Answered By: Digital Library Services Team
Last Updated: Sep 25, 2017     Views: 265

RSS feeds are an alternative way to keep up-to-date.

In addition to traditional current awareness services, increasing numbers of publishers now offer RSS feeds as an alternative to e-mail notification of new content added to their journals. RSS feeds can also be used to find out about new content added to blogs and other websites, and they are also available within some of the Library's online services such as the web site, Library Search etc.

Don't worry if the terminology is mystifying. It's really very simple to use RSS feeds and RSS feed readers. This guide provides a basic introduction.


Let's start with some basic definitions and examples.

RSS feeds

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and Rich Site Summary. RSS feeds are an easy way for you to keep informed as new content is added to a favourite website, including online journal collections and blogs. Your RSS feed reader or aggregator gathers information about new items from the websites of the RSS feeds to which you have subscribed. Some aggregators let the new content accumulate until you have the time to read it. Others retain only the most current content, so if you leave too much of a gap between reading your feeds, you'll miss some of the information.

Websites that offer RSS feeds usually have some indicator such as the button shown below:

RSS icon

In their raw form, RSS feeds aren't much use: you need software which allows you to view them properly. Some web browsers (eg Firefox and Opera) have ways of using RSS feeds directly; for instance, Firefox can turn RSS feeds into Live Bookmarks which update themselves automatically. There are several Firefox extensions for RSS reading, including one called Sage which presents feeds via the browser's sidebar.

If your browser doesn't provide this option, then you'll need to use a standalone RSS feed reader or aggregator.

RSS feed readers or aggregators

An RSS feed reader or aggregator allows you to receive, read and manage your RSS feeds. Some are web-based and do not require a software download, others are dedicated software packages available for you to install on your own computer, tablet or smartphone. More information (Wikipedia).

University staff have a feed reader already installed in the form of Outlook, the email and calendar program.

Blogs or weblogs

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online defines a blog as "a frequently updated web site consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc, typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary”.1

Examples of blogs include the Internet Scout Report; the Art News Blog; and New Scientist News. They can be a useful means of keeping up-to-date with current thought in an area of interest to you.


The OED Online defines podcasting as "the use of the Internet to make available digital recordings of broadcasts for downloading to a computer or personal audio player"2

The term podcasting is a hybrid of the Apple "iPod" and "broadcasting". Among the many institutions and publishers using podcasting for educational purposes are BBC Radio, the Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Podcast RSS Feeds: additional information

Audio podcasts are normally standard MP3 files so you'll be able to listen to them using Windows Media Player or similar software.

If you subscribe to a video podcast feed, you'll just see links to the original files which you can click on to play.

You may find it more convenient to subscribe to podcast feeds (both audio and video) using software such as iTunes, which will download the audio or video and sync it to your iPod automatically. Similar software for other types of portable player is available.

If you're using a tablet or smartphone there are also podcast apps that will download the content for viewing/listening on the device.

November 2016 JW

1 Oxford English Dictionary
2 Op. Cit.