Current awareness services: good practice guidelines for healthcare librarians
Current awareness services are highly valued, but time-consuming to do well. By sharing effort and expertise, we can continue to improve the quality, relevance and reach of the bulletins we produce. These simple guidelines have been developed by librarians for librarians, to help ensure our current awareness outputs are both fit for purpose and good to share.
You can download a copy of these good practice guidelines as a word document.
Listen to your users:
This will impact on their sense of ownership and should ensure that your products are well-received and relevant.
- What they want from a “current awareness update”
- Which sources are of particular interest
Focus your information on:
- Their interests
- The organisation’s values and objectives
Evaluate and review:
- User needs change and key sources will vary over time. It is important, therefore, that you evaluate your service at least every 2 to 3 years, to ensure that you are meeting your users’ needs.
- Tools that you can use to deliver your service and to gather information will also change over time. It is advisable, therefore, that you do an annual review of the options that are available to you, to ensure that you are working effectively and efficiently. As part of this review you should also consider whether there are any opportunities for collaboration and/or any new “ready-made” products that could meet your users’ needs.
“Current awareness” is a term that library staff understand (even if they cannot agree on a precise definition!) but means little to many of our users. Some people would argue that the term “horizon scanning” is similarly unhelpful.
The most important thing is that we give “current awareness” outputs a name that is meaningful to customers. For example, Update, Alert or Bulletin could be part of the title.
Delivery format and design:
Again, this should be user-driven. Consider how and when your target audience are accessing information:
Is the technology they use compatible with your product?
Do they have good access to information technology?
Do they prefer to have something that they can print out?
Layout and design should enable the contents to be skimmed for relevance and any referencing style that you adopt should be consistent, if you produce more than one product.
It goes without saying that if you are willing to share the content of your bulletins with other LKS, you need to share in a format which may be modified (i.e. not in pdf format). Feedback from NHS LKS indicates that ‘localisation’ is important: bulletins need to be ‘topped and tailed’ with the logo(s) of the individual library (or library collaborative) which customers should come back to for copies of articles and other services.
Consider these factors when evaluating which sources to use:
Scope and authority
- Intended subject scope and relevance to your users
- Intended audience and suitability for inclusion in an alerting service provided by your organisation
- Where has the information come from?
- Who is the individual/group responsible for the source and are they qualified? Have contact details been made available?
- Are any organisations associated with the source, such as publishers, sponsors or funding agencies, reputable and recognised?
- Is the source well known and/or heavily used?
- What is the provenance of the source and how long has it been available?
How the source compares to others
- Does the source offer anything unique in terms of its coverage or format?
- What is the subject coverage and is it relevant to end-users?
- Is the source comprehensive within its given area?
- Does the source cover the subject adequately?
- Is the information provided in sufficient detail and pitched at a suitable level?
- Are there any links to further information? Do the links add value to any existing information or are they of value as an information source in their own right?
- Is the information accurate?
- Has the information been through a process of editing or refereeing?
- Does the information have a research basis?
- Is the information supported by published research findings?
- Is there any evidence that the source may be biased by those involved in its production and/or dissemination?
- Is the source professionally presented? Are there any typographical or grammatical errors?
- Is the information up-to-date?
- Is the information likely to be kept up-to-date?
- Where applicable, how frequently and/or regularly is the information updated? Is this appropriate to the type of information?
- Is the resource frequently unavailable due to server unreliability or overwhelming demand?
- Are there any geographical access restrictions?
- Do users need to register to use the resource, and if so, is this a straightforward process?
- Is there a charge to access the resource?
- Is the information OpenAthens authenticated or are there copyright or other licensing restrictions?
Abstracts and summaries
The quantity and the nature of content should be based upon user needs:
- How are clients using the service?
- Do they see it as a listing service from which they would select full text articles to read or as a newsletter updating them with summaries of current research and reports?
- Do they want abstracts or are they more interested in being able to skim “headlines” quickly?
Existing content may be used, rather than writing new abstracts – but please see IPR, copyright and acknowledgements section.
Abstracts or summaries should at least be sufficient to allow the client to:
- Identify the subject
- Make some assessment of authority and value
- Gain some understanding of any key conclusions
The reader needs enough information to enable them to decide whether an article or publication is likely to be worth their time. The title of the publication may be specific enough by itself but a short description may be needed:
The specificity of this title, giving patient group, intervention and outcome, means that further summarisation is not essential.
Here, the patient group is clear but intervention and outcomes are not. A short summary is recommended, e.g.
“The available evidence (four small studies; N = 238), covers a limited range of interventions developed to facilitate transition in a limited number of clinical conditions, with only four to 12 months follow-up. These follow-up periods may not be long enough for any changes to become apparent as transition is a lengthy process.”
It is not clear what this article is about. A short summary is essential.
When composing a summary, try to be succinct and aim for no more than four lines in most cases. Adapt sentences from the article, often from the introduction or conclusion and think in terms of summarising the population group (condition), intervention(s) and outcomes.
IPR, copyright and acknowledgements
Including abstracts in bulletins and alerts
Abstracts are individual copyright works.
Abstracts in journal articles or and bibliographic databases may be copied into bulletins and alerts for distribution in electronic and print formats, but should not be placed on websites.
If you create an abstract/summary, the copyright belongs to your employer (assuming you have created it in the course of your work).
Including web links in bulletins and alerts
Hyperlinks to web pages may of course be included in bulletins and alerts, but should allow the reader to find the home page of the website and original source of the information, and not by-pass information that enables them to see any associated copying restrictions. For this reason, it is good practice to include links to pages with a pdf, rather than a deep link directly to a pdf.
Acknowledging your sources
If you are re-purposing a bulletin or alert created by someone else, you should clearly acknowledge this.
Do include an brief overview of the breadth of the sources you have used to create your bulletin or alert (and be willing to make the full list – including search strategies used – available on request) but don’t feel you need to list and acknowledge them all.
Asserting your intellectual property
A bulletin or alert that you create at work is your intellectual property and becomes a copyright work of your employer, but use of a © symbol and ‘all rights reserved’ is not conducive to NHS-wide sharing. Prefer instead a Creative Commons Licence.
A range of Creative Commons Licences are available – see https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
The most appropriate types are:
‘Attribution-NonCommercial’ (CC BY-NC) – allows others to adopt, adapt and build on your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you. See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/
‘Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike’ (CC BY-NC-SA) – allows others to adopt, adapt and build on your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and licence their new creations under the identical terms i.e. using the same creative commons licence. See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
This bulletin is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share it widely, or use or adapt parts of it, for non-commercial purposes, but please acknowledge XXX Library Service.
It is good practice to include a disclaimer on any current awareness products that you create. Although a “disclaimer” cannot be guaranteed to protect you, should someone choose to take legal action against you, it does enable you to indicate:
- the care that you take to ensure that the information you are presenting is accurate on the date that you publish it.
- that you have been selective and are not claiming to be providing comprehensive information.
- the limits to your responsibilities, in relation to the content of, access to and use of the information or web links that you are including.
- that inclusion of a particular link or content does not constitute an endorsement.
An example disclaimer:
All reasonable care is taken to ensure that the information we provide is accurate. We accept no responsibility for the content of, or access to, included web links or for use of the information therein. The information provided is selective; however, the inclusion of a link does not imply approval of the contents of the website.
Members of the Knowledge for Healthcare Current Awareness Services Task and Finish Group, including:
Anh Tran (Public Health England);
Ben Skinner (Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS Trust);
Bernie Hayes (formerly of 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust);
Heather Gardner (Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust);
Helen Bingham (Health Education England);
Mark Bryant (Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust)
If you have comments or suggestions for improving this guidance, please contact Helen Bingham.