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Publication Number:      Date:  July/August 1998
Issue No: Vol. 62 No. 1
Date: July/August 1998


Internet Watch

by Kristin Iden

Imagine if you would, one place (albeit virtual) where all the Department of Transportation modes deposited their reports, data, publications, images, and databases. Imagine being able to access that from one point on the World Wide Web whenever and wherever you want. All you need to do is "walk" through the front door of the National Transportation Library (NTL).

NTL is an integral part of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and is under the guidance of Bob Zarnetske, assistant director for information technology. The NTL pilot project began in 1995 to help collect, organize, maintain, and archive transportation information. With the current TEA-21 authorization, NTL has a congressional mandate to "contain a collection of statistical and other information needed for transportation decision-making at the federal, state, and local levels" and has "the goal of improving the ability of the transportation community to share information."

This appears to be a rather daunting task, especially when comparing DOT's expenditures to some other government agencies. The National Library of Medicine currently spends an annual average of $13.30 per person to maintain the information in its community of 10.6 million. The National Agriculture Library spends $18 million annually to service the information needs of 3.3 million people - roughly about $6.00 a person. DOT, on the other hand, has spent 40 cents a person per year. With dollars and cents in mind, it's easy to grasp the enormity of the task.

Spend an hour with Bob Zarnetske, and you'll be convinced of the need to develop this resource. Spend two hours with him, and you will become a fervent champion of NTL. And, when you use NTL, you'll find it the missing resource you have been looking for.

Upon your entry to NTL, you are given your choice of searching the collection, browsing the collection, and reference services. If you are interested in being a contributor or delving further into the future plans for NTL, those options are also available.

If you are a first time visitor to NTL, I recommend that you start with the option "Browse the Collection." That will give you an immediate reference to the depth and diversity of the collection. And remember, that is just a loose grouping of the material held at NTL. It also becomes obvious that some of the modes have participated more than others. We at TFHRC are committed to supporting NTL by suppling information. So, not only will current information be housed at the TFHRC Web site, older archival material will soon be available via NTL.

The search function allows you to zero in on a specific topic available at NTL. Currently, the search is restricted to the NTL server, but plans are under way for creating a search engine that will sprawl across all DOT sites. The Transportation Research Board (TRB) has gone as far as to "loan" a professional librarian to NTL to further the project. Some of the ongoing works undertaken by NTL are the collection of DOT databases and a library of DOT images. Just like in any large-scale library, the collection is evolving to hold specialty collections within it's bounds.

The Reference Services Section of NTL holds a variety of DOT documents, links to other transportation collections, and a link to query the NTL reference staff directly. However, they do ask that you exhaust the main collection and the sources available via the reference shelf. Average turn-around for nonstatistical questions is two to three working days, and questions from the public take priority over the questions of government employees.

Anyone with an undergraduate degree will tell you that a good library saves time, money, and energy. A really great library becomes an extraordinary source of knowledge with the ability to reshape ideas, policy, and practice. NTL is currently a "good" library and is making headway into filling the information gap that exists in the transportation community. With it's current agenda and goals, NTL will become the really great resource that those in the industry need!

To access BTS, visit this link: http://www.bts.gov. To access the National Transportation Library directly: http://www.bts.gov/ntl.

Kristin Iden is the webmaster/electronic publishing specialist for the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va. She is employed by Avalon Integrated Services Corp. of Arlington, Va.



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