Although I made a presentation yesterday at the Special Libraries Association Conference, I feel that I took away more than I gave. I learned about the rich, in-depth universe of knowledge and expertise of special libraries and I discovered that I wanted much more than 24 hours to spend in the city of Cleveland.
One gains insights from roaming the trade show floor of any conference to ascertain what a given career considers important. Librarians value information organizing, data bases, news, scientific and other research, and endless types of analysis.
Prominent at the trade show was transportation – everything from materials used for infrastructure to batteries to transportation modes. Librarians in transportation work primarily for state departments of transportation (DOTs), but also for university transportation centers, the federal government, and, among others, for technical assistance centers. While transportation librarians work in supportive roles, they provide great value for any type of information exploration, collation, and interpretation. Innovating, avoiding mistakes when doing so, learning about risks and costs, and navigating procurement processes are just a few areas where librarians contribute in transportation.
The DOT Headquarters Library at the USDOT hosts a treasure trove of resources for anyone who undertakes a search. ROSA-P – or the Repository $ Open Access Portal is an online research library – at the USDOT with statistical, technical, and economic information. This is a website that any transportation nerd will be happy to get lost in.
The session in which I made a presentation looked from different perspectives at inclusive transportation planning, transit advocacy, and automated vehicles (AVs). While the room was full of transportation librarians, the focus was on democratizing and improving transportation alternatives and infrastructures to increase equity and mobility. This included planning processes to increase public engagement, AV laws and pilot programs, the history and current trajectory of transit in Cleveland, and preparation for an AV pilot in Houston, in which the transit agency is a major partner.
From the moment my plane touched down in Cleveland until I returned to the airport the next day, it was cloudy, cold, and raining. Not inviting weather for exploration and certainly not for someone who craves sunshine and heat; therefore, I was surprised that even in monochromatic greyness, the contrasts stood out between the city I met during my last visit and this one. Cleveland is quite obviously a different city than it was when I traveled there for a transit conference eight years ago.
A grey spring Sunday eight years ago revealed a city downtown in which the only pedestrians on a weekend afternoon were homeless individuals, in which there was little traffic (which stayed the same even during the weekday rush hours), and in which beautiful, old buildings housed empty storefronts in front of dirty sidewalks. I have to admit that taking the subway was like returning to the worst of 1970s New York, complete with grime and public urination; the Health Line was the sole exception.
This trip – to the same neighborhood of downtown – I beheld a spiffier Cleveland. Storefronts revealed an interesting variety of local fare. Streets were full, though not crowded, with people, many of whom seemed to live downtown (they had that just-woke-up-and-going-out-for-coffee look). Transit was obvious, shiny, and swanky – yes, swanky – with modern bus stops and BRT (bus rapid transit) stations.
Cleveland has lots of museums and a beautiful waterfront, though it probably looks less impressionistic and more vibrant on days without relentless grey and pouring rain. I wish to return for a visit of much more than 24 hours. And, to lure any transit enthusiast, Cleveland has an active transit advocacy group, Clevelanders for Public Transit.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.