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Information and Information Access

As mentioned above, transportation professionals make use of numerous primary sources of information. Secondary sources provide access to this information and often convey or imply ownership. Another category, tertiary sources, provides access to the secondary sources. An example is Engineering Index's fee-based "EI Village," which provides on-line access to information resources required by engineers. Table 4 shows some of the principal primary and secondary sources of transportation information.

Table 4. Primary and Secondary Sources of Transportation Information
Primary Sources Secondary Sources
  • Internal and external reports
  • Books
  • Articles in periodicals and journals
  • Conference proceedings
  • Laws and regulations
  • Directories, almanacs, encyclopedias
  • Newspapers
  • Data sets
  • Laboratory notebooks
  • Best practices
  • Expertise
  • Research-in-progress descriptions
  • Policies and procedures
  • Library catalogs
  • Union lists of holdings
  • Bibliographic databases
  • Colleagues
  • Indexes built by the World Wide Web
  • Clearinghouses
  • Help lines
  • Syntheses

Accessing Transportation Information

For transportation professionals, secondary sources are key to finding quality information in a timely, efficient manner. In this regard, these professionals rely heavily on information specialists, who are uniquely trained in creating and using these resources. Information professionals have designed some of the most successful secondary sources, ranging from clearinghouses to Web sites. While secondary sources are of critical importance, they possess some serious shortcomings, necessitating an information professional's expertise. Table 5 summarizes the most frequently used secondary sources of transportation information and their most critical gaps.

Table 5. Secondary Information Sources and Their Gaps
Source Summary Gaps
Clearinghouses and Help Lines Clearinghouses provide subject-specific information, e.g., those at Northwestern University's Infrastructure Technology Institute and North Carolina State University's Center for Transportation and the Environment. Help lines, such as BTS's Statistical Information Line, provide information on a wide range of topics and research.
  • Comprehensiveness: can only provide access to information of which they are aware.
  • Web-based clearinghouses are emerging. They are limited in that their scope, coverage, and linkages are incomplete.
Colleagues Personal contacts are among the most common means of obtaining transportation-related information.
  • Information is not comprehensive and may be biased.
  • Mid-level managers and technical staff have fewer opportunities to interact with colleagues than do top managers.
  • No comprehensive directory of expertise is available.
Databases Provide access to citations by searching bibliographic records. TRIS (Transportation Research Information Services) and IRRD (International Road Research Database) are the most well-known transportation examples. Others used in transportation are COMPENDEX, ABI-INFORM, Trade & Industry Index, and Predicasts. TRIS also provides access to research in progress, syntheses, and best practices (see below).
  • Timeliness: there are large time gaps between publication of materials and their inclusion in a database.
  • Many materials never reach databases.
  • Can be cumbersome to search.
  • For TRIS, mandate to send in research-in-progress summaries is not enforced; erodes confidence in the information's quality and comprehensiveness.
  • TRIS reporting needs to be simplified. Require specialized training to use effectively.
Library Catalogs Record, describe, and index the resources of a collection. Usually classify information and assign subject headings.
  • Lack of coordination and links between library catalogs means duplication of holdings and inefficiency in searching.
  • Do not include unpublished materials.
Syntheses Concise reports written for an identified audience. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), for example, synthesizes the knowledge available on a subject through reports on various practices.
  • NCHRP funds only 12 projects a year.
  • Is an 18-24 month turnaround time for publication and no feedback mechanism.
Union Lists of Holdings A complete record of holdings for a given group of libraries or for a certain type of materials. In any format, these lists assist with identifying a lending source for an information request. The Transportation Division of the Special Libraries Association publishes a union list of transportation serials.
  • Lack comprehensiveness.
  • Escalating subscription costs adversely impact information service budgets.
WWW-Built Indexes and Search Engines Serving millions of users a day, search engines construct indexes and find information on the WWW. They send out "messengers" to every site they can identify and then download and examine these pages to extract indexing information.
  • Indexing lacks standardization.
  • Information is rarely classified, i.e., a report vs. a bibliographic entry or an advertisement.
  • Search engines recognize text only; cannot index password-protected information.
  • Requires specialized training of both information professionals and end users.

The Role of the Information Professional

Information specialists have the qualifications and expertise needed to create, access, and evaluate secondary information sources. In this role, these specialists provide quality, filtered information to transportation professionals based on their specific requirements.

The value of information professionals to organizations is well documented. For example, Matarazzo and Prusak (1995) determined that senior managers most value information special ists' communication skills, abilities to respond quickly to information requests, and in-depth knowledge of both information sources and their organizations.

Going beyond this study, the Special Libraries Association in 1996 published its report, Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century. The report identified a number of professional skills crucial for the highly qualified, well-trained information specialist. These skills and competencies are listed in Table 6.

Table 6. Professional Competencies for
Information Specialists in the 21st Century
Has expert knowledge of information resources
Has specialized subject knowledge
Develops and manages convenient, accessible, and cost-effective services
Assesses information needs and designs services to meet these needs
Uses appropriate information technology
Uses appropriate business and management approaches
Develops specialized information products
Evaluates the outcomes of information use
Continually improves information services
Is an effective member of the management team

As this list indicates, the qualified information professional continually upgrades his or her skills, assesses the organization's information needs and programs, and provides training and support to information users.

One area in which information professionals may be particularly valuable to users is in navigating the myriad new information products and services. For example, information specialists are uniquely qualified to assess the quality and relevance of information generated through on-line searches. In this role, information specialists assist transportation professionals in using the World Wide Web and other resources by helping them to make the most efficient use of agencies' assets and minimize the time spent looking for information.

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Electronic version of Publication No. FHWA-SA-99-038
This page last updated August 18, 1999

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