Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Intute: The New Best of the Web

Caroline Williams describes Intute in the context of the online information environment and outlines aspirations for the future.

This article aims to give an overview of Intute [1], the new face of the Resource Discovery Network (RDN), in the context of the Internet information environment, and to describe how one JISC service has responded to its changing context. In order to do this it will briefly describe the environment and context for Intute, and will outline the new Intute service, its blueprint, current project activity, and Intute’s aspirations for the future.

The Context

The environment within which we operate is constantly changing, the people we serve are finding new ways of working, and we grapple with finding appropriate measures to demonstrate value for money and develop our services to ensure continuing relevance. This context is not unique to Intute, but is recognisable for many information services in education in 2006. In response to this, the RDN, a service which always selected, evaluated and delivered the best of the Web for education and research, has recreated itself as Intute. Intute signals a re-alignment with the changing context and a new phase of innovation for the service. Its launch on 13 July 2006 revealed the outputs of an intensive 18-month period of internal review, analysis and change.

From the RDN to Intute

For several years our users had been telling us how much they valued the contribution the RDN made to education and research. They told us that our focus on selecting only the best and most relevant Internet resources was important in helping minimise the use of unreliable and low-quality Internet resources. They told us that our subject- based expertise was vital in the selection of resources most relevant to academics, students and researchers within disciplines. They also told us of their frustrations; particularly those of academics in relation to their students’ use of poor-quality Web sites accessed via search engines.

As an organisation we took the opportunity to re-think the way we operate and evaluate our core business. The latter stays the same. There is no doubt in our minds that a service which is concerned with issues of quality and trust in the educational use of freely available content on the Internet is even more relevant now than when the RDN first started over ten years ago [2]. We reflected on the former, our model of working, i.e. a distributed network of subject groups with a whole host of further collaborators, partners and contributors; and reinforced our commitment to working in a way which provides creative exchange of ideas, a variety of expertise, and integral links within the community we serve. We operate with a culture of collaboration, aligned to community needs, and at our core we select and evaluate resources in order to deliver the best of the Web.

What Is Different?

‘To date, one of the main aims of the World Wide Web has been to provide users with information … With the development and advance of recent technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasting and file sharing this model is challenged and community-driven services are gaining influence rapidly.’ [3]

The trends we have been watching closely are Web 2.0 [4] [5] and its promise of a move from the information age to the participation age, the semantic web [6], and the changing digital library environment [7]. In addition, more familiar debates and initiatives continue to challenge us, specifically the limitations of search engines in the academic context [8] [9], and the challenges around searching across digital repositories [10]. All this, for Intute, provides opportunities to find new roles and services on a national basis and new ways of delivering and enhancing our core services.

Our Community

We enable collaboration and share our expertise; our communities’ needs drive everything we do. We cover diverse interests but are a single service. In order to better understand our users and respond to their needs we undertook a marketing exercise. One outcome of this exercise was a succinct overview of the differing needs of our users: academics, librarians and information professionals, researchers and students.

The Needs of Our Community

We found that academics are often immersed in niche academic subject matter, are interested in the work of their peers, and are content advocates. Librarians and information professionals are focused on educating users on Web resources and want to manage access to multiple sources through a single library-managed interface. They are worried about escalating costs and user demands, and are keen to provide quality information and services. We believe that librarians and information professionals can be strong service advocates, particularly with academic staff.

We looked at the needs of researchers, and found that they want to find out the breadth of research available quickly and then drill down into more detailed information. We believe that researchers generally know what they are looking for, but may browse a bit, and want to network and operate independently. We have conducted more in-depth research into the needs of researchers and a report will be made available on the Intute Web site; its recommendations will inform future service development (as will other findings produced by national bodies e.g. CURL (Consortium of Research Libraries)).

Students’ needs and wants, as expected, revolve around the need to get hold of specific information recommended by tutors, and to get ‘just enough’ to be able to do assignments. They are not keen on browsing or wading through long lists, and place a higher importance on the easy accessibility of content, rather than the high quality of resources. Students are very familiar with the Web, but often have no formal training in searching for and evaluating academic information.

Meeting These Needs

The needs of our community are diverse; however we were able to identify widely applicable themes. Issues of support, trust, and simplicity are paramount. Routes which are quick and easy to high-quality relevant information are valued, as is the ability to explore and discover independently. Therefore Intute offers not only its core database, but also provides help with Internet search and research skills. We respond to different needs at different levels in different disciplines. We work towards providing quality, relevance, ease of use and understanding; all enabling the most intelligent use of the Internet for education.

Our Service

The needs of our users, the context within which we operate, and the foundation created by the RDN have combined to form Intute. What this means to the user is that all of our valuable information and services are now available under one identity and in one simple interface. The best services of the former RDN Hubs are shared across the whole, and inter-disciplinary browsing and searching have been improved. A database containing all the Internet Resource Catalogue records from each of the eight Hubs has been created with other benefits including improved currency and relevance. The new database is hosted by MIMAS [11], so we have all of the advantages of being part of a national data centre technical infrastructure (i.e. fail-safe procedures, speed of response times, etc.).

The discipline focus of our service is delivered through four new subject groups:

The Virtual Training Suite [12] is in the process of being updated and has a new look; it will remain one of our most popular services spanning all subject areas.

Value-added Services

Intute remains a free online service, providing users with access to the very best Web resources for education and research, evaluated and selected by a network of subject specialists. At the core is our database, but this is only part of our offering. Value- added services contextualise the Web for education and bring us one step closer to our users. For example, Hot Topics [13], Limelight [14] and Behind the Headlines [15] take topical and current news or subject stories, and link them to lists of pertinent resources from our database. Other examples linked to key strategic partnerships are the Intute Arts and Humanities AHRC Projects database [16], and the Wellcome Trust gateways on Intute Health and Life Sciences. Our work using new technologies will continue, building on initiatives such as the Social Science Voices podcasts [17] published by Intute Social Science staff. Current examples include our use of blogs for news and updates from our Subject Groups in our Editors’ Log Web pages [18], and the Intute harvester [19] which offers a much larger database than the core catalogue. It is created by running a software tool over each site listed in the main Intute database and indexing more pages from that site.

Testimonies from those people who have had a preview of Intute suggest that the transition from the RDN to Intute has been positive.

The Blueprint

We have a blueprint for the short- and medium-term future which engages with user needs, context, and the value for money agenda. It states that by the start of the 200607 academic year, all currently existing services will be efficiently delivered through one organisation and one technical platform, providing users with continued access to existing resources. We will reduce duplication of effort across subject areas and share best practice, and leverage the expertise of Intute staff for other related information service developments.

We aim to increase discovery of, and access to, freely available resources via the Web, institutional portals and virtual learning/research environments. Our first case implementation studies are in their early stages with the University of Leeds and the University of the Arts London. We are actively developing personalisation tools so that individuals can save, manipulate and tag our data in a way which maximises its potential use. Again in its early stages, a beta version of our personalisation service, MyIntute, has been made available.


Again in the short and medium term, we are embarking on a number of projects aligned to our mission to advance education and research by promoting the best of the Web, through evaluation and collaboration. Building upon our strategic alliances in order to serve the needs of the academic community in new ways, we are already harnessing our collective expertise and working on a number of projects [20]. They are The Higher Education Academy resource catalogue integration, INFORMS transition to Intute, and Institutional Repositories search service.

The Higher Education Academy Resource Catalogue Integration

The Higher Education Academy [21] and Intute are working together to integrate the Resource Collections of the Academy Subject Centres.

INFORMS Transition to Intute

INFORMS [22] is a flexible and adaptive tool that facilitates the design of interactive, bite-sized, online information skills units for students. It is unique in that it allows the creation of units that are based on searching live quality information databases, and units can be easily customised to create tutorials tailored to the needs of specific groups of students. The project aims to move INFORMS from the University of Huddersfield to Intute and the MIMAS national data service infrastructure.

Institutional Repositories Search Service

Content deposited in institutional repositories is growing, however there is no comprehensive and easy way to search and retrieve this content. This project aims to facilitate access to scholarly and educational material, by making this content widely accessible to the UK education community. UKOLN, SHERPA, and Intute have been commissioned by JISC to develop a repository search infrastructure. This project will build on the outputs of the ePrints UK Project.

In addition, Intute is participating in the eBank Project and has recently completed its work on the Internet Detective Project.


eBank UK [23] is a JISC-funded project which is a part of the Semantic Grid Programme. The project is being led by UKOLN, the University of Bath, in partnership with the Combechem Project at the University of Southampton, with assistance from the Intute team based at The John Rylands University Library, The University of Manchester (formerly PSIgate - Physical Sciences Information Gateway at the University of Manchester). It brings together chemists, digital librarians and computer scientists to explore the potential for integrating research datasets into digital libraries.

Internet Detective

This project has recently delivered an online tutorial called “Internet Detective” [24] to help students in Higher Education to develop Internet research skills. The tutorial looks at the critical thinking required when using the Internet for research and offers practical advice on evaluating the quality of Web sites.

The tutorial, which is now available on the Web or as a VLE download, is part of the Intute Virtual Training Suite. It was developed by Intute staff from ILRT at the University of Bristol in partnership with the Manchester Metropolitan University and the HEFCE Learn Higher Project (CETL). Additional funding was provided by the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences.

The Future

Intute is created by the community for the community and we intend to develop by building and sharing knowledge though community engagement. The potential of a distributed network of subject-based experts facilitating intelligent use of the Internet in education is limitless. The seven institutions which make up Intute are: the University of Birmingham, the University of Bristol, Heriot Watt University, the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Nottingham and the University of Oxford. They are united in the belief that, as the Internet keeps growing, issues of quality and trust become increasingly important to education and research.

New technologies give us opportunities and challenges in the delivery and evolution of our core and value-added services. Being close to our users ensures that future innovations in service are aligned with their needs. Our training services work towards developing both generic and subject-based Internet research skills. We engage with our environment in the broadest sense so that, ultimately, we inspire action in making the most intelligent use of the Internet for education.


Intute, as the new best of the Web service, has been created in response to users’ needs and the changing Internet information environment. It is a free national service enabling lecturers, researchers and students to discover and access quality Internet resources. Intute exists to advance education and research by promoting the most intelligent use of the Internet.

Intute works through evaluation and collaboration. It has massive potential to deliver a service on a national level which responds to those fundamental principles of librarians and information professionals, namely trust, quality, and ease of use and user empowerment in the ever-changing and complex world of education.

Intute is hosted by MIMAS at The University of Manchester, and is a collaboration among a whole host of partners and contributors. At the heart of the organisation is a consortium of seven universities, bringing together a wealth of expertise and knowledge. Intute is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

If you would like further information or to find out more about working with us, please contact Intute via our feedback form [25].


  1. Intute Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/
  2. Hiom, D., “Retrospective on the RDN”, Ariadne issue 47, April 2006 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue47/hiom/
  3. Kolbitsch, J. and H. Maurer (2006) “The Transformation of the Web: How Emerging Communities Shape the Information we Consume”, Journal of Universal Computer Science 12(2), pp. 187-213
  4. O’Reilly, T. (2005). “What is Web2:0”
  5. Miller, P. (2005). “Web 2.0: Building the New Library”, Ariadne issue 45, October 2005 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue45/miller/
  6. Matthews, D. B. (2005). Semantic Web Technologies, JISC Technology and Standards Watch http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/jisctsw_05_02bpdf.pdf
  7. Dempsey, L ‘The (Digital) Library Environment: Ten Years After’, Ariadne issue 46, February 2006 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue46/dempsey/
  8. Brophy, J. and D. Bawden (2005). "Is Google enough? Comparison of an internet search engine with academic library resources", Aslib Proceedings 57(6): pp. 498-512
  9. Markland, M. (2005). “Does the student’s love of the search engine mean that high quality online academic resources are being missed?”, Performance Measurement and Metrics: The International Journal for Library and Information Services 6(1): pp. 19-31
  10. Swan, A. and Awre, C. (2006) “Linking UK repositories: technical and organisational models to support user-oriented services across institutional and other digital repositories”.
  11. MIMAS Web site http://www.mimas.ac.uk/
  12. Intute: Virtual Training Suite Web site http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/
  13. Intute: Hot Topics Web sites
  14. Intute: Arts and Humanities, Limelight Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/artsandhumanities/cgi-bin/limelightfront.pl
  15. Intute: Behind the Headlines Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/behindtheheadlines.html
  16. Intute: Arts and Humanities, AHRC Projects Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/artsandhumanities/ahrc.html
  17. Social Science Voices Web site http://www.sosig.ac.uk/voices/
  18. Intute Editors’ Logs Web sites:
  19. Intute harvester Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/socialsciences/harvester.html
  20. Intute Projects Web site http://www.intute.ac.uk/projects.html
  21. The Higher Education Academy Web site http://www.hea.ac.uk/
  22. INFORMS Web site http://informs.hud.ac.uk/cgi-bin/informs.pl
  23. eBank Web site http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/projects/ebank-uk/
  24. Internet Detective Web site http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/detective/
  25. Intute feedback form http://www.intute.ac.uk/feedback.html

Web sites of other organisations referred to in this article:

Author Details

Caroline Williams
Executive Director of the RDN
Manchester Computing
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL

Email: caroline.williams@manchester.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.rdn.ac.uk

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