Wednesday, 20 October 2010
One of the major challenges for researchers and librarians in engineering and technology is locating technical reports. These highly valuable documents contain a wealth of information on research in specialized areas of science and technology and are distributed not by commercial STM publishers but rather by federal or regional agencies, industrial organizations, and research institutes. Unlike many journal articles, length is not a constraint and these reports often run several hundreds of pages, containing data tables, maps and charts, and illustrations in addition to detailed observations. They also offer historical value as they explain procedures, standards, and methods performed during a particular timeframe.
Despite their value, technical reports – especially older ones – are challenging to locate, as witnessed by the frequency of requests for them which appear on the listserves for engineering librarians. Like many other forms of “gray literature,” these items have not been systematically collected by libraries (nor sometimes, it appears, by the very agency that published them) nor have they been well cataloged if at all, which makes them difficult to locate in online catalogs and they are not widely represented in mainstream online indexes. The obscurity of these reports makes them vulnerable to being not only underused but also permanently lost.
One effort both to protect these reports and to make them available to the general public is TRAIL: Technical Report Archive and Image Library. An initiative of the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) with support from the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and other organizations, TRAIL’s goal is to acquire a complete set of US federal agency reports, which will be stored in a print archive as well as scanned and cataloged for online use in a searchable digital repository. To date, over 900 reports have been added to the collection. Chronological scope currently ranges from 1910 to 1995 and includes the publications of eight agencies: six divisions of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) as well as the National Bureau of Standards and the US Bureau of Mines. Searchable fields include title, author, report ID, year, and issuing agency (the document text itself can only be searched on from within the reader interface). Sample reports include:
- Lessons From the Granite Mountain Shaft Fire, Butte (1922)
- Bureau of Mines Research on Recycling Scrapped Automobiles (1985)
- Flight Data and Results of Radiochemical Analyses of Filter Samples Collected During 1961 and 1962 Under Project Star Dust (1965)
- Environmental Contamination from Weapon Tests (1958)
In building this collection, TRAIL coordinates with federal agencies to avoid digitization duplication and invites all libraries to inspect their own collections for potential contributions to the library. TRAIL recently introduced a newer, more robust interface in which its records link directly to one of several online repositories, including the Haithi Trust and the University of North Texas Digital Library, among others. Through these repositories, users can search on the full text of the reports and take advantage of additional features offered by each repository’s interface – for example, the Haithi Trust interface provides links to libraries which have copies of the report in their catalogs.
For its efforts to date, TRAIL received the 2010 Documents to the People Award from the American Library Association’s GODORT division.