Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Down Your Way

Loughborough University has a reputation for technological excellence. Its Information Service was revamped last year, and is becoming increasingly dependent upon the Internet. Alison Kilgour reports.

Sprawling across a vast 216 acre site, Loughborough University is one of the largest university campuses anywhere in the UK. The university is the largest employer in this little industrial town, and in term time the student population swells the population of the town considerably. Fittingly, for an academic institution in an industrial environment, the university has a reputation as a leader in the field of technological innovation. In addition, it is considering dropping the 'Technology', from its title, and is now known simply as 'Loughborough University'.

The university connects to the Internet's universe of information through a service called the 'Information Gateway', which has been developed by the Computing Services department. Gateway presents a 'seamless web' of local and remote services. It has been live in its present format for a year and a half. Phil Herbert works in the Computer Services department and also rejoices in the title of WebMaster. He is quick to acknowledge the support given by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor D.J. Wallace, which has been crucial to the success of the service in gaining support from academic departments.

Users from other institutions connecting to Loughborough over the Web are presented immediately with the Gateway, which acts as the university's 'official' home page. The University Library (named 'The Pilkington Library' after the university's first Chancellor) has had an Internet presence built in to the Gateway from the start, and its home page is found under 'Central Administration and Service Departments'.

A university of technology in fact, if no longer in name, Loughborough is well on the way to ensuring that all staff members have a PC, or access to one, and most departments are now connected to the Gateway. The aim is to connect them all, and for all departments to have their own home pages. As in so many institutions, staff resources are the issue here. Loughborough has no staff employed permanently to develop the Gateway service. Responsibility for the content of Gateway pages is devolved to departments with an individual point of contact within each.

A browse through the upper level pages of the Gateway service shows it to be of the sober variety. Dry, mainly textual information predominates, with few graphics to distract one from the serious business of tracking down information.

The Pilkington Library offers a well-developed set of local resources via its pages. The OPAC is linked in, as is a serials contents page service, various Library publications and the Library newsletter (albeit a year and a half out of date!). A link is also provided to a select number of electronic journals, and to various Net subject trees. Good clear links are provided to BIDS and to OCLC First Search, and there is information on the Library's CD-ROM provision.

An experimental Web version of the Library's TALIS library system is also now available. An innovation which caught my eye was its 'Reading Lists' service, which permits a keyword search of reading lists which link directly to the catalogue records of the items themselves, with the option to reserve the materials available.

Students have access to Gateway from PCs within the library and from computer laboratories in departments. Training in network services for staff and research students is approached in a very structured way. The training programme is provided jointly by the Library and Computing Services, and is available to all levels of staff. Computing Services provides the "know how", while Library staff furnish the information on the services available. Training is provided across a range of skills levels, from beginners to advanced searching.

Unfortunately, undergradute students are not so lucky. Some of the students I spoke to in the Library knew nothing about the wider Internet access available to them and the resources which they could tap into. They used the services available to them through the Library pages - and these are considerable - but had not browsed the Internet or sampled searching techniques using search engines such as Lycos or Yahoo. With 8,000 undergraduate students, it is easy to understand why training is difficult, but this is a challenge which needs to be addressed in Loughborough, as in many other universities.

What the Loughborough University Gateway lacks in visual attraction it certainly makes up for in clarity of structure and in the range of resources available. The library resources on the Web portray a service which is actively looking towards the future of information services in university teaching and research, by helping its users to find the remote resources they need without sacrificing its commitment to the development of high quality local resources.



Thank you for the "Down Your Way" article focusing on work at Loughborough University. However, I feel that I should point out several factual errors in your report which may cause some raised eyebrows.

Firstly, you state:

The university is the largest employer in this little industrial town, and in term time the student population is almost twice that of the town itself.

Loughborough may only have a population of approximately 50,000, but even with the recent increases in student numbers, we are a very long way from having 100,000 students. Actually, later in the article you mention that there are 8,000 undergraduate students, implying either a very small town (village?) or a postgraduate body encompassing the entire country!

Secondly, your reference to the University as Loughborough University is a little premature: a recent review of our corporate identity has indeed proposed that our current full title "The Loughborough University of Technology" be amended to "Loughborough University", but this amendment has not yet received formal approval from the Privy Council. It should also be noted that the proposed name change in no way implies a diminution of the importance which the University attaches to its technological activities. Instead, it is considered that the proposed new name better reflects the excellence which the University achieves across a range of academic disciplines.

Thirdly, the service at Loughborough to which the article refers is the "Information Gateway", something which is quite clear once you access our home page - http://info.lut.ac.uk/home.html

Finally, a point which has raised the most eyebrows locally, is my supposed new job title. On behalf of the Director of Computing Services, David Hogg, I should say that the report of my promotion was an exaggeration (apologies to Mark Twain).

Phil Herbert
System Programmer and Webmaster

The editor responds:
"To err is human" or something like that :-) Thank you for pointing out the mistakes; corrections have now been made to the above article in the Web version. Unfortunately, the Web being the Web and paper being paper, we cannot make changes to the print version.