Current Awareness SSNaP – 27th June 2017

A small but perfectly formed group of four SLLG members attended the fourth Short Skills Networking and Presentation event hosted by Lorna, Head of Research & Information at Shepherd and Wedderburn, on the topic of Current Awareness.

Lorna began by describing how she used to manually produce briefing material for her colleagues. This method involves a member of staff reading through materials and compiling information to be sent out by email directly. Attendees agreed that this can be very time consuming but does have the benefit of keeping the librarian well informed. We discussed the sustainability of this approach as demand might grow beyond what is possible in the time allowed, especially if trying to deliver custom news to different teams within an organisation.

Tools such as Westlaw Current Awareness can make the creation of briefings less onerous. Some librarians have worked collaboratively with their IT department to create databases which allow them to subdivide news articles using tick boxes and keywords to categorize news which would make the compilation of digests for different teams much easier.

Lorna has been using LINEX for the past five years. Time has been spent populating the resources list to ensure all the usual legal news and publications sites are regularly checked for updates. The platform makes good use of RSS feeds to get the most up to date information to the people who need it; by working with their in-house IT team the library services team have managed to combine their intranet distribution lists to ensure people receive only relevant information based on topics they select themselves.

There are drawbacks to using an externally hosted service: price is a consideration (especially if charged by user or by alert) as are developments to the platform itself. Lorna had been very happy LINEX but the provider is developing a new interface (Vable, now in the beta testing stages) which might not provide the same functionality. Automation also presents problems – it takes time to set up and monitor new alerts to make sure they provide useful information, irrelevant news can slip through, and old or broken links must be weeded out regularly.

We weighed the options and agreed that there is not yet a one-size-fits-all approach to Current Awareness. While an automated service may seem like the easiest option to manage and run, the benefits of a small customised email issued on a regular basis may outweigh the cost of the former, and finding a system that works for you does not mean that there can’t be improvements made further down the line (or that you may want to revert to an earlier model).

We’d like to thank Lorna for hosting such a comprehensive and interesting discussion. We all left with a great deal of food for thought and a keen awareness of the importance of Current Awareness!

Lorna welcomes any questions or comments via the usual channels.

Key takeaways:

  • Current Awareness is a great way to expand your remit and can demonstrate that while, yes, many resources are online, the right skills are required to gather, digest and (legally) disseminate the news that matters. We happen to possess these exact skills!
  • It’s not all about online, though. Many hardcopy resources are neglected unless they are brought to the potential reader’s attention. A brief outline of a hardcopy article – or even just a title – can pique interest and result in better use of paper “assets”.
  • Before commencing or changing a service, it’s a good idea to conduct a rough audit of your organisation’s internal communications. Are there opportunities for collaboration, eg with business development, IT, legal analysts, PSLs? Buy-in from other teams may help your business case for Current Awareness software. Why not use the SLLG discussion board to request examples of business cases other members have submitted?
  • Communication is really key – none of us like it when a service suddenly changes and we haven’t been informed. Ongoing evaluation of a new current awareness initiative will also help to refine your output.
  • Small details matter too – recipients might be loath to open an attachment and therefore more likely to read on if the content is in the body of the email. Ask, “Do you read this and is it helpful?” If you’re discouraged from sending out surveys, anecdotal feedback is just as useful.
  • You can use your intranet or wiki to authenticate access to a content aggregator and allow users to control settings. If your IT department oversee a SharePoint site or similar, discuss options for RSS, and ways to make archived updates retrievable.
  • Most people welcome anything that saves them time and unclutters their inbox. After all, the library has registered for alerts and Feedly so they don’t have to! Some SLLG members also use current awareness roundups to advertise new books and share general library updates, further reducing email traffic.
  • Previously, in a team of lawyers, each person might have received different alerts from various websites. Now, if everyone in the team receives the same email, one lawyer isn’t then required to share it with colleagues or keep it to themself, assuming that it’s common knowledge.
  • Let’s face it, a useful, useable and regular communication to your users is the perfect advert for your service, staff and expertise.

If any member has ideas for SSNaPs they’d like to see in the future please get in touch with the committee. We would like to run more events that you’d like to attend, so do let us know if there’s somewhere you’d like to visit or a topic we should cover.

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