There are three main ways of obtaining information: searching, browsing and alerting. The first two are being widely developed by libraries using the Web, but the last has been somewhat neglected. The NewsAgent for Libraries project was originally funded under the eLib Programme by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK higher education funding councils) as a two-year collaborative project started in April 1996.
Several small publishers of library and information science journals worked with network specialists, market evaluators and commercial software developers to design an open, distributed architecture for disseminating information via email and personalised Web pages. Dublin Core metadata was used, enhanced by NewsAgent specific keywords, to map stored user subject profiles against information feeds. Metadata was harvested using software robots to build an Oracle database where both user profiles and document attributes were stored.
Users can join the service via a Web page, to receive information updates by email or as a personalised Web page. Users can select predefined Topics in which they are interested, or create new named ones (stored queries). They can also modify existing Topics. Topics are presented in groups, called Channels.
A major part of the project was an extensive study of the potential end users of the service, before and after a prototype service was created. The project was considered a success, although further development of both software and marketing strategy were needed before a full scale launch could be planned. This is now expected in autumn 1999. In addition to this service, the software is being applied to other services by different organisations, targetted at groups such as small businesses, medical information and environmental information. It is expected that a commercial software package will be available from Fretwell-Downing Informatics as a result of the project.