The Current Awareness experiment by Matt Holland

My attempts to create a useful Current Awareness Service have had challenges. Some might even say, failures. The following five characteristics of a Good Current Awareness Service are based on learning from my experience and feedback from users. Here we go … Good Current Awareness Services …

  1. aim for quality not quantity
  2. start with the user
  3. are mediated by librarians
  4. delivered directly to your user
  5. in a form users can access easily.

#1 Aims for quality not quantity

The NHS generates an epic volume of documents each month. The temptation is to include everything. You might think that users would welcome your heroic efforts to collate one months output into one handy six page Current Awareness Bulletin. Well, apparently not. An informal survey of an early version form NWAS LKS revealed that I was just creating fodder for the Desktop Trash Can. More is less for the end user and they made that clear. They can already bury themselves in information if they choose to. An overloaded Current Awareness Service just goes on the pile of other stuff that “… I would read if I didn’t have a full time job to do“. The truth can be harsh.

The other great generator of stuff is the web. What is easy to find and access is not always good or useful. This is a phenomenon of social media. For some professional communicators, consultancies, think tanks and publishers, content is marketing. We are hungry for content and they are hungry to have us as an audience. Its mutual back scratching but it shouldn’t necessarily be in a Current Awareness Service. It’s good to ask yourself, is this just marketing filler or is there something of substance here.

#2 Start with the user

Of the many filters you can use to rationalise information, the most important is the perspective of the end user. Who are they and what do they want? Looking at a Current Awareness Service from the user’s point of view gives you parameters within which to work. Whether you view yourself as the editor working for your readers or a marketer defining your market, you have to consider what your readers or customers want. Then give it to them.

#3 Are mediated by Library staff

Mediated services need resources. You have to subscribe to all the possible sources needed to gather together those pieces of information you want to pass to your users. It can feel like being hit by a firehose on a wet day. That is the downside. It takes time to edit together a Current Awareness Service. This is a limiting factor for small health care library services. There may be technical fixes to enhance productivity, and of course you can share your material for other services to repurpose or reuse to increase its impact. A lot of investment in time comes in the start up phase. Practice and experience help to streamline the process. The bottom line. The time you put in, the informed decisions you make and the intellectual effort you put in to organising and presenting the material on behalf of your user is the point where you add value.

#4 Delivered directly to your user

Number four addresses the confusion between website content management and Current Awareness Services. The culprit here is the appropriation of RSS as a public facing Current Awareness tool. Using RSS and Netvibes or Yahoo Pipes you can generate innumerable web pages composed of Tables of Contents, alerts and saved searches. The truth is no one ever visits these sites. I know I have made a few myself and I don’t visit them either. These carefully crafted installations still tick away out there in the internet night unloved and unused, even by me. They point here is that RSS gathers information for websites and Current Awareness delivers information directly to the user. RSS is a tool and Current Awareness is a service. To come back to the point. If you offer someone a service then they will reasonably expect that it is something that goes directly to them that is personal(ised).

#5 In a form users can access easily

Of course this relates to personal choice but the optimum solution is in an eMail. Second best is a Current Awareness Service in enclosure (Word or PDF). Least useful is a redirection to another website. You could choose all three and leave the preference to your users. As a rule many channels one message will reach more people. Important to remember that your users may also be other libraries. It’s good to deliver in a form that they can reuse the service.

Matt Holland,
Librarian, NWAS NHS Trust,
Mobile: 07747456736,
NWAS LKS is supported by NW Health Care Libraries Unit (HCLU)

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1 Response to The Current Awareness experiment by Matt Holland

  1. traceypratchett says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Matt, as always, some really useful stuff here.

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