I’ve done some serious thinking about current awareness since my first post. The result is that I still believe that the best practices I mentioned before, are worth reading, but I think we have a long way to go to really deliver on the promise of current awareness. So, what keeps us from attaining the goal? It could be the following:
- We rely on users to tell us what they are interested in reading. It is sad but true that in today’s new world that is spinning much faster than in the past, those seeking current awareness do not have the time to maintain a profile of topics. How do we solve that problem? We work on delivering the news based on what they know about their community through internal systems. While at Paul Weiss, Debbie Panella set up a current awareness system that did a nightly search against their time and billing system and updated the profile for client news based on the clients each lawyer was working with at that moment in time. This is moving in the right direction.
- We have systems that are too rigid. Every user is different. When the library staff at Faegre & Benson LLP set up the delivery tool that they call The NewsClipper, they (including me) were certain that lawyers wanted to see their current awareness in one e-mail. Fast forward 5 or so years and they are starting to think differently. After doing a small sampling of querying the lawyers there, they are finding that some want their news delivered in one email but others want their news delivered with one email per article. They say it allows them the opportunity to see the titles and decide whether they want to read the article. They will study the needs further, but this does raise questions regarding the creation of systems that limit users.
- We only deliver the news from aggregators. I mentioned before that their are plenty of sources for RSS feeds besides the large vendors. Beyond that, we should be looking at other services or subscriptions that contain news. BNA Reports (Bureau of National Affairs), CCH (A Wolters Kluwer Law & Business company) updates, and other newsletters have news that lawyers currently have to scan the resources to find what they need. The answer is to partner with the vendors to move in that direction.
- We accept duplication of articles. No matter what we do with current tools, there will be duplication of articles. There has to be some way to fix this problem.
- We don’t deliver news on the granular level it needs to be delivered. Our topics are too broad. Delivering a newsclip on broad subjects still requires our users to hunt and peck for what they need.
Before leaving the firm to begin working as a consultant, the staff and I worked on a current awareness project code named Nirvana. The goal was to develop a system that would deliver as much of the news the lawyers were receiving, through a current awareness tool. In addition to current news sourced from the aggregators, we worked on setting up topics for the news coming directly from publishers. They would only get the news that was relevant to them at the time it was published and when they were interested in the topic. Sounds like Nirvana, right? The problem with Nirvana is that it takes a lot of effort to attain it, especially for a library staff in one firm. We didn’t fail but the staff is still in search of what seems unattainable.
We weren’t wrong to start the project. After all is said and done, all of us want to deliver the resources to the lawyers in a manner that works best for them. To do that, we need to start thinking beyond what is possible today.
To learn more about what was done at Paul Hastings and Faegre, check out the ILTA webinar, Current Awareness: Managing Client and Practice News
from June 2006.
Now that I have the comments function working on this blog, I would REALLY like to hear what others are working on or thinking about this topic.