Metro Library’s Digital Documents Collection: What You Need To Know About "Anytime, Anywhere" Access

The Metro Transportation Library has begun collecting, cataloging and providing access to “digital” documents via our online catalog. These important resources have been produced and disseminated in electronic format – rather than being released “on paper.”

Up until now, we had been providing access to plenty of digitized documents – those which were scanned to provide electronic portability for resource sharing.

Some of our print documents (books, reports, etc.) had digital versions published along with print copies, and we had linked to those in our online catalog. Other items that were published in print were scanned to create a PDF document, allowing them to be emailed or easily accessed in other ways. For example, our collection of historic L.A. transit plans offers numerous full-text digital documents.

In both cases, the digital documents supplemented the original print versions. They appear in our online catalog just as a book does, but with links to a URL that opens the PDF document for that title.

However, more and more information is being “born digital” — published electronically, as opposed to in print format. Rather than printing these items out to add to our collection, we are cataloging the electronic version to conserve resources and provide better access and more options for our users.

We wanted to share with you some of the many benefits of growing our digital documents collection and why it is important to capture these “born digital” documents for posterity.

Digital documents do not take up valuable space. We save paper (and time, and ink) by not printing out electronic documents. We save additional resources by not binding, labeling and barcoding printed documents, as well as other physical processing. Cataloging the electronic version provides all the content directly to our users in a direct, cost-efficient manner.

Digital documents do not get lost or stolen. The Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library & Archive has its own server space to host digital documents in our digital libraries. We have created organized directories to facilitate sharing resources in a timely manner. By storing the documents electronically on our own servers, they are easily located and safeguarded from disappearing from the collection. There are numerous ways books, reports and other print documents can disappear from a collection: theft, mis-shelving, loss, never returned after checkout, or sustaining damage that hinders their use. Electronic access does not pose these problems.

Digital documents can serve multiple users simultaneously. While there is something to be said for the experience of curling up in bed with a great book, that book can only be experienced by one person at a time. Libraries are embracing eBooks because they reduce or eliminate the wait time for popular titles.

Likewise, our digital documents collection will accommodate multiple users at the same time. For example, when lengthy environmental impact reports (EIRs) are released to the public for review and comment, we now provide the user with the ability to consume this information at the same time as others, as well as at the time and place of his or her choosing.

Digital documents are findable as well as searchable. These resources are located the same way as other material formats in our collection. Our users will find relevant digital documents when searching the online catalog, although we do not currently have the ability to limit search results to only digital documents.

However, once a digital document is found, the user can open the link to the PDF and execute a keyword search within the document for the information they want.

Users can quickly locate specific data or text with a few keystrokes from home or their mobile device, as opposed to making a request of the Metro Library, having staff search for and locate a print document, scanning or sending the document to the user, and the user then searching through it for the information they need.

Like online news stories that disappear all too quickly, some resources that should persist forever often go away before they can be accessed. References to them often last longer than the access provided by the producer, leading users to waste time trying to track down something that no longer exists.

Transit advocacy groups go by the wayside, organizations merge with others, while other entities change their Internet domain names — all these scenarios cause users to waste time searching for vanished resources, or search for URL links to desired documents that cannot be found.

Creating a lasting home for these items and making them permanently accessible meets these challenges. By cataloging electronic resources that fit our collection profile, we not only provide access to them, but preserve them as well.

As one of the premier transportation research collections in the country, we want to grow our collection to remain responsive to Metro’s ambitious mobility agenda moving forward. We can achieve this without using up more physical space or many of the costs associated with print documents.

Finally, we are mindful that more and more users will be accessing our collection via mobile devices in the coming years. New smartphones, e-readers and iPads allow students, researchers, historians, and anyone interested in transportation information the ability to access us however they like.

These devices will continue to provide users with greater amounts of information, more quickly, and in more customizable fashion, where they want and need it. Our growing digital documents collection helps us prepare for these for 24/7 access needs: anytime, anywhere.