I used to read Jisc reports with great interest. Mainly because part of my job depended on what JISC (as it then was, in capital letters) thought and did. Jisc provided many hundreds of thousands, probably over the years millions, of £s in funding for various projects that I managed or was involved with. They have at various times produced numerous reports.
I always felt that Jisc reports usually confirmed much of what I, and the other people I worked with, already knew, but that they often didn’t quite ask the right questions at the right time, or make forceful enough recommendations in the light of the evidence presented in the reports, many of which were based on analyses of surveys, and sometimes they didn’t seem to differentiate enough between different disciplines which IMHO worked in quite different ways. At the time, we were all very hesitant to criticise Jisc in any way, because our funding mostly depended on them. Jisc had a life of its own, and trying to figure out its future direction was always difficult.
The report’s Executive summary highlights are as much as some people will read, so they are important, and they seem to confirm much of what we all probably already think, but also make good reading.
To summarise: online activity is pervasive across all categories of users [yes]; users expect to access resources anywhere from any device [of course]; library tools sit in an eco-system alongside other tools from which users make strategic selections according to purpose [yes]; library staff tend to over-estimate the extent that users use library services [erm..hold on a minute].
There are many other interesting findings (e.g. Authentication needs to be as invisible off-campus as it is on-campus [yes please!]), but I want to concentrate on what the report says about current awareness, keeping up-to-date and serendipity, and also in the light of, as it says, that an increasing proportion of scholarly research is carried out on mobile devices. Plus, and added to those things, the growing importance of Open Access.
It notes: The discovery layer is no help with discovery through monitoring for current awareness and the library could possibly do more in this respect, given the fragmentation and incompleteness of current awareness services.
Well, this is an example of a Jisc report not being forceful enough in its recommendations. Given that their role in general resource discovery is gradually being ceded by libraries to external services, plus other developments as noted above, libraries should definitely be doing a lot more in an area that they can relatively easily play a role – that of current awareness. And it would not be too difficult for them to do this.
I am involved in a current awareness service, called JournalTOCs. It is a free service used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. There is also a Premium version of JournalTOCs, aimed at libraries who want a managed current awareness service. Premium is currently being used by a variety of institutions in higher education, plus organisations involved in health, law, pharmaceuticals, etc, and also, thanks to the JEMO Project and INASP, a number of libraries in developing countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, Cuba and Tanzania.
For those in Jisc-sponsored UK higher and further education institutions in the UK, there is also Zetoc, a monitoring and search service for global research publications.
There is also a commercial journal current awareness service from Third Iron called BrowZine.
Each of the above has some unique features, but none is perfect. The services from T&F, Sage and similar only provide alerting for their own titles. BrowZine is mobile based, but includes only a very limited amount of titles unless your institution pays a subscription, and even then you are restricted to titles subscribed to by your institution plus a very limited number of Open Access journals (so there is much that is not included). Access to Zetoc is restricted to Jisc-sponsored UK higher and further education institutions, is web-based and is not, IMHO very user friendly. JournalTOCs, as I have noted, is free (though the Premium version for institutions has a (low) cost), I think it is quite user friendly, but it is web-based.
I think it is time that Zetoc and JournalTOCs worked together. In the past, this has not really been possible due to differing funding sources. But how about if Zetoc and JournalTOCs worked together to develop a mobile app – that app would have the same functionality for Zetoc and JournalTOCs users/customers, but would deliver results to each based on the two different data sets behind the services. Or perhaps the JournalTOCs data could be added to Zetoc for Zetoc’s users, but be kept separate for JournalTOCs’ users (Zetoc data cannot be made freely available to all).
There’s a fair bit more to this idea than I can explain here, but I reckon with a little effort and not exactly a great deal of funding, researchers everywhere, and potentially libraries everywhere, could use the app and the service to provide an excellent current awareness service of exactly the type recommended by the Chowcat Jisc report.
I am hoping to follow up the collaboration idea.