Updated fortnightly, the Librarian’s Digest contains a free article onimportant topics relevant to the field of librarianship. You can read thearticle instantly online or print it out up to 25 times to circulate amongstyour colleagues. See below for this fortnight’s digest. Bookmark this page so you can access a different article on key issues everyfortnight.

Courtesy of International Journal on Grey Literature, MCB University Press and Library Link

Updated 4th December 2000

The International Journal on Grey Literature, Vol 01 Issue 1 Date 2000 ISSN 1466-6189

Transportation information: a review of grey literature by format, language and availability

Bonnie A. Osif

Bonnie A. Osif is Engineering Librarian/Penn State Librarian, Pennsylvania Transport

Institute, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA.

Keywords: Transport, Co-operation, Collection management, Engineering, Information

Type of Article: Survey

This article describes a research study that was replicated to confirm the research methodologies and search strategies of transportation engineers in their primary databases as the formats for access changed due to electronic releases in CD-ROM and via the Internet. An empirical snapshot of the available transportation literature recognizing how much of it is described as grey literature is demonstrated by the retrieval of five search statements replicated in the TRIS and TRANSPORT databases. Recommendations include that libraries increase their participation in TAG and working with government agencies to encourage them to electronically publish their data for end-user searching and that more continue to participate in cooperative collection development ventures.

Content Indicators: Readability, Practice Implications, Originality, Research Implications

Fast, efficient identification of and access to transportation literature is increasingly important. Infrastructure concerns and the Transportation Efficiency Act (TEA 21) all place additional demands on collecting information that has been called “fragmented, dispersed and difficult to acquire” (Bravo et al., 1994) at an AASHTO meeting in 1994. The importance of this information is supported by the statistic that transportation accounts for 11.1 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 1998).

Transportation research tends to rely very heavily on government and organization reports, association sponsored conferences and books published by societies and professional organizations. Brochures and manuals are cited. All of these fall into the category of grey literature and present additional challenges to the transportation information specialists.

Anecdotal information shared by university researchers, and studies and workshops sponsored by the FHWA and the Transportation Division of the Special Libraries Association have indicated that the perception of difficulty in locating references and the low rate of obtaining copy is not an unreal perception or a localized phenomena. Further study was indicated to quantify this situation.

An earlier study of transportation researchers indicated low database usage (Bravo et al., 1994). This is in agreement with a number of studies which indicate that engineers tend to rely on their personal collections and the expertise of colleagues. (Holland and Powell, 1995; Pinelli, 1991; Von Seggern and Jourdain, 1996). The increasing availability of the transportation database TRANSPORT as a CD ROM or Internet database may well change this statistic. No longer mediated by librarians as the TRIS database was, TRANSPORT was designed to be end-user friendly. In addition to easier access, TRANSPORT provides coverage of a wider range of materials than TRIS with the inclusion of the files from the European Conference of Ministers of Transport’s TRANSDOC and the Organization for Economic Cooperation’s International Road Research Database (IRRD). These factors combine to provide broader international coverage and easier access for the researcher to a focused, pertinent database.

The results of these observations encouraged a survey of the transportation literature. The purpose was to provide an empirical snapshot of the situation in transportation literature: what is indexed, who owns the resources and what is not readily available for loan in the USA. Methodology

The study was run twice using the same search parameters. The 1995 study was based on the TRIS database, the 1996 study on the TRANSPORT database. At the time of each of the studies, the databases used were the most comprehensive transportation databases available. Topics were selected from a review of local research projects, as reported in the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute’s annual report. The topics used were:

A limited range of time periods was chosen to obtain both a reasonable number of records and provide a variety of time periods for the study.

Complete citations for each record were printed and coded for several variables. These variables included literature types, language of the resource, and country of origin for reports: The literature types were classed as books and conferences, journals, reports and theses. US reports were subdivided into federal, state or other (societies, firms, and university centers). In accordance with the Luxembourg Conference on Grey Literature (GL97) definition, materials which are “produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which are not controlled by commercial publishers,” was coded as grey literature.

One of the most important codes concerned the availability of resources. Interlibrary loan departments are generally very good at obtaining materials for patrons. However, time constraints and costs do limit what can be borrowed in a reasonable length of time. For the purpose of this study, holdings for the USA and Canada were counted as access points.

The coding of holdings was listed as by the following designations: zero, 1, 2-5, 6-10, 11-25, and over 25 locations in the USA and Canada.

Any record that had the availability notation that the work was available from NTIS (National Technical Information Service) was coded immediately at 26+ locations. With the number of university locations that are complete or partial depositories of NTIS documents and the relative ease of ordering from NTIS, it was judged that these would be located in a minimum of 26 locations.

All other records were then searched in OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), the bibliographic utility that lists holdings of library materials from 25,000 participating libraries with over 36 million records, to locate the number of libraries owning a copy of the item in question. For records with a low number of locations, the location screen was printed and attached to the record. This information was used to locate “centers of collections” by type, language and format. Results

The 1995 study, run in the TRIS database through Dialog, resulted in 278 records. The 1996 study, run in the TRANSPORT database on CD-ROM, resulted in 540 records. Table I Format types of resources summarizes the literature types for the two studies.

Reports were studied separately and, as would be expected, the more international TRANSPORT had a higher percentage of non-US reports. In the 1995 TRIS study, 61.6 percent of the reports were from the USA and 38.4 percent were international reports. The1996 TRANSPORT study was comprised of 55.4 percent from the USA and 44.6 percent international reports.

Reports were located from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. It should be noted that the number of international reports and the number of non-English language documents are not equal since several countries, especially The Netherlands, publish a number of their reports in English.

The US reports were subdivided into federal reports, state reports and the reports of universities, professional societies and others.

As would be expected with the change to increased international coverage, the percentage of English language materials decreased. However, the decrease was only from 91 percent to 83.3 percent. Many of the countries publish reports in English, in addition to their native language. The languages cited in the database sample included: Chinese, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish.

The location of materials was a major interest of the study. A total of 76.6 percent of the resources in the 1995 study and 76.7 percent in the 1996 study were located within the USA and Canada in the OCLC Database, or were available through NTIS. In both studies slightly more than 23 percent were not located in either location.

Holdings information was determined by literature type. This is summarized in Table II Percentage of resources located in OCLC or NTIS by format type and indicates that a significantly higher percentage of reports cannot be located than the other types of literature.

Specific holding information was determined for the study. In the 1995 study, 26.4 percent of the records were located in one or zero locations. This percent increased in the 1996 study to 35.7 percent, almost 50 percent higher than the earlier study.

Resources were analyzed by language and number of holding locations. When the resources are separated into English, and non-English the results are more pronounced. In the TRIS study, 72 percent of the records are held by one or zero locations, in the TRANSPORT study 89 percent.

The resources can be analyzed by the definition of grey literature cited earlier. When the records are coded as grey/non-grey literature, the results are 73 percent of the references were to grey literature in the 1995 TRIS study and 85 percent in the 1996 TRANSPORT study. Analysis of data

As described above, this study was undertaken as a survey of transportation literature as cited in the databases. It was instigated by anecdotal information from patrons and a growing pattern of unfulfilled interlibrary loan requests. The data appear to empirically support these perceptions and indicate some potentially serious problems for transportation librarians and transportation professionals as we move into a period of increased transportation initiatives and increased international programs.

The use of the TRANSPORT database is vitally important to the transportation community. It provides the most comprehensive coverage of the literature currently available. In conjunction with TRANSPORT as an index to the literature, libraries, engineers and other transportation professionals will need to locate sources to obtain the original literature that is indexed in TRANSPORT. Locating a record of the material is important, but these located resources must be available, if not locally, then through interlibrary loans or through easy purchase to be of use. In addition, these loans or purchases must occur in a timely and cost-effective manner since both time and financial constraints are typical in both academic and non-academic environments.

The data from this study indicate a problem in the availability of materials. In many cases, academic institutions rely on interlibrary loan, at least as a primary option, and purchase requested materials much less frequently. The dearth of international materials helps to explain the difficulty obtaining these materials through the loan process. If no one owns it, it cannot be borrowed. Even when purchase is an option, there are several considerations: current availability, since resources can go out of print rapidly; locating the correct source of purchase; cost; currency exchange problems, and length of time to obtain the item. All of these issues place additional barriers to timely, efficient retrieval of the resources.

The results of the study are somewhat predicated on the topics selected. Other topics may have resulted in a higher number of international reports, while this one resulted in larger number of conferences. Some subjects may have resulted in a greater number of reports from different countries. However, the subjects were varied enough to provide a range of resources that represent a cross-section of the database. For example, there were over 125 journal titles that were indexed, and reports from 16 countries. It is probably safe to say that this cross-section represents a fairly valid snapshot of the transportation literature.

Several results of the study merit closer inspection. First, the use of the TRANSPORT database is increasing. With ease of access to the literature from an increasingly larger pool of resources will come the need to obtain this literature. Important research is found everywhere and no one has the time, resources or inclination to “reinvent the wheel.” Therefore, easy access to the database and the ability to obtain the original works are crucial. In the USA, transportation researchers and practitioners have been charged to use the “best practice” rather than re-invent technology and processes, regardless of country of origin. This necessitates locating and obtaining international resources.

Reports are especially difficult. Reports generated in the USA are not as readily available as might be thought. Since so many universities use OCLC as a major interlibrary loan resource, it was a surprise to see how few of the non-federal reports are listed. Many are available through NTIS; however, those that are not can be extremely difficult to borrow. Purchase options exist and TRANSPORT lists a source for items cited in the database, but time, money and whether the item is actually available add layers of difficulty to the process.

International reports can be even more difficult to obtain. The holding statistics, especially for non-English language reports, is not encouraging. In the course of the study, holdings locations for those titles with few locations were printed. It is no surprise that several universities are frequently the location for a large percentage of the resources. The major locations are the University of California-Berkeley and Northwestern University. Both have taken on a disproportionate share of providing transportation literature to the research community. However, even their collections are not exhaustive and their purchasing power has faced some erosion.

Books, especially conferences, are a major source of information and around 19 percent of the titles are listed with zero holdings. In patron terms, approximately one in five requests will be unfulfilled if interlibrary loan does not go beyond the US/Canadian borders. If an international request is honored, the time constraints may be prohibitive to the research, which is the same as not getting the item.

While the journal study looks more promising, with only 5-7 percent with zero holdings, this study did not look into the details of the holding statement. Only title location was reviewed. With libraries still in a cycle of journal cuts that has lasted over five years, many of these journals may not have been renewed. It is often the non-English or less frequently used journals that are cut.

While journals may appear the strongest area of the study, there is great cause for concern. Attention is given to protection of unique holdings, but this too is only partial protection of a title. Often the easiest journal cut is by language, followed by low usage patterns locally. If low use journals were searched by individual library catalogs with exact holdings statements, there is a very strong probability that more titles will be in the zero or low holdings categories for the more recent years. Discussion

This snapshot of the transportation literature has several danger signs, as well as some indications of hope.

Attention must be called to the increased exposure to international and more obscure literature. While TRIS was an excellent resource, much of the use was librarian-mediated through DIALOG. TRANSPORT is an end-user product with a relatively user-friendly interface. It can be networked on a university or research facility LAN and accessed frequently by the practitioner. It is logical that desktop accessibility will increase both the active use of the database and an increase in requests for materials.

These requests will not only increase in number but also in complexity. Resources will be requested now that may not have even been known before. Unless some of these international resources were located in a journal, report or monograph bibliography, many were not indexed in TRIS and therefore not widely known. Now they are a few keystrokes away. If the report is appropriate, even language is not a major consideration since charts and tables can be deciphered and there are translation services and colleagues for important resources.

At the same time, there are increasing constraints on library budgets. When budget cuts necessitated slashing titles in the early years of the serials crisis there were some “easy” choices. Little-used speciality titles could be shared by a consortium of nearby institutions. There were strategies to make the best of a bad situation.

However, for most institutions, the day of the easy collection cut is gone. The cancellations are occurring with titles thought untouchable only a few years ago. Document delivery is a viable resource but not for everything. In a time of critical cuts to the title list, it is hard to defend canceling a title local patrons really need to maintain a copy of a very seldom used title that is one of the few, or the only, copy left on the continent. Language has been a primary criterion in de-selecting titles since so few Americans are multi-lingual, further affecting international resources

Holdings of government agencies and association reports are low. As exchange programs have been canceled, budgets have not expanded to maintain these specialized collections.

For the purpose of this study, any resource with five or fewer locations is considered “at risk.” A large percentage of resources fall into this category. Loss, theft, circulation in house or refusal to loan an item will remove it from the larger research environment.

However, there are several optimistic findings. First, many conferences are published in English. This increases the likelihood that some US libraries will purchase the title. A decreasing number of Americans are learning foreign languages, therefore fewer are interested in using non-English language works and fewer libraries buy these. With a high percentage of titles in English it can be hoped that a number of libraries will continue to purchase even the higher priced conferences and they will be available for loan.

The major transportation research libraries, Berkeley and Northwestern, have maintained a commitment to obtaining and cataloging a very good collection of transportation literature and making it available to the user community as a whole.

The Transportation Access Group (TAG) in OCLC provides a specialized locating device for serials held by libraries that may not have been a part of OCLC previously. State Departments of Transportation, smaller transportation organizations and some academic branch libraries can now participate at this special price. This concept can only help with the location of materials. In some cases it will indicate nearby holdings of a title for easy access. In other cases it will locate a very specialized collection held by one small library and available at no other library. As more libraries join and the scope of the project increases, the TAG will become a valuable information resource. Comprehensive membership of transportation libraries and working collections in the TAG is crucial to increasing access to literature holdings. This may also help with the difficulty locating some state, agency and university resources, as they will be collected by their parent organization’s library and located through the TAG.

Last, there is increasing interest in the state of the literature in transportation. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has taken an active role in the study and provision of transportation literature to the research community. This commitment to mounting full text documents on the Web site will ease some of the burden of collecting and maintaining collections. The Transportation Division of the Special Libraries Association has been a leader in developing formal and informal methods to maintain and disseminate transportation literature and is active in a variety of venues to support better access. Recommendations

Several possible actions can provide positive solutions to the problems posed in this study. First, increased participation in the TAG will likely increase the number of locations for some resources and increase the number of titles located within the USA and Canada. In addition, expansion of the TAG project to include all works, not just serials, would be very beneficial since many of the state, agencies and institute collections have pockets of very specialized works that can be shared with the wider transportation community, if they could be located easily.

Second, a study needs to be undertaken to discover subjects and types of resources that are not being collected. The responsibility of coordinated collection development needs to be organized and spread beyond the few major libraries that are the major resource centers at this time. This may sound impossible in times of budget constraints and space limitations, but it may be possible to go back to the time of exchanges between specific libraries. Increasingly, we are seeing consortia agree to collect in specific subject areas, or share costs and access to materials. It may be time for the transportation community to consider this as a strong option.

The use of electronic format is the strongest solution available. While works from commercial presses are not going to go up on the World Wide Web at no charge, many government and institute reports are distributed at no charge or at cost recovery. If, instead of making paper or CD-ROM copies available at no profit, the agency mounted the resource on the Web, it would be freely available when needed. If each agency was charged with the timely mounting of the file, the workload would be reduced and the computer space (hopefully) maintainable. In addition, each agency should be charged with sending the appropriate information to a designated location for indexing. In the USA this could be TRB for TRIS, or BTS for the National Transportation Library Web site. BTS would be a logical contact for other countries that could potentially follow a similar pattern.

Further study is needed to investigate patterns of resource use in actual publications as indicated in bibliographies. In addition, more information on the international publications and distribution patterns would be helpful in devising a more complete picture of international transportation resources.

The importance of the literature of transportation cannot be diminished. Much of our economy and our everyday lives are intimately linked to the subject. Availability of the literature is crucial to avoid duplication of effort, non-productive research, and crucial data. Better access to the indexes can only increase the need for the resources. It is important that the availability of resources be increased to improve the transportation research environment.

(Bonnie A. Osif is an engineering librarian at the Pennsylvania State University Libraries where she also serves as librarian to the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute. This research follows up on earlier work on academic use of CD-ROMs when electronic formats were introduced. She has also written about other grey literature collections at the Penn State Libraries, specifically, the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear reactor materials that are a rich multi-format collection supporting the clean-up project at Three Mile Island.)

Table I Format types of resources

Table II Percentage of resources located in OCLC or NTIS by format type


Bravo, N. et al. (1994), Acquiring Highway Transportation Information from Abroad: Handbook, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics (1998), Transportation Statistics Annual Report, 1998, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Washington, DC.

Holland, M.P. and Powell, C.K. (1995), “A longitudinal survey of the information seeking and use habits of some engineers”, College and Research Libraries, Vol. 56 No. 1, pp. 7-15.

Pinelli, T.E. (1991) “The information-seeking habits and practices of engineers”, Science and Technology Libraries, Vol 11 No. 3, pp. 5-25.

Von Seggern, M. and Jourdain, J.M. (1996) “Technical communications in engineering and science: the practices within a Government Defense Laboratory”, Special Libraries, Vol. 82 No. 2, pp. 98-119.