Smart alerts – tackling current awareness with new technology
The theme of this year’s ALLA conference “Respect the past, embrace the future” was a good match for our presentation on Vable, scheduled for the final day of ALLA 2012.
As law librarians from two distinctly different organisations, we wanted to share our experiences with the Linex platform. Our presentation explained the conceptual and practical aspects of creating a smart alerts service in both an academic library and a law firm library. In implementing smart alerts, both libraries had a noble aim: to consolidate, simplify and improve current awareness services. We had both taken control of an old problem with new technology.
At the conference’s opening address The Hon. PA Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, stated that librarians must drive new technology despite the “lukewarm” feelings of law practitioners. “Lawyers will not initiate new services” he said, “…they expect librarians to guide them”. This certainly rings true with current awareness and RSS. If you want to quickly bore a lawyer, start talking about “aggregation”, “RSS feeds” and “third party alerts”. Alternatively, show them the end product – a single email update combining their favourite resources – and be rewarded with relieved enthusiasm and perhaps even a little excitement.
On day one of the conference Associate Professor Terry Hutchinson from the Queensland University of Technology spoke about how the law librarian’s role has changed. Terry stated that librarians are no longer simply searching for answers and locating information but are now also expected to pull research together and present it in meaningful ways. This trend is very relevant to any discussion about current awareness and Vable.
One of the main aims of both smart alert implementations was to make our libraries’ current awareness emails more meaningful. As the variety and volume of online content continues to grow, the problem of harnessing this content into a manageable form for both end users and librarians has also grown, and the need for focused, selective and personalised current awareness services has become even more imperative.
Enter the familiar complaint: “I get so many email alerts but I don’t know which ones to read!” How do we help our users keep up to date with the latest legal news and developments without overwhelming their inboxes?
Both libraries decided against manually creating customised newsletters – a program of monitoring, filtering and re-packaging (which generally results in an awful lot of time spent copying and pasting) that is labour intensive and dependent on workloads. Another option we rejected was the status quo – continuing multiple alerts from multiple publishers. This situation had many messages, newsletters and saved searches hitting inboxes throughout the work day.
Instead, the law libraries at Melbourne University and Lander & Rogers law firm implemented Linex Smart Alerts to tackle current awareness. Both libraries built sets of highly customised daily alerts using the Linex platform. These alerts are created using innovative technology which “aggregates” alerts from a wide range of:
Both libraries took a push over pull approach, as email remains the leading preference for current awareness information.
There are many current awareness offerings in the legal marketplace, but the problem with most is they mandate yet another site which should be visited or another email which should be read. In contrast, the Linex platform gathers up content and brings it together in a single update.
Smart alerts are highly customisable and flexible – for example, edit the settings, then pick and chose the content for each alert. While librarians have the option to act as editors, our approach was to spend time evaluating, monitoring and carefully selecting resources. Then we categorised those resources and set up saved searches within the feeds to filter results. Then we trusted in the automation. And it works! But you must put the time and effort into carefully constructing each alert.
Following implementation, we have both continued to monitor the news in each smart alert. We look at the results returned each day and continue to tweak settings and make changes as necessary. A statistics area shows us who is reading and what they are reading, providing us with useful information for further developing current awareness.
For both libraries, the implementation of the Linex platform confirmed an important “known known”, to quote Donald Rumsfeld. That is: keeping up to date is fundamental for law practitioners. In this age of great change for law libraries, current awareness remains a key service. Undeniably though, it is significantly impacted by changing technology and – because of this – current awareness development never really ends, it simply moves onto the next stage.
In this stage of current awareness at Lander & Rogers and Melbourne University, we have used technology to create a value added service. With the Linex platform, we have pulled resources together, consolidated information and reduced the number of emails. This has allowed us not only to widen the scope of our current awareness, but also to narrow its focus.