Digital Transit Toolbox
Digital Resources Librarian
Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
MLS, UCLA, 1987
By combining social media and the digitization of resources, digital resources librarian Kenn Bicknell has positioned the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library as an innovative portal and a go-to trend-watcher for people interested not only in transportation history but in urban planning issues.
He has made the Metro Transportation Library a leader in deploying online tools and technology to bring library resources to users, says Matthew Barrett, Archives and Records Management administrator for the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Bicknell’s work at Metro has raised the library’s national profile and serves as a model for other small libraries and other cultural institutions in the Los Angeles region, Barrett says.
Bicknell has reshaped the library’s online presence by repackaging information and historic resources dating to the 1870s. He developed and maintains several online products that highlight the library’s collection, the history of Southern California transit, and news related to transit issues. Each product serves different facets of the library’s user groups “with information they need even before they realize they need it,” Barrett says.
Use of the library’s online resources has exploded, in part because voters in 2008 approved a $40 billion upgrade to L.A. transit systems. Online access of the library’s collection grew exponentially, from 140,400 page views in FY07 to 4.3 million in FY11 (the latest available figures). “The numbers are so fast and so big, we know we’re doing something right,” Bicknell says.
The number of subscribers to Bicknell’s five-day-a-week blog digest with links to news on transportation and urban planning issues has grown more than 50 percent from 93,171 in FY09 to 140,993 in FY11. “It’s rewarding to feel like you’re driving the water cooler conversation,” Bicknell says.
Bicknell is evangelical about sharing the benefits of effective dissemination of a digital collection through social media and providing 24-7 accessibility to users. This forward-thinking approach aided Bicknell in his role as the executive chair of L.A. as Subject, a network of 200-plus cultural institutions working to improve and preserve access to archival material related to Los Angeles history. Bicknell led the network’s strategic planning efforts. “I am determined to create a national model of regional archival museum cooperation across different institutions,” Bicknell says. “A lot of small places can do some really powerful things if they get the right tools in their hands…. I want to do that for as many people as possible.”