Around the world to Cranfield University Library

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Library Hi Tech News

ISSN: 0741-9058

Publication date: 1 October 2002


Bevan, S., Harrington, J. and Woodward, H. (2002), "Around the world to Cranfield University Library", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 19 No. 10.

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited

Around the world to Cranfield University Library

Cranfield University grew out of the Cranfield College of Aeronautics which was founded in 1946 by a government that recognised the importance of research and development in aviation following the war. As Cranfield Institute of Technology it was granted University status in 1969 and in 1992 it changed its name to Cranfield University. The University has three campuses – Cranfield, Silsoe (15 miles from the central campus), and the Royal Military College of Science (RMCS) at Shrivenham (60 miles from Cranfield). The average age of the 3,200 student population is 29 and around 80 percent are postgraduate. The main subject areas are aeronautics, engineering, manufacturing and management, biosciences and agricultural engineering and defence studies. The University has four libraries, one each at RMCS and Silsoe, and two at the Cranfield campus – the central Kings Norton Library and the Information Resource Centre within the School of Management. The Web site: defines information and library services for each campus.

The strategy of the University libraries is to move towards offering digital library services and this is endorsed and supported by the University Information Strategy. The library services on all three campuses follow a formal strategy to share subscriptions to electronic resources through site licensing. Access is provided, via the library Web pages, to over 100 databases, covering all aspects of the subjects taught and researched at the University. The number of electronic journals continues to grow and now numbers over 4,000. An important recent development is the setting up of a University union list of journal titles via the TDNet service. Both electronic and print-based titles from all three campuses have been added to the database. The system includes a searchable database of contents pages, with weekly updates and the ability to set up personal searchable title lists. E-books have also proved popular with library users and e-books are made available from NetLibrary, Knovel and Wiley InterScience.

In recognition of the increasing number of full-text resources to which the library has access and the need to make these resources available to customers in an ordered and structured way, the Library made the decision to purchase Hyperion, a sub-system of the current Unicorn Library Management system. Hyperion is a document media archive that allows the Library service to provide access to digital objects in numerous formats, in order to support the work of the University. Hyperion is a University resource and many of the current projects are being undertaken in collaboration both with service departments and academic schools, in order to support teaching and research. An example of the former is the project to store images for the University marketing department. Examples of collaboration with academic schools include the loading of slides to support a lecture series in the School of Water Science and a collection of images relating to Motorsport to support the MSc in Motorsport engineering and management. Other projects include slides relating to materials handling and a set of resources belonging to the National Soil Resources Institute. The Library service has also added a number of Cranfield theses to Hyperion in pdf format, in order to further the research into the development, storage and display of e-theses.

A key element of library strategy over many years has been to maintain a very active research profile. This has been an important feature of the library's work stretching all the way back to the Aslib/Cranfield Research Project of the late 1950s and 1960s which examined the efficiency of indexing systems. This seminal series of experiments known as Cranfield I and II and the subsequent studies that they inspired, did much to formulate concepts that are fundamental to our understanding of information retrieval theory, such as recall, relevance and precision.

In view of the commitment required, the library will only engage in a piece of research if it falls within an area of interest which is judged to be of fundamental importance to the service. Over the years the library has engaged in externally-funded research and has also designed and carried out many studies which have been entirely self-supported. An example of the latter is the Biodoc project from 1995-1997, which established a new service model involving the cancellation of print journals and their replacement with a mode of support based on the utilisation of table of contents/alerting and fast document supply. Current externally-funded projects include:

AERADE – the Internet portal for aerospace and defence engineering

AERADE ( provides integrated access to key aerospace and defence information Internet. Although now part-funded by the JISC Resource Discovery Network, AERADE is the product of two originally separate initiatives developed at the Cranfield and RMCS campus libraries to create subject-based Internet gateways for use by internal customer groups. It now also forms an element of the EEVL (engineering, maths and computing) service based at Heriot-Watt University. Since its launch in November 1999, the portal has continually expanded the range of services that it offers its community. These include:

  • links to over 3,000 quality assessed Internet resources;

  • a special collection of resources designed to meet the needs of the armed forces;

  • subscription-based validated and authoritative engineering design data and methods provided by ESDU International;

  • an interactive tutorial to enable users to locate high quality aerospace and defence Internet resources;

  • access to the latest new stories in the relevant fields;

  • a listing of forthcoming conferences and events;

  • links to over 1,700 technical reports integrated into the service from the NASA Langley Technical Reports Server.

MAGiC – managing access to grey literature collections

The MAGiC project is a first step towards establishing a new collaborative system for the collection, storage and utilisation of engineering grey literature. Importantly it seeks to ensure that access to technical reports becomes part of the continuing development of a distributed national electronic resource. The project has been funded jointly by the British Library's Co-operation and Partnership Programme (CPP) and the Research Support Library's Programme (RSLP). It has enabled the project team and its consortium partners to explore a number of information and library challenges, including collection development, management and retention. The Web site: describes the developments of this expanding project.

Enhancing the visibility of and access to engineering reports via electronic storage and document supply is also a key aim. MAGiC is attempting to lay the foundations for the development of a National Reports Catalogue and to establish a core electronic archive containing engineering report literature from key UK and international producers. To date, one of the most important outputs of the project is the demonstrator service METReS ( which comprises a Web site, delivering records from the National Reports Catalogue (NRC). The records provide information on report producers, report series and reports, as well as links to collections that hold reports, access to electronic full text and integrated document supply via the British Library Document Supply Centre. At the moment the NRC holds metadata for over 12,000 reports. Through the use of metadata harvesting, we aim to increase this number to more than 200,000 by the end of the project.

AIM-Eu (Aerospace Information Management – Europe)

AIM-Eu ( is a study that the library is conducting on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) under a sub-contract arrangement with the British Library. The purpose of the study is to inform future ESA policy on the international sharing and exchange of aerospace scientific and technical information (STI).

A consultation and research exercise involving a questionnaire survey, interviews and a series of four seminar held in Spain, The Netherlands, Italy and France, have provided a wealth of data. This covers a variety of topics and themes, including the information needs and preferences of aerospace STI users, organisational information management procedures and practice and the arguments for and against information sharing and exchange. The work builds on an earlier study of the aerospace industry in the UK, conducted by a Cranfield Library team. Both of these pieces of research have added considerably to the library's understanding of the culture of the aerospace industry and the factors which shape the information needs and information seeking behaviour of engineers and scientists.

The AIM-Eu research demonstrates the value of having synergy between research activities with overlapping interests and objectives. The new technologies and supporting protocols and standards that the library has been testing with AERADE and MAGiC might offer a possible technical solution for the development of a pan-European aerospace information portal. Whether or not this materialises will depend very much on the willingness or ability of individual European aerospace organisations to participate in any future information-sharing framework.


In collaboration with partner institutions, Cranfield has recently been successful in winning a research contract under the JISC FAIR (Focus on Access to Institutional Resources) call, to look at the issues and challenges relating to the deposit, management, organisation, cultural differences and preservation aspects of electronic theses. The Library chose to take part in this study in recognition that, much like report literature in the MAGiC project, there is a body of work that is under-utilised as an information resource. This is another example of the Library service becoming involved in research.

The project will concentrate on 'born digital' theses and intends to assess various existing electronic thesis models against a set of criteria, resulting in a set of recommendations for future developments, specifically relevant to the UK. Two of the planned deliverables are to recommend, first, a mechanism for allowing access to theses as institutional level and second, a mechanism at national level for storing and allowing access to electronic theses.

John Bevan ( is Information Systems Manager at Cranfield University Libraries, Cranfield, UK. John Harrington ( is Information Services Manager at Cranfield University Libraries, Cranfield, UK. Hazel Woodward ( is University Librarian and Director of the Cranfield Press at Cranfield University, Cranfield, UK.