DOT finds room for its old documents'online

DOT finds room for its old documents'online

Susan Kelly, left, of Microsearch and DOT's Clara Smith look through some of the library's historical documents on the Web.

Big challenges were funding, sorting uncataloged documents

The Transportation Department's library, which holds about 300,000 titles, has felt a space crunch for years.

Limited space forced the department to ship important historical documents'many published before the 1960s'to the Library of Congress or other libraries, where they were often forgotten.

But in 1998, the library began a program to put the documents online as a full-text database.

Today, 10 databases contain more than 150,000 pages that make up the library's Online Digital Special Collections at specialcollections.tasc.dot.gov.

'With this type of technology, we are identifying the documents which we feel have historical significance and that may be unique to the DOT library, so that somebody out in Kansas, who may be doing research, won't have to take a plane to Washington to look at this information,' said Clara M. Smith, director of the Transportation library.

Read it anywhere

'They can now go to a desktop, click on it and pull down the material right on their desktop,' she said, adding that the site gets around 5,000 hits every month.

In 1998, the library awarded a contract to Microsearch Corp. of Saugus, Mass., to scan more than 100,000 pages into Abode Acrobat Portable Document Format files. The contractor reviewed each document and entered its title, date and category into a searchable database, then put it on the Web site.

'It started off as a scanning job, but the Web has changed how people access information,' said Susan T. Kelly, president of Microsearch. 'The recognition that people wanted full text made us put the documents on the Internet.'

Microsearch used Websearch Studio 5.0.91, its homegrown publishing tool, to put the databases online. It's written in Microsoft Visual Basic.

Websearch version 5.0.91 runs on a Dell PowerEdge 1300 server running Windows 2000 with Service Pack II. Newer documents reside on a Dell PowerEdge 1400 with the updated Websearch Studio 6.0.140.

The library plans to move all the databases onto Dell PowerEdge 1400 servers.

The documents include civil aeronautics manuals, civil air regulations, superseded advisory circulars, railroad investigation reports from 1911 to 1966 and transcripts from national conferences on street and highway safety. The site also contains historical aircraft accident reports from 1934 to 1965, Federal Aviation Administration and Civil Aviation Authority research reports, and current and historic DOT orders. Not bad for an agency that was created in 1966.

'We try and make it certain that the collection has some historical significance or research value or some interest like the railroad accident reports,' Smith said.

'Oddly enough, we still get requests from people whose grandmother and grandfather had died in an accident and they want to see what the report said about it,' she said.

Microsearch provided a powerful search engine that also is easy to use, Kelly said.

'People can search precise terms, particular subjects and date ranges,' she said. 'Every word that you search for is highlighted within the document and takes you there. A lot of databases highlight the searched word, but don't take you there directly. Also, you don't get any garbage, and you can navigate between results.'

The process of scanning the old documents was a challenge, Kelly said. Some of them were in folders or cabinets with little cataloging.

Boxes of documents

'There was no official index to work with,' she said. 'We would just go in there and there would be a couple of boxes. There was a lot of challenge in not scanning duplicates.'

The big challenge for the department was finding funds from the project. The library is part of the Transportation Administrative Center, a fee-for-service organization within the department, so funding was limited. But project was paid for with money from fees.

'We have to be careful how we spend our customer's money,' Smith said. 'That's why we are very careful about the documents we select so that we can say that you really got the value in a dollar.'

She said the Transportation Department must do a better job of letting users know that such a collection is available on the Web. 'It fits into President Bush's agenda to push information to the public through his e-government philosophy,' she said.

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