[Series] So What Do You Do? Transportation Research Center Library Internship

Road surfacing

Bergkamp M1 micro surfacing paver and mobile support unit

This post is part of a new series called “So What Do You Do?” in which LIS students talk about their experiences as interns. We want to showcase the wide range of things people are doing in the world of library and information science.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Paul Lai, and I am a second-year library science student with interests in scholarly communications and academic libraries. I applied for this internship at a transportation research center because I am interested in working as a librarian in a university research center or as an embedded librarian in another academic context. I have also previously interned at a small academic library doing general reference and circulation work as well as at a large public library’s preservation department helping research availability of older books and creating polyester sleeves for early twentieth-century American sheet music.

So what do you do?

I am the library intern at the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) at the University of Minnesota. CTS is an active research center that manages faculty and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) research projects. CTS publishes technical reports for this research along with other transportation-related materials for both the research and practitioner communities. I work primarily with the publications team to make materials available and findable online as well as with ready reference questions and more in-depth literature search help. The center does not have a physical library space (aside from a couple of bookcases at the end of a hallway), but it does have an extensive list of resources on its Library Services page.

One of my main tasks is to work with the research reports published by the center. For each report, I assign standardized keywords from the Transportation Research Thesaurus (TRT). I upload PDFs of the reports to the online server and assign metadata for the catalog. I then submit the reports along with relevant metadata to the university’s institutional repository.

Transportation Research Thesaurus

Transportation Research Thesaurus

I also find transportation facts, photographs, and other information for the CTS staff working on various publications. I have helped conduct literature searches on transportation topics for local government officials, transportation researchers, and transportation professionals such as county engineers. I catalog photographs that the center keeps in a database for use in its many publications, assigning keywords, descriptive text, and copyright information to make the photographs searchable. I occasionally field requests from professionals for copies of CTS publications or other materials in the library’s catalog (shared with the MnDOT library, which is a special library at the state capital with its own space, fairly extensive print holdings, and an active reference desk).

I also do a number of other tasks such as route periodicals, create reference files for research articles, index the Journal of Transport and Land Use (an open access scholarly journal published by the center) in RePEC, and track media mentions of CTS and affiliated researchers. In short, there are a number of different things that I get to do in the internship, so I never feel as if I am doing just a few things over and over again.

CTS workstation

Computer workstation of CTS librarian and library intern.

Are you finding your coursework helpful in that position? In what way?

Having coursework in reference and the organization of knowledge has definitely been helpful in giving me the foundational understanding of how to search for resources and information as well as how to use the TRT and assign metadata for various information objects. This internship has given me the chance to put into practice some of the basic skills that many of us learn in our core courses, and that interplay between coursework and hands-on experience has been quite wonderful.

More broadly, the general discussions my intro class provided about the different infrastructures of knowledge was helpful in preparing me to learn more about knowledge in the transportation world. I was interested to find out that CTS is part of a large network of transportation libraries that provide information to city, county, state, regional, and national transportation workers. I also learned about the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Transportation Division, an active subgroup of the organization that brings together librarians working in the transportation world to discuss their specific challenges and needs.

What would you say are the lessons you’ve taken away from this internship?

Before I started the internship, I knew very little about the field of transportation with its many facets in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemistry, public affairs, computer science, and other disciplines. Though I am still far from knowledgeable in the field, I am beginning to understand better how different types of information, knowledge, and research are shared and where to look for particular kinds of resources. This internship has helped me understand how librarians working in specific research contexts can help specialists in the field find the information they need to do their jobs.

On a different level, this internship has also shown me what a librarian position outside of a library might look like. I work in an office with editors and web designers, and since their work is very different from what librarians do, we have different interactions and conversations than I imagine having in a work context where I would be surrounded by other librarians.

How do you think this internship will help with your career?

This internship has encouraged me to think about how librarians organize and locate information for researchers and other professionals. Since I am interested in working with researchers in some way, whether in academic libraries or university research centers, this internship has definitely given me the chance to explore how librarian skills function outside more traditional public or academic libraries.

It has been helpful for me to stretch myself as someone usually more immersed in the humanities and literary worlds. While I don’t think I would ever want to be a researcher or professional in these applied sciences fields, I can see myself working in a special library in these fields and understanding how to learn about the resources those researchers and professionals need.

I’d love to hear from others who have worked in research centers or transportation libraries. Please share your experiences in the comments section or get in touch with us for a guest post!

Interested in sharing your internship experience? Contact us at hacklibschool@gmail.com.

4 replies

  1. I have a special place in my heart for this post since my grandfather and great-grandfather worked for the Wisconsin DOT building bridges for their whole lives!

    Beyond that personal connection, I think it’s fascinating that you stepped up and took an internship that was outside of your regular discipline(s). I know that working in an applied sciences research role like your internship would be a very different experience for me as well. Just curious–how did you find out about this internship? Does the CTS host interns each semester?


    • I found about about the CTS internship through my program’s blog, which regularly announces jobs (both local and national) as well as internships and other kinds of career or professional development opportunities. The internship doesn’t have a definitive end date, and I think interns generally stay a year or so (until graduation). The MnDOT library also has a library intern. I found out about my other internships through the program’s blog as well. http://stkatemlis.blogspot.com/


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