I’ve been interested in current awareness services ever since I started work in a library – Room 605, Mountbatten Building, Grassmarket – where, amongst other things and a long time ago, I used to arrange new issues of print periodicals, and file the latest Extel updates. Since then, I’ve been involved in various current awareness and alerting services, and whilst now retired, I still input into JournalTOCs, a service which helps researchers keep up-to-date with new scholarly papers. I used to show Zetoc to students, but now that I’m not employed, I’m no longer eligible to use it.
I used to photocopy the contents pages of various journals and circulate them around academic departments at Heriot-Watt University. I also produced the Internet Resources Newsletter, a popular alerting service about new websites, for many years. Various other services I was involved with had current awareness elements, such as OneStep Jobs and OneStep Industry News, and I have given several presentations on keeping current, and new information resources.
I define current awareness as knowledge of recent developments in a field or topic, and not just keeping up with scholarly papers. It can involve industry news, job vacancies, new books and in fact new information of any kind. I think that current awareness – enabling students and researchers to keep up with the latest information in their fields of study – is an important area for libraries. Librarians in universities are ideally positioned to help provide such information and services, or at least point their students, staff and researchers in the right direction to enable them to keep up-to-date themselves.
So, I thought that I’d look at how Scottish university library websites are providing current awareness services or information about keeping current.
This is slightly difficult, because current awareness can be called various things – keeping up-to-date; alerting services; news, etc.
Here are some examples of university library websites elsewhere in the UK which list current awareness sources and services – I’m not saying that these are particularly good, or bad, examples, but they show the range of things that some university libraries list on their websites on this topic:
University of Leeds Library: Current awareness and keeping up to date – includes journal alerts, database alerts, Web alerts, connecting with other researchers, other ways to keep up-to-date such as conference alerts, research funding alerts and patents alerts.
University of Sheffield Library: Current awareness – lists three sources, plus the Library’s Netvibes Universe. They also produce Current awareness bulletins for NHS Staff.
Bournemouth University Library: Current awareness – covers RSS feeds, conferences, researchers, current research, organisations.
University of Hull Library Services: Keeping up to date – covers periodicals, feeds, research, books, word-of-mouth, the Web, news, and official publications.
Manchester Metropolitan University Library: Current awareness services – a very brief list!
Hmm – just looking at the lists above, it is clear that various university libraries deal with current awareness in different ways.
How do the Scottish university libraries fare?
Some time ago I criticised the University of Aberdeen Library website in this blog post for the poor quality of some of the information. But how do they do with respect to advising on current awareness information? I can’t find anything in their Guides and FAQs list, apart from a link to one pdf file which has an extremely brief mention of current awareness. I can’t find anything else, even in the Subject Resources lists. If you ignore the library, and just search the university website for “current awareness” you get 6 results, but not the sort of thing I’m looking for. As far as I can see, then, the University of Aberdeen Library doesn’t give advice on its website on current awareness or keeping up-to-date.
University of St Andrews Library website – Unlike the University of Aberdeen Library website, you can search the University of St Andrews website. Why doesn’t every university library website allow this? I have no idea. Unfortunately, the results of searching for “current awareness” give some weird results – the first link is about a workshop held in 2012 about Open Access. The second link is to the same page! There seems to be something wrong with the results – the following two links are to another single page. I don’t know why.
Ah! I’ve found a subject guide, for Chemistry, with a little information about Keeping up to date. Not all of the subject LibGuides have the same sections. Hmm – in the Earth Sciences guide I notice:
A library guide which can’t process its own library news feed doesn’t fill me with confidence, but anyway, there’s some other useful information in this guide, but nothing on keeping current. As far as I can see, only a few of the guides have a Keeping up to date section, although there’s a list of Business News Sources in the Management Guide, and News Sources in the International Relations guide.
Using that weird Search of the University of St Andrews Library website and searching for either Zetoc, or JournalTOCs (two important UK based current awareness services for academics), produces no results. So I think that the University of St Andrews Library doesn’t give much advice on its website on current awareness or keeping up-to-date.
The third Scottish university library website I’m going to look at is Abertay University. Oh good! There’s a facility for searching the library website. Let’s go straight to searching it for Zetoc, a major UK current awareness service.
What? Nothing happens! Type in ‘Zetoc’ and press Enter, and nothing happens! Who on earth has a Search box that you can’t type a word and press Enter? Erm, Abertay University Library seems to. So, I use my mouse and click on the Search button, and I get:
What’s going on? OK, it seems to be a temporary fault. I’ve searched again (though you can’t use Enter to search):
No pages found, Abertay University Library website, for Zetoc. Not impressive, but I’ve found an Information for Researchers page, with a link to ‘Keeping up to date’ which looks promising.
What! It requires authentication to read a page about Keeping up to date!
Oh! This library website is driving me nuts. However, I’ve found a list of Subject Guides that don’t require authentication. All they seem to consist of is a rolling display of new book covers, a list of databases that Summon searches most of (most of – exactly which ones, though?), and lists of a few ‘Useful websites’.
I’ll continue with this review another day, when I’ve recovered from the disappointments of Aberdeen, St Andrews and Abertay university library websites.