2014 TRB Annual Meeting Spotlight Theme
"Celebrating Our Legacy, Anticipating Our Future"
Key Research Achievements
Committee on Library and Information Science for Transportation (ABG40)
Roberto A. Sarmiento, LIST Chair
Northwestern University Transportation Library
- The one-to-three top research breakthroughs in your topic area over the past 20 years. Please limit each breakthrough description to 250 words or less. Include weblinks to additional information, if available. To the extent possible, please summarize the research, the deployment, and the benefits.
1) Transportation Information Networks
The creation of transportation information practitioner’s networks had a significant impact on the development of a coherent strategy for the delivery and access of information at the national level. During this period, we saw the establishment of one (1) TRB committee related to transportation information (AGB40). Other networks include the National Transportation Library and the subsequent development of transportation library consortia (Transportation Knowledge Networks), the FHWA Pooled Fund StudyTPF-5(237) and the AASHTO RAC-TKN. These brought to the forefront never before experienced emphasis on transportation information and its practitioners.
These groups promoted and conducted transportation information-specific research; lobbied agencies for better understanding of library functions and its librarians; helped promote sound policies for the development of better practices for cataloguing, interlibrary lending, indexing, digitization, knowledge management, partnerships at the regional, national and international levels, etc. These networks also lobbied agency’s management for the development of better understanding of its own research information, publications and data management plans.
These networks provided at a broader visibility, understanding and support within organizations towards its own librarians and information professionals. It highlighted the interconnectivity of the transportation library community and the added value librarians can and do provide the agencies and the nation.
These networks also made available to a much broader research community large collections of information previously hidden (un-accessible) or only available to its local researchers. This broader access and democratization of information has made our national and international research community much stronger.
2) The World Wide Web (WWW)
Prior to the development and explosion of the web, access to library catalogs, books/journals and databases was restricted to in-house use. Speedy delivery of journal articles/documents was either through a fax, document carriers or by “walking it” to the researcher. The delivery of information, videos, training, etc. was restricted, in person and slow. You, the reader, most likely remember the pre-1995 world and can compare your own personal and professional experience pre- and post-web.
Once the web reached its tipping point in which economics, hardware, software, telecommunications, security protocols, vendors/products, public/users, etc., aligned to make the web a ubiquitous appliance, the volume and access to information, exploded.
The interconnectivity and access to remote resources has forever changed how researchers search, acquire and disseminate information. This revolutionary step – taken in less than a generation – irrevocably changed human existence.
The transportation library community, by virtue of its long standing practice of embracing technology - a little ahead of the curve - benefitted immensely of the now forgotten “information superhighway”: by converting our “card” catalogs into machine readable formats and then providing web access to the world; by making TRIS freely available on the web and making it an international product; by electronically requesting and providing interlibrary loans substantially reducing the time needed by researchers to get to the information needed; etc.
There is no doubt that the use and management of this technology by transportation librarians has and will continue to benefit our community.
3) Collections Digitization
The confluence between the development of high resolution document scanner technology and reliable optical character recognition software (OCR) opened the door to large and small documents/books digitization projects at the local and global levels.
The library community in general - and the transportation library community in particular - discovered that there was a latent need and a “long tail” for books, journals, reports, etc., only available in paper format.
Large initiatives, such as, Project Guttenberg, Google Books and HathiTrust blazed the trails for developing smaller, focused and subject specific projects to make available inaccessible materials. Now we have all types of transportation libraries working among themselves or partnering with their agencies to digitize agency-specific materials or research materials with broad appeal and making them available to everyone.
However, this technology has yet to fulfill its full potential due to legal issues related to copyright law (both in the US and abroad.) Although the issues related to fair use, archival and educational purposes, orphan works, interlibrary loan, etc., are slowly grinding their way through the US legal system, the courts are leaning towards a less restrictive interpretation of copyright law which will benefit librarians and researchers.
Regardless of how this is ultimately resolved (if ever), the digitization of archival or historical collections and the subsequent access by researchers, will make previously unknown research available thus strengthening the collective transportation knowledge.
- A short (250 words or less) summary of the vision and research advancements anticipated in your topic area over the next 10 years.
During the next 10 years, the library world may perhaps experience some easily identifiable evolutionary developments and perhaps, some quantum leaps which the transportation library community will incorporate for the benefit of its organizations and researchers.
Reliance on paper will drastically diminish. The exponential production of born and published digital materials will accelerate to the point where only a small minority of documents will be distributed in print or become available as “print on demand.” Not quite the end of paper, but certainly on its way to a very small market. Smarter search engines will make access to information easier.
Delivery of information will be through mobile devices; tablets (declining), eye-glasses (full development) or, perhaps, 3-D holographic projections (starting). Devices will become smaller, faster, and more powerful, with longer battery life. The need for hard drives will be non-existence since all data will be available “in the cloud”, while Wi-Fi access will become ubiquitous.
The trend towards smaller governments may force the merger of agency libraries, archives and publications units into one “research and information” department. Contiguous state DOTs may pool their libraries into one unit serving several states; easily done since most of the information, resources and services will be available “in the cloud,” while consultations will be accomplished through live web-based video.
The increase of electronic publishing and digitization of archival/historical/special collections will require a national strategy for maintaining a collection of “copy of last resort” for posterity.
Something out of left field will come out and make everything obsolete!