“Creating Our Own Story”: How Metro Transportation Library & Archive Has Shared Collections And Information Since 1937

April 10-16 marks National Library Week!

Every April, The American Library Association sponsors a week-long celebration of libraries.

Vintage "National Library Week" poster.

This year’s theme is “Create Your Own Story,” one that is quite fitting for us.

As a library, we have always been challenged to create our own story because we are unique in so many ways.

We are by far the largest transit-operator research facility in the United States.

Our collections come from a diverse array of predecessor agencies as well as numerous contemporary sources to meet our users’ needs in an extremely interdisciplinary subject scope.

Additionally, many of the cooperative ventures in which we participate (as a selected participant in the National Transportation Library‘s catalog or TLCat — a union catalog of transportation libraries, as examples) are dominated by either state departments of transportation, university transportation research centers, or academic libraries — leaving us to tackle some of our issues alone while our colleagues face different challenges.

Even amongst the myriad libraries, archives and research organizations in Southern California, we hold key pieces of local history essential to understanding our city, our region, our state and beyond — yet we are unlike any other institution in that arena as well.

Los Angeles Railway employee outreach poster, circa 1937. Click to enlarge.

After all, 40% of our collection is found nowhere else in the world.

We have, over time, “created our own story” out of the many stories that comprise our legacy: from Los Angeles’ historic transit agencies that now form the heritage of Metro to the vision of those who sought to educate employees and the public about transportation.

Our library and its historic incarnations have played an important role in transportation research locally, nationally and internationally as far back as 1890.

In 1937, Los Angeles Railway re-opened its transportation library on the 3rd floor of its 1060 South Broadway headquarters (seen here circa 1942) with the assistance of the Huntington Library.

Los Angeles Railway employee outreach poster, circa 1937. Click to enlarge.

Two posters printed by the Library to promote its services have been reproduced here.

Over the next 34 years, the library passed through a number of iterations until the Southern California Rapid Transit District‘s reintroduction of the Library to the public in 1971.  (This year marks the 40th anniversary of continuous service).

SCRTD’s Planning Department put the collections from Los Angeles Railway and other predecessor transit agencies together with important mass transit plans, maps, reports, books and studies, including those of the Southern California Association of Governments and Caltrans to re-form the region’s only transportation library.

By 1980, we began participation in OCLC’s worldwide library network, sharing knowledge about our holdings as well as facilitating cataloging tasks and interlibrary loans from other libraries for users.

The advent of personal desktop computing, the Internet, more sophisticated communication among libraries, tech-savvy users, citizen journalism and an ambitious local mobility agenda over the following two decades have further influenced libraries’ abilities to “create their story” everywhere — and there’s no looking back.

As we continue to upload new images to our Flickr site and new video to our YouTube channel, we further explore and deploy new tools and resources for sharing our collections and information to stay ahead of the curve and in a leadership position within our field.

Vintage "National Library Week" poster.

When we began publishing our daily aggregated transportation Headlines blog in 2006, we waded into the social media pool to capture local media coverage of transit and transportation issues and to share this information more effectively.

Nearly five years later (and still going strong), the Headlines blog has logged over 1,700 daily posts and been accessed 400,000 times.

Subscriptions via FeedBurner RSS and our SimpleSend email management program have disseminated thousands of messages containing rich content to employees, elected officials, educators, students, transit fans and supporters far beyond what had been the traditional service area for a government library.

We reach well beyond this already widened user base by tweeting out many of these high-interest or thought-provoking news items are sent out via Twitter.

Over 1,800 followers receive the latest news and information about transit and transportation as well as the Library’s activities. We just logged our 1,000th tweet last week.

Followers of our followers naturally discover our existence (and in turn, our collections), expanding our pool of users and potential users.

Visitors to our Twitter page can tap into our extensive lists of followers grouped by topic (such as “transit agencies,” “high-speed rail,” engineering,” “spatial/GIS,” “Los Angeles interest”), allowing the rising tides of both the transportation and library Twittersphere lift all boats.

This week also marks the first anniversary of our Primary Resources blog.

We launched this project as a compliment to our daily transportation headlines in order to provide not only greater access to our collections but to lend more informative context to the extensive planning and projects going on in Los Angeles County.

At that time, we stated that several considerations made it the right time to launch a new channel for additional resources that our users would find both interesting and valuable:

Metro is embarking on an ambitious plan for many new Measure R-funded transit and highway projects, several of which are being planned and executed at the same time

Transit and transportation advocacy is growing thanks to social networking and other communication tools. Resources can be disseminated, consumed, and redistributed more easily than ever before

We are actively collecting and digitizing not only Metro’s publications and reports, but also harvesting and preserving important documents and other digital assets in the field of transportation that compliment our collections

One year and nearly one hundred posts later, we have experienced over 27,000 page views for stories about L.A. transit and transportation history, our historic map collection, “L.A. as Subject,” important resources to know and other topics.

Several other blogs and websites have picked up our Primary Resources posts, making it a successful platform for which to create and share our own stories beyond what we could do with a traditional print collection in the world of 1937…or even 1997.

New social media are launching every day.  Choosing the right options to create a successful user experience comes from a little investigation, a little planning, and a little luck.

In our experience, a communication strategy that employs tools and resources in tandem with each other reaches the greatest number of information consumers with “our stories.”

It’s been a fantastic year for us learning and sharing via Primary Resources.  We’re looking forward to building on these successes and new ventures.

To those reading this, thank you for your interest in our endeavors.

We hope we’ve helped you create your own story in some way and ask that you’ll please continue to support libraries!

Additional resources:

Metro Transportation Library & Archive website

Metro Transportation Headlines Blog (Subscribe here to receive daily news email every workday)

Metro Transportation Library on Twitter