Current awareness services

Good practice guidelines for healthcare librarians and a directory of example bulletins and schemes to aid collaboration in current awareness.

Non-urgent advice: Best practice

Current awareness services are highly valued, but time-consuming to do well.

These simple guidelines have been developed by librarians to help ensure our current awareness outputs are both fit for purpose and good to share.

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Listen to your users:

This will impact on their sense of ownership and should ensure that your products are well-received and relevant.


  • What they want from a “current awareness update”
  • Which sources are of particular interest

Focus your information on:

  • Their interests
  • The organisation’s values and objectives

Evaluate and review

User needs change and key sources will vary over time. It is important, therefore, that you evaluate your service at least every 2 to 3 years, to ensure that you are meeting your users’ needs.

Tools that you can use to deliver your service and to gather information will also change over time. It is advisable, therefore, that you do an annual review of the options that are available to you, to ensure that you are working effectively and efficiently. 

As part of this review you should also consider whether there are any opportunities for collaboration and/or any new “ready-made” products that could meet your users’ needs.


“Current awareness” is a term that library staff understand, but means little to many of our users. 

The most important thing is that we give “current awareness” outputs a name that is meaningful to customers.  For example, Update, Alert or Bulletin could be part of the title.

Delivery format and design

This should be user-driven.  Consider how and when your target audience are accessing information:

  • Is the technology they use compatible with your product?
  • Do they have good access to information technology?
  • Do they prefer to have something that they can print out?

Layout and design should enable the contents to be skimmed for relevance.

Any referencing style used should be consistent.

If you bulletins with other KLS, you need to share in a format which may be modified (i.e. not in pdf format). Feedback indicates that ‘localisation’ is important.


Before you create your own current awareness bulletins and alerts, consider joining a scheme to produce them collaboratively, such as CASH.  Alternatively you may choose to subscribe to a service which provides tailored current awareness alerts to your users, such as KnowledgeShare.

Current Awareness Service for Health (CASH)

Provides a platform for collaboration and reducing duplication in producing alerting services for health.

How does CASH work?

At the hub of the CASH website is a database which is used to capture all the latest publications from a selection of high quality sources, organised under a category structure. The content can then be used by LKS to produce personalised CAS for their own customers.

Key service features

  • Fully searchable database – this could be a source to supplement your own CAS
  • RSS newsfeeds – subscribe to as many as you like to produce web based service or email bulletins for your customers
  • Current awareness bulletins – freely available for you to modify and distribute, please acknowledge the original producer!
  • Know How section containing help and support for CAS including best practice guidance and a range of resources

Contact Gary Meades for more information.


KnowledgeShare is a system which delivers highly targeted, personalised evidence updates to hundreds or thousands of KLS members with little effort.

Evidence updates are focused on high-level clinical evidence, local evidence, and health management.  Over 1000 new publications are added every month covering all healthcare and public health fields.

Emails are short and targeted and depend on a combination of the member’s clinical interests, managerial interests, their profession and the setting they work in.

There is an annual licence cost for the service and you can contact Ben Skinner at [email protected] to find out more.


Consider these factors when evaluating which sources to use:

Scope and authority

Intended subject scope and relevance to your users

Intended audience and suitability for inclusion in an alerting service provided by your organisation

Where has the information come from?

Who is the individual/group responsible for the source and are they qualified? Have contact details been made available?

Are any organisations associated with the source, such as publishers, sponsors or funding agencies, reputable and recognised?

Is the source well known and/or heavily used?

What is the provenance of the source and how long has it been available?

Does the source offer anything unique in terms of its coverage or format?


What is the subject coverage and is it relevant to end-users?

Is the source comprehensive within its given area?

Does the source cover the subject adequately?

Is the information provided in sufficient detail and pitched at a suitable level?

Are there any links to further information? Do the links add value to any existing information or are they of value as an information source in their own right?


Is the information accurate?

Has the information been through a process of editing or refereeing?

Does the information have a research basis?

Is the information supported by published research findings?

Is there any evidence that the source may be biased by those involved in its production and/or dissemination?

Is the source professionally presented? Are there any typographical or grammatical errors?


Is the information up-to-date?

Is the information likely to be kept up-to-date?

Where applicable, how frequently and/or regularly is the information updated? Is this appropriate to the type of information?


Is the resource frequently unavailable due to server unreliability or overwhelming demand?

Are there any geographical access restrictions?

Do users need to register to use the resource, and if so, is this a straightforward process?

Is there a charge to access the resource?

Is the information OpenAthens authenticated or are there copyright or other licensing restrictions?

Abstracts and summaries

The quantity and the nature of content should be based upon user needs.

  • How are clients using the service?
  • Do they see it as a listing service from which they would select full text articles to read or as a newsletter updating them with summaries of current research and reports?
  • Do they want abstracts or are they more interested in being able to skim “headlines” quickly?

Existing content may be used, rather than writing new abstracts – but please see IPR, copyright and acknowledgements section.

Abstracts or summaries should at least be sufficient to allow the client to:

  • Identify the subject
  • Make some assessment of authority and value
  • Gain some understanding of any key conclusions

The reader needs enough information to enable them to decide whether an article or publication is likely to be worth their time.  The title of the publication may be specific enough by itself but a short description may be needed:

Example 1: “No new evidence to support the routine use of steroids in the treatment of infectious mononucleosis.” (Evidence-Based Medicine).

The specificity of this title, giving patient group, intervention and outcome, means that further summarisation is not essential.

Example 2: “Transition of care for adolescents from paediatric services to adult health services” (Cochrane Systematic Review).

Here, the patient group is clear but intervention and outcomes are not.  A short summary is recommended, e.g.

“The available evidence (four small studies; N = 238), covers a limited range of interventions developed to facilitate transition in a limited number of clinical conditions, with only four to 12 months follow-up. These follow-up periods may not be long enough for any changes to become apparent as transition is a lengthy process.”

Example 3: “Nurse staffing matters: now what?” (BMJ Quality and Safety).

It is not clear what this article is about.  A short summary is essential.

When composing a summary, try to be succinct and aim for no more than four lines in most cases.  Adapt sentences from the article, often from the introduction or conclusion and think in terms of summarising the population group (condition), intervention(s) and outcomes.

IPR, copyright and acknowledgements

Abstracts are individual copyright works.

Abstracts from journal articles and/or bibliographic databases may be copied into bulletins and alerts for distribution in electronic and print formats.

Under the terms of the CLA Licence Plus for the NHS in England (2018 -) bulletins containing journal article abstracts may be placed on websites, as long as they are accompanied by each either a hypertext link to the full text of the article or a full citation of the article.

Including web links in bulletins and alerts

Hyperlinks to web pages may of course be included in bulletins and alerts, but should allow the reader to find the home page of the website and original source of the information.

They should not by-pass information that enables them to see any associated copying restrictions. For this reason, it is good practice to include links to pages with a pdf, rather than a deep link directly to a pdf.

Acknowledging your sources

If you are re-purposing a bulletin or alert created by someone else, you should clearly acknowledge this.

This bulletin uses content created and shared with permission by XXX NHS Library Service…..

Do include an brief overview of the breadth of the sources you have used to create your bulletin or alert (and be willing to make the full list – including search strategies used – available on request) but don’t feel you need to list and acknowledge them all.

Asserting your intellectual property

A bulletin or alert that you create at work is your intellectual property and becomes a copyright work of your employer, but use of a © symbol and ‘all rights reserved’ is not conducive to NHS-wide sharing. Prefer instead a Creative Commons Licence.

A range of Creative Commons Licences are available – see

The most appropriate types are:

  Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

Allows others to adopt, adapt and build on your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you.  See

 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

Allows others to adopt, adapt and build on your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and licence their new creations under the identical terms i.e. using the same creative commons licence.  See


This bulletin is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share it widely, or use or adapt parts of it, for non-commercial purposes, but please acknowledge XXX Library Service.


It is good practice to include a disclaimer on any current awareness products that you create. 

Although a “disclaimer” cannot be guaranteed to protect you, should someone choose to take legal action against you, it does enable you to indicate:

  • the care that you take to ensure that the information you are presenting is accurate on the date that you publish it.
  • that you have been selective and are not claiming to be providing comprehensive information.
  • the limits to your responsibilities, in relation to the content of, access to and use of the information or web links that you are including.
  • that inclusion of a particular link or content does not constitute an endorsement.

An example disclaimer:

All reasonable care is taken to ensure that the information we provide is accurate.  We accept no responsibility for the content of, or access to, included web links or for use of the information therein. The information provided is selective; however, the inclusion of a link does not imply approval of the contents of the website.

Contributors to this guidance

Members of the Knowledge for Healthcare Current Awareness Services Task and Finish Group, including:

Anh Tran (Public Health England);
Ben Skinner (Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS Trust);
Bernie Hayes (formerly of 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust);
Heather Gardner (Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust);
Helen Bingham (Health Education England);
Mark Bryant (Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust)

If you have comments or suggestions for improving this guidance, please contact Helen Bingham.

Page last reviewed: 15 June 2021