analysis page. 2. Select a field to analyze
from the drop-down list box. 3. Select the number of records in the set
to be analyzed. You can analyze the first 100 records, or you can
analyze the entire set, up to 100,000 records. 4. Select a display
option 5. Select a sort option. Record count ranks the values from high
to low, according to the number of records in which each value appears.
Selected field sorts the list in ascending alphabetical (A-Z) or
numeric (0-9) order. Click here for a detailed explanation about Analyze.

Q: What will happen when I combine two sets that have more than 100,000 records? A:
If a set referenced in a set combination search contains more than
100,000 records, indicated by a greater than (>) symbol, then the
new set will use only the first 100,000 records.

Q: What is One-click search function? A:
The purpose of the “One-Click Search” feature is to allow users to
execute a search directly from the full record. Specific terms within a
full record will be hyperlinked for one-click searching.   Clicking a
one-click search link will launch a search specific to the term
selected (e.g., Author), and immediately display those results to the
user. At the same time a new set will be created and added to the
Search History.

Tools for Organizing Your RSS Feeds:

Keeping current with Internet sources:

There are many Web sites designed to inform researchers, academic
staff and students when new Internet sites and resources are published.

  • Professional
    librarians and subject specialists select, research, and annotate new
    and newly discovered Internet resources of interest to researchers and
    educators. Published weekly.
  • Aims
    to raise awareness of new sources of information on the Internet that
    are relevant to research in engineering, science, and the social
    sciences. Published monthly.
  • Information on search engines, databases, and online information collections. Updated weekly.
  • Google
    Alerts allows you to automate the running of search queries, sending
    you an email whenever any new content is added to the Google database.
  • HubMed
    is an alternative search interface to PubMed. It allows you to create a
    custom RSS feed based on your search results, to navigate citation
    links, and to export citation data. It offers clustering and graphical
    display of related articles as well as links from keywords to external
    sources of information.
  • WatchThatPage
    allows you to automatically collect new information from pages on the
    Internet. You select which pages to monitor, and WatchThatPage will
    find which pages have changed, and collect all the new content for you,
    then email the information to you.
  • Blogs

    Blogs are included in the search results of all of the main search
    engines, but if you want to search for blogs covering a particular
    issue or subject, you can try one of the following tools:


    Podcasts are a way of publishing audio or video programs to the
    Internet that is similar to RSS because listeners can subscribe to the
    podcasts using software that periodically checks for and downloads new
    content automatically.

    Podcast search engines

    Social bookmarking

    Social bookmarking sites
    allow you to store, organize and search for your favourite links, as
    well as share them with both friends and people with similar interests.
    You can then access these links from any computer you happen to be

    • And finally, two tips for managing RSS/Alert information overload: 1)
    • 2)Sentence Stuff to Death Row (from yourself six
      weeks. If within that time, you never looked up something in the feed,
      or list…out it goes.”

    • For more information contact: Debra Kolah
    • Special thanks to University of Western Ontario, Western
      Libraries and The Library-University of California, Berkeley.

About effervescentlibrarian

UX Librarian at Rice University, Houston, Texas.
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