Web Magazine for Information Professionals

EEVL-ution to a Portal

Roddy Macleod on the hub's 'EEVL-ution' to a portal.

EEVL is the Hub for engineering, mathematics and computing. It is an award-winning free service, which provides quick and reliable access to the best engineering, mathematics, and computing information available on the Internet. It is created and run by a team of information specialists from a number of universities and institutions in the UK, lead by Heriot Watt University. EEVL helps students, staff and researchers in higher and further education, as well as anyone else working, studying or looking for information in Engineering, Mathematics and Computing. It is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) through the Resource Discovery Network (RDN).


In the last issue of Ariadne I wrote about the brand new EEVL service which was released in November 2001. I'm delighted to report that the response to the new design and service, which now covers mathematics and computing as well as engineering, has been overwhelmingly positive. Many comments such as "Congratulations on the new EEVL - looks (and works) very well", "I have only just caught up with the new look EEVL and I just have to send you and the team an e-bouquet. Congratulations on a great-looking, well-designed site." and "I have been admiring the new layout of EEVL - it's very intuitive and a great job!" have been gratefully received. As well as such nice messages, however, we are equally interested in constructive criticism of the service. Can you think of any ways to improve what we do? Do you find EEVL useful, or do you have problems using the services? Are there any features you would like to see introduced? Any feedback will help us mould the way EEVL is developed in the future, and can be sent to me, or the webmaster@eevl.ac.uk.

Portal developments

As mentioned in previous EEVL columns, this is the start of a period of sustained development for the Hub. Various services are being developed as part of the Subject Portal Project (SPP) (outlined by Judith Clark in Ariadne Issue 29 ), and by the staff at EEVL. The result of this work will see fully-fledged portals for engineering and mathematics which will be integrated into EEVL. Fortunately, for those who prefer gradual change to complete redesigns, the intention is that there will be an 'eevl-ution' to a portal, rather than a 'reevlution'. Dreadful puns aside, work is progressing well, and some exciting portal features are already available and are described below. The biggest changes will come early next year, however, when cross-searching of bibliographic databases will become possible. In the meantime, in addition to the new features mentioned below, a variety of subject-based community services are being scoped. I would like to thank all those who participated in the recent Portal Feature Survey which was part of this scoping process, and which was designed by Richard Young from the University of Birmingham. The results of this survey will shortly be analysed, and reported in the next issue of Ariadne, and will help to inform the future development of not only the EEVL service, but also other SPP portal work.

For those who would like to know more about portal work in progress, in addition to the SPP Project site, two sets of pages have been developed: Engineering Portal Project - Overview, and Mathematics Portal Project Overview.

As part of the development towards an engineering portal, a number of improvements have been made to the Recent Advances in Manufacturing (RAM) bibliographic database. The RAM database is a resource produced by the Library and Information Services Department at the Nottingham Trent University, and is hosted and maintained by EEVL. It is a database of bibliographic information for manufacturing and related areas and covers items appearing in well over 500 niche and mainstream journals and magazines. This is the first stage in the development of the RAM service which has been a popular part of the site for several years. The second stage, which will further improve the user interface, will take place in autumn 2002.

Improvements made to RAM include the development of a simplified web-based online inputting system (which although hidden from users now allows the database to be updated daily), a java-based indexing automatic process and a new search interface. The new search interface now offers phrase searching, a full record display including data such as author emails (where available), the ability to limit a search by a range of years chosen by the user, and all the options that were available in the previous RAM interface.

An updated edition of the RAM Reference Guide (Word Doc) is available. For more information about RAM, contact: Jim Corlett jim.corlett@ntu.ac.uk The Nottingham Trent University Library, Burton St, Nottingham NG1 4BU.

According to EEVL's Top 100, some of the most popular sites included in EEVL's Internet Resource Catalogue are recruitment agencies. This is hardly surprising, as a high proportion of the users of EEVL are students at universities and colleges who will one day have to seek employment. Recognising that employmentinformation is so popular, three jobs news feeds have been added to EEVL's Jobs and Recruitment Hot Link. These news feeds for, in turn, engineering and technology jobs, mathematics jobs, and computing jobs provide information about vacancies as advertised in the jobs.ac.uk service. These announcements about research, science, academic, teaching and management jobs and studentships in the public and private sector are expected to be very useful for the academic community, but in terms of portal work, the feeds are a relatively minor improvement to the EEVL site. Along with other services for the community, a facility which would aggregate job announcements appearing in numerous sites is being investigated as a possible future portal development.

The jobs announcements mentioned above are delivered via RSS channels. According to UKOLN Metadata Resources, "RDF Site Summary (RSS) is a lightweight multipurpose extensible metadata description and syndication format. RSS 1.0 is an XML application, conforms to the W3C's RDF Specification and is extensible via XML-namespace and/or RDF based modularization. RSS is primarily used for delivering news headlines on the Web. Developed initially by Netscape for their 'My Netscape Netcenter' service, RSS is now widely used to exchange headline metadata between news content providers and portals." In other words, RSS is a simple XML metadata application.

An RSS channel is also now available for additions to EEVL's Internet Resource Catalogue. This channel contains the last 15 records added to the EEVL database and is updated on a regular basis. Information about this facility, along with an outline of ways to link to the EEVL service, set up a search facility of the EEVL catalogue via standard protocols (Z39.50), obtain XML versions of EEVL records, and other similar details is now available from the Working with EEVL pages. These pages are aimed primarily at webmasters and those producing their own Web sites who may want to embed relevant materials in their services.

The highlight of EEVL's portal development so far is, however, something entirely new. As the Web grows as a means by which learning and teaching is delivered to students, there is a pressing need amongst lecturers, learning technologists and information professionals to know about existing courseware. A new service, called SearchLT Engineering, aims to help lecturers select and access suitable computer- and web-based learning materials in engineering for their courses. This service, developed by the JISC-funded FAILTE (Facilitating Access and Information to Learning and Teaching resources in Engineering) has produced a searchable and browsable Internet resource catalogue with several extra-value services. The extra features include independently produced reviews, plus other information, to help in the choice of suitable learning and teaching resources. Links provide access to the resources (if web-based), or to the webpages of the providers. Does existing courseware work well? Does it interactively engage students? What are the hardware requirements? What is the educational level? How long does it take to complete the resource? What does it cost, or is it freely available? These are the types of questions that SearchLT will be able to answer for learning and teaching resources in engineering. In addition, SearchLT has a My Account feature allowing personalisation, saved searches, email alerts, and details of how to include records in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).

As part of the development of the Engineering Portal, access to this service is now available as an integrated part of EEVL as well as being available at the SearchLT site. Searches made in the Engineering Section of EEVL now automatically cross-search the SearchLT database. Not only that, but corresponding SearchLT and EEVL records are linked together. This means that if someone starts at SearchLT and finds a record for which there is a corresponding EEVL record, the two will be linked together, and vice versa. This cross-linking of records will help to ensure that those looking for learning and teaching resources will be alerted to relevant information whatever may be their starting point.

engineering section screen dump

From EEVL's Engineering Section, the search box now cross-searches three different databases - the engineering part of the EEVL Catalogue of quality Internet resources, a full-text Websites index of the engineering sites in the engineering section, and the SearchLT catalogue of Quality learning and teaching resources for engineering. This new feature is likely to be a valuable addition to the service, and demonstrates interoperability in practice..

Other ongoing portal work at EEVL includes the development of several new full text Websites search engines, and the scoping of community-based services as mentioned above. If you are interested in taking part in focus groups to discuss engineering community services, please contact the EEVL Hub Development Officer, Malcolm Moffat, at M.Moffat@hw.ac.uk.

Other news

EEVL has joined up with Engineering magazine, E2 the career guide, Mathematics Today, and Computer Bulletin, plus top publishers Kluwer, Springer, Pearson, Wiley, Taylor & Francis and Butterworth-Heinemann, to offer the chance of winning any engineering, mathematics or computer book from their catalogues, entirely free! £7,500 worth of new books are being given away in this joint promotion, available from the Free Books pages.

Last year, EEVL ran a similar promotion and gave away £5,000 worth of books. That promotion was a great success, attracting nearly 5,000 entrants, and was commended in the Library Association & Emerald PR & Publicity Awards 2001. This year even more books are being given away, and a number of those available cover various aspects of the Internet, so there is something in it for just about everyone. All entrants have to do is go to the Free Books page, browse the publishers' catalogues, choose a book and enter it on the form.

The promotion closes on 31st May 2002.

Author Details

 Roddy MacLeod
EEVL Manager
Heriot-Watt University Library
EH14 4AS

E-mail: R.A.MacLeod@hw.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.hw.ac.uk/libwww/libram/roddy.html