Being proactive in your community with Google Alerts

I’m back in the office from both the Wyoming and Nebraska Library Association conferences before heading off to Internet Librarian at the end of the week. After just two of my three conferences this month (two in which I’m a speaker, and one I helped to run) my head is already buzzing with ideas and evil plans to implement in the future.

One of the biggest concepts running through my head right now was re-kindled by the NLA keynote presentation by Jamie LaRue. I kept shaking my head up and down and mumbling “yes” under my breath as he stressed the need for libraries to become more proactive and to reach out to their communities. Through this reaching out, we can make ourselves important in the eyes of the community and those with control over the things we depend on, like, oh, let’s say, the money.

So, I’m going to take this opportunity to flesh out something I mentioned in my Google Secrets presentation at WLA; how you can use Google Alerts to be proactive in your community.

Step one: Make sure you have a Google Account.

Step two: Figure out just what people in your community are interested.

This is probably the toughest step. I’m not saying figure that our for everyone. Focus. Is there a downtown redevelopment project going on? Is the city council working on deciding which streets to resurface? Is the mayor looking to increase the use of technology in the area of public safety? Find a combination of topic and person/people in which you can do some basic research for them.

Step four: Do some Google searches for the topic that you’ve picked. You may need to do a few to figure out the best search for the results you’re looking for. A few false positives aren’t that bad, you just want to limit them as much as possible. Besides a general search, try more specific news, blogs, video, and discussion searches. One of these might provide better results than searching the whole web. Once you’ve found the right search syntax, copy it for later pasting.

Step three: Head over to and this form:


Here, paste your search into the search box and preview the results to make sure you’re getting what you’re expecting. Then choose the type of search, how often you’d like it re-searched, how many results you’d like, and where to deliver it. (This last one can be to your e-mail address, or as an RSS feed which you will then need to subscribe to.)

Step four: Sit back and wait for the results to start coming in.

Step five: Each week, for example, pick out the best of the results you’ve received and forward them on in an e-mail to the person you’re trying to help. Yes, there’s a chance that they’ll say “please stop sending this to me” but more likely, if you do this right, they’ll appreciate your efforts and look forward to your updates which save them both time and effort.

In the long run you can set up as many search alerts as you’d like and can manage your alerts to change things such as the delivery method, the search syntax, and even delete them if they’re no longer needed.

So, take a little time and be proactive in your community. If you already are, add Google Alerts to your arsenal. If not, here’s a simple way to get started.

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