The CREE Project

** December 2006: The CREE Project has received additional funding from the JISC for a further 18 month investigation into the presentation of Information Environment services within a portal environment.


A copy of the CREE  and CREE Extension proposals plus additional project documentation is available from the Documents page. Deliverables, Presentations and Publications are available for the original CREE project and will be added to during the period of the CREE Extension.  For further information regarding CREE, please bookmark this site or contact Chris Awre, Project Manager, via email at


Three main issues arose from the original CREE investigations:


  • In order to test the capability of presenting search tools in an institutional portal environment, a proof of concept approach was developed following, for the most part, Google style simple search box interfaces.  Whilst there is value in this as many native web interfaces on search tools are discovering there is also value in highlighting the more advanced search capabilities that many search tools can offer, and allowing the user to select their preferences.  The CREE Extension Project will seek to investigate how such advanced search capabilities can be presented and what impact this has on the usefulness of the search tool in general.
  • One of the benefits of using an embedded search tool within a portal framework using JSR 168 is that the search results also appear within the portal, and the user is not taken out of the portal into the native interface (as occurs for the most part when embedding search tools in other web environments).  However, this raises issues about the best way to display the results within the portal.  The CREE Extension Project will investigate the best ways to display search results in a portlet so as to make them as usable as possible.  This will include examining the return of results as RSS feeds that can be flexibly adapted for display – the OpenSearch API provides such capability - and extending the XSLT work of the original CREE project to provide flexible options.
  • One of the key issues arising from presenting search tools within an institutional portal was the focus on search and discovery.  Presenting search in this way led to users feeling frustrated that they could not go further and felt the search led them to a dead end.  It is important not to let search dominate considerations of other steps in the Discovery 2 Delivery chain, which are of equal or possibly greater importance to information retrieval.  The CREE Extension Project will examine ways in which location, requesting and delivery might be enabled from within a portal, addressing in particular how the OpenURL standard can be used to enable this.


The aim of the CREE Extension Project is to investigate these three issues.  This work will also take into account the following broad considerations of how a portal could and/or should be used:


  • When presenting any service or application within a portal framework there is a need to identify whether the whole service can be presented within the portal, or at which point it is preferable to pass the user out of the portal to native web interface for ongoing interaction.  Where this hand off point lies can vary, and the need to identify it better in the context of presenting library search services will underpin technical planning and development
  • One further issue that emerged from the CREE project from users was understanding the pros and cons of presenting search tools in a portal as compared to through their native interfaces.  The user feedback was in the context of a test demonstrator of functionally limited search tools, but this question (the business case) requires further attention.  This consideration will be built into developments within this extension project.


The original Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE) was a project arising from the Joint Information Systems Committee Portals: Investigations into User Requirements Invitation to Tender in October 2003.


CREE aims to:


  • Assess, test and document user requirements for Internet-based search tools both through their native interfaces and embedded within portal and non-portal environments in a broad range of user contexts: this will include aspects of JISC portal functionality and examine the user requirements for integration. The results of these assessments will be disseminated effectively to the Higher and Further Education community.
  • Investigate and document generic aspects of adapting a range of existing search tools and toolkits (JAFER toolkit, GetRef, GetCopy, HEIRPORT, and Google APIs) for presentation using the WSRP and JSR 168 portlet standards, facilitating their integration with any conformant national or institutional portal. The results of this activity will be disseminated effectively to both the HE/FE community and relevant standards bodies.
  • Investigate in detail, test and document the practical integration of these tools with reference portal implementations. Testing will be carried out technically and also with a broad range of users, evaluating the effectiveness of different modes of searching using combinations of embedded and dedicated interfaces and complementing the user requirements activity described above. CREE will actively seek other national and institutional portal reference implementations with which to test software components.