Scottish Government Library blog

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Keeping up with the Library

I previously wrote about what, broadly speaking, my job as a Scottish Government Librarian involves.  Over my next few posts I’d like to explain some of the specific things our library does in a bit more detail.  In this post, it’s the turn of our alerting services.

The Scottish Government Library has always delivered alerting services to Scottish Government staff.  Helping staff to keep up-to-date with their subjects seems a very useful thing for the Library to do.  However, our experience is that very few staff come to the Library to receive the ‘traditional’ alerts we offer.  That’s to say emailed table of contents alerts (via ZETOC) and subject alerts from our subscription bibliographic databases (via EBSCO).  We are surveying staff to gain evidence on why that should be.  Though what we can say is that staff can set up these alerts for themselves, and may be doing so.  We also have an intranet page, our Alerts Centre, where we list a wide range of free alerting services from Google News to Amazon with loads in between.  Plus, of course, staff have always used their own ways to keep abreast of their subjects.

However, we feel it’s important that we provide alerting services to staff as we encourage the use of quality information sources to help staff work smarter.  We also wish to share our detailed knowledge of the best resources as the Library is such a source.

With this in mind, in April 2010 we decided to create a Netvibes page to aggregate the best resources by subject for staff.  With the content coming from RSS feeds hand-picked by library staff, as well as encouraging suggestions from Scottish Government staff to make the service as relevant as possible.  You can read previous posts that mention this work from July 2010 and August 2010.  This excellent CommonCraft YouTube video explains how RSS works.

Over 2 years have passed since we started our Netvibes page, so it’s time for an update.  Well, we completed it in October 2010 and then asked our colleagues in IT to create a ‘topics’ widget on the corporate Intranet for our aggregated subject feeds.  This provided another way we could make our feeds available to staff.

The RSS to email stage of this work I discussed in August 2010 launched in November 2010 with MailChimp.  We went for MailChimp as in tests it was much more reliable than Feedburner.  So we now offer the aggregated feeds for each subject as a daily email newsletter.  Anyone can sign up for the newsletters.  Subscribers receive the newsletters at around 5am each morning, though these can be set for any hour and can be sent daily or weekly.

It’s worth saying that this alerting service is entirely delivered by free 3rd party services (Netvibes, the RSS feeds and MailChimp), and with limited staff and financial resources to develop a new service, this seemed a good solution to us.

In fact the only resource required is to routinely check the services are running and deal with any problems.  We felt this was achievable as we already had a staff rota to check links in our Library webpages.  So we simply expanded the rota to cover the Netvibes pages.  As for MailChimp, I have each daily newsletter coming to me, with a rule moving them into their own folders which enables me to spot when any newsletter hasn’t delivered.  This can occasionally happen, and usually resolved by logging into MailChimp and giving the offending newsletter a nudge to send it out.

Given that we’ve used 3rd party tools, the service has continued to prove pretty reliable.  In the 2 years it’s been running there have been very few occasions where any of the services have failed.  And where they have, it’s been temporary.  Often resolved by either the tools sorting themselves out, or sometimes the tools requiring a bit of a kick-start from me.

Of course, from the outset we were careful to be transparent that we were using 3rd party services, and encouraged staff to let us know of any problems – and we would do what we could to fix any problems.  But with the disclaimer that we didn’t have complete control over these services.

More than 2 years into this service, we are pleased to say we now have 370 subscribers to our newsletters – some from outwith the Scottish Government.  We are happy to make our newsletters and Netvibes page available to anyone.  Please do check them out, and if they’re useful feel free to use them and spread the word.

Paul Gray
October 26, 2012