Identify Information Clearinghouses
A clearinghouse is any agency or organization that collects and distributes information, and is therefore is a go-to place for information searches. Depending on the broadness and nature of the question or statement, certain organizations will be more useful than others for partcicular searches. To determine which clearinghouses will have relevant information, make sure to start broadly. Consult a general information source before drilling down to specifics, unless the potential source of information is obvious. A library is a general information source, and librarians (reference librarians in particular) can direct patrons to more specific sources. Below, view common transportation information clearinghouses, and what types of information can likely be found in each.
Public Libraries: can find local, state, federal laws; books on general best practices; articles in newspapers/journals; area-specific demographic information; and factual information. Public libraries are a very broad and general type of clearinghouse, and therefore a good starting point for some searches. Ask if you can talk to a reference librarian.
State Department of Transportation (DOT) Libraries: contain training manuals and resources, technical specifications, journal articles, laws, best practices and rules relating to transportation, and provide help locating information. State DOT libraries are more specific in scope than public libraries, and will be more relevant to some rural and Tribal transit-related searches. Some State RTAPs also have a library.
Transit groups and organizations designed to give technical assistance: provide training and technical assistance, industry best practices, and help locating information. A guide to many of these can be found in later sections of this toolkit. National RTAP is an example of this type of clearinghouse. A group of librarians and knowledge managers form the National Transportation Knowledge Network (NTKN), which offers LibGuides of carefully selected materials on various transportation topics.
Local Chambers of Commerce: information about local programs, resources, services to help connect businesses to residents, and sometimes local grant money.
Local Government Offices: local laws, local assistance, and possibly local grant money. Local government offices can include town or village halls, planning and finance departments, and town commissions and councils.
Human Service Organizations: (Red Cross, United Way, faith-based groups, etc): can help with local needs, demographics, local challenges, partnerships, and sometimes financial assistance.
Federal Agencies: Many federal agencies deal with transit in a direct or indirect way. For example, the FTA, U.S. DOT, USDA, and FHWA all provide information, training, and/or other resources related to transit.
Put it All Together
For example, suppose that a law that affects transportation has recently been updated and you need to know how it will impact your transit agency.
- Formulate a question—“What has changed in the new law?” or “How will the new law affect my transit agency?”
- Narrow the topic by thinking about where the information might be found. For example, was it a federal, state or local law? Determining what level of government enacted the law will help narrow down where to look; probably on a federal or state website, and in the appropriate US or State Code Book.
- Do a broad Internet keyword search to find some preliminary information about new laws that may have been enacted. Narrow the search to find the appropriate law. If you know the exact law number (such as 49 U.S. Code 5310), search the Internet for that directly.
- Contact the appropriate government agency or organization that provides best practices and technical assistance in that subject area. If you cannot find the law’s language or an online version of the law, contact a local public library or State DOT library for help. When calling, ask for the reference desk, although some public libraries and many State DOT libraries have small staff and may not have an official reference librarian.
- Transportation Reseach Board’s (TRB) Literature Searches and Literature Reviews for Transportation Research Projects is a useful resource that addresses the necessary steps for producing a high-quality literature review for a transportation research project. The circular explores how to conduct literature searches; where to search for transportation information; how to put it all together as a quality literature review; and what the definitions are for related terms.
Updated December 29, 2020