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PerX (Pilot Engineering Repository Xsearch) is a two-year JISC Digital Repositories Programme project to develop a pilot service which cross searches a series of engineering content sources. The pilot service cross searches a range of content of interest to the UK FE/HE engineering community, including but not limited to Open Access (OA) materials, and has been used as a test bed to explore a range of practical issues.


  • A subject based approach to resource discovery has much merit (2).
  • Differences between disciplines need to be carefully considered when evaluating which approaches are likely to be successful.
  • Creating subject perspectives on multidisciplinary repositories is often difficult.
  • A hybrid approach to cross searching has limitations.
  • Identification of suitable repositories is time consuming.
  • Setup and maintenance of subject based cross-search services is complex and time intensive, even when the sources used utilise ‘standardised’ interoperability mechanisms (3).
  • In particular, maintenance of OAI-PMH sources, and automating reharvesting, present a number of challenges for service providers (3).
  • Metadata enhancement & data normalisation is often required.
  • More content sources are required – specialised subject based content, and well established sources already utilised by end users (e.g. Google Scholar, Wikipedia, Flickr).
  • Advocacy work with a range of major engineering content providers (e.g. IEEE, ICE, IStructE, IHS) has been partially successful.
  • Persuading content providers to adopt a standardised approach to metadata exposure (4) is not straightforward.
  • Investigation and trial usage of JISC Information Environment Shared Services (e.g. Service Registries, Terminology Services) has revealed that many are currently JISC projects with identified service potential. Their level of readiness for live service deployment thus varies (5).
  • It is possible to embed cross search functionality within a VLE by utilising open source and open standard approaches (6).

Emerging Issues

A number of services currently exist which focus solely on OA Repository materials (e.g. ARROW, BASE, DARE, DiVA, Intute Repository Search).

There is potential for subject based services which cross search OA repository content along with other relevant materials and which reflect the real complexities of end users’ information landscapes (Fig 1).

“Subject-based end-user services are regarded as extremely valuable, as it is through their subject that many end-users will wish to interact with content” (1)

“Resource discovery tools that focus only on materials in repositories, and ignore materials found in other sources are unlikely to be regarded as an essential information retrieval tools” (2)

OA Repositories – Not the Only Fruit!

Web based feedback questionnaire (n=50);

- 94% believed there was a need for an engineering cross search service.

- 79% said that they were able to find useful information using the Pilot.

- 89% thought that adding more content would increase its usefulness.

Quotes from focus groups;

"My number 1 improvement to Perx? CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT…If core content such as IEEE Xplore and IEE were included you'd have a pretty good number of sources of information coming together”

"The full text and content is remarkable - Overall an excellent resource.“

"Google is so good it is hard to compete against it."

User Feedback

  • Over 35 content sources relevant to engineering are searched including; Open Access repository content, Theses & Dissertations, Books, Technical Reports, Learning & Teaching materials, Key Websites, Industry News, New Job Announcements, Multimedia etc.
  • A ‘hybrid’ approach to cross searching utilises both Harvested content (e.g. OAI-PMH) and Distributed Search Mechanisms (e.g. Z39.50, SRU/SRW).
  • Administrative interface for service configuration and maintenance.

PerX Pilot Service

Project Website:

Pilot Website:


Project Partners: Heriot Watt University, Cranfield University, Institution of Civil Engineers, GROW, RSC East Midlands


(1) Swan, A. and Awre, C. (2006) Linking UK Repositories - Available online at

(2) MacLeod, R. and Moffat, M. (2005) Engineering Digital Repositories Landscape Analysis, and Implications for PerX. Available online at

(3) Moffat, M. (2007). PerX Setup and Maintenance Issues. Available online at

(4) Moffat, M. (2006) 'Marketing' with Metadata - How Metadata Can Increase Exposure and Visibility of Online Content. Available online at

(5) Moffat, M. (2006). Shared Services Report. Available online at

(6) Chumbe, S et al (2007). Building Bridges with Blocks: Assisting digital library and VLE integration through reusable middleware. Available online at

Further Information

PerX – Investigating Subject Based

Resource Discovery Issues in Digital Repositories