by Stosh Jonjak, Manager of Library Services for the Pittsburgh office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
Librarians and information professionals are accustomed to delivering relevant, late-breaking current awareness to our users. We have access to the latest and greatest news aggregating software currently available on the market. Yet, we have a tendency to overlook our very own information needs. We specialize in using news aggregators, so why not use them to stay current with law librarianship and related fields?
To step back, the general responsibility of a librarian is to manage information. In the recent past, we have seen our role shift away from curating a collection of—largely physical—information, and towards delivering only high-relevancy electronic information. From a macro-level we are living in the Information Age—information is no longer scarce. So, we have shifted from managing information to managing relevancy. We now must assess and deliver high-relevancy information.
Fortunately we have many tools that can help us assess and deliver relevancy automatically. Relevancy has become a research industry standard-bearer. The legal research interfaces we use all employ relevancy rankings, enabling us to ascertain relevancy as quickly as possible. Standing at the top of current awareness resources are news aggregators, software driven and judged by their relevancy rankings.
Commercially, we have a bevy of news aggregators to choose from. This is a competitive and aggressive area of software development, and understandably so. High relevancy news searching is essential to basically all commercial enterprises and industries. Therefore, many companies have thrown their hats into this commercial software ring. But, rather than get into the weeds of comparing and contrasting these particular software offerings, the majority of this software does the same thing to differing levels of exceptionality.
Underneath the hood, at a very basic level, all of this software operates essentially the same. The content set for this software is electronic news sources, meaning the content set is extremely massive. Due to the massive size of the content set, relevancy has to be the hallmark of these offerings. Search results, of course, are ranked by relevancy, with relevancy calculated by complicated and secret software-specific algorithms. And, the software usually allows for delivery customization—how frequently do you want the search run, how would you like the results displayed, to whom should the results be sent, etc.
The librarian is typically the person responsible for interfacing with this software. This requires us to be well-versed in crafting searches that deliver high-relevancy news to our users and to meet the users’ criteria to ensure an appropriate content set is being searched (whether that may include social media, paid/subscription materials, or just public published materials). And we have become adept at providing this service to all of our different users, with all of their different information needs. However, to create a feed about law librarianship, we have to examine our own user needs and criteria. The easiest way to do that is to study known high-relevancy sources and construct your search to have content from these high-relevancy sources among its results.
Fortunately law librarians have an excellent set of high relevancy news sources out there specifically tailored towards our profession. As a law firm librarian, I believe the following handful of sites are must-reads due to their high relevancy content:
- Robert Ambrogi’s Law Sites significantly focuses on software and technologies that affect the practice of law.
- Jean O’Grady’s Dewey B Strategic provides the viewpoint of a law firm library director on the increasingly competitive marketplace for legal information.
- 3 Geeks and a Law Blog examines big law technology, information needs, and information culture from the perspective of law firm technologists, knowledge managers, and researchers.
- Pinhawk Law Librarian Daily Digest is a news curator designed to deliver the highest relevancy law librarian articles of the day with editorials from Constance Ard and John DiGilio—two insightful, experienced information professionals.
You may already be familiar with these sites and the many more that are out there offering important, useful information to us. The key is to have a group of sites that consistently provide useful content as a control group for your alert creation.
Iterative searching is one of our fundamental skills: we conduct initial searches, review the results of these searches, and then incorporate information from the last results set to craft better searches. When we have a pile of high relevancy information like the above named blogs, we can more easily craft a search to arrive at retrieving the information already in those blogs—having a known high-relevancy control group enables you to reverse engineer a search. The content from those blogs may contain the precise phraseology we need to include in our terms and connectors search strings and may expose us to nomenclature that we were not previously aware of. Already knowing what a high-relevancy result looks like extremely simplifies the process of creating a high-relevancy alert.
After the search string has been created, and the alert is running, another benefit to using news aggregators is that the search string itself can be treated as a living, breathing thing. If you receive new hits from articles with content completely relevant to what you are trying to capture, you can incorporate terms from those particular articles into the search string you have already set up. Beyond the difficulty in creating the perfect search string from the get-go, information sources and topics change over time; news aggregators provide the malleability to continually update the search string underlying them.
Of course, the real key to success is to actively read and examine the results the news aggregator pulls in. As we have probably experienced from setting these up for our users, news aggregators are a two-way street—setting up the alert to get relevant content is half the battle, the other half is to read and analyze the pulled content. Aggregators certainly make digesting the content easier, as it’s all in one place, but they do require active participation from the user—the key is to figure out what delivery method best leads you to absorb the content.
In my own experience I have found frequency of alert delivery can really determine how I consume the information. Daily alerts are nice for cursory scans of law librarianship happenings, whereas weekly alerts cause me to examine the content more in-depth. The key is to find delivery methods that will suit your particular schedule and personality—another excellent advantage to using news aggregators is how modifiable the delivery options are. Trying different delivery options is an easy process to undertake, and doesn’t require re-creating alerts; merely change some delivery settings and judge if they are preferable. With all of that said, with news aggregators it has never been easier to be in the know.
About the Author:
Stosh Jonjak, Manager of Library Services for the Pittsburgh office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was recently profiled in a Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals newsletter. His profile mentioned that he keeps up with news and trends in legal information by employing a number of aggregators, such as paper.li, to remain current. He got into this practice when working on his own library technology focused blog-TILTlegal (formerly iBrary Guy).