NTIS in Transition

The Transportation Division sponsored a session on “The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) in Transition”.  It featured a representative of NTIS and a long-time user of its products.

When people hear NTIS mentioned many of them say, “Oh, NTIS is still around?”  According to Ellen Herbst, its Director, the good news is that after some difficult years, NTIS is now out of survival mode and is making strategic moves for growth going forward.

 From its small beginning after World War II, NTIS, whose first job was to translate captured German and Japanese documents and disseminate them, has grown into a major information service of the US Government, gathering reports of technical information, adding bibliographic control, and then disseminating it as widely as possible.  Along with the rest of the information industry, NTIS has seen major changes as the Web has impacted it.  Most agencies now put their technical reports on their Websites, so NTIS has had to change its operating methods from print, microfiche, and microfilm to receive most of its content electronically.  And since Web sites change or disappear with great regularity, a major challenge is to get copies of reports before they disappear.  Despite major advances in electronic information delivery, NTIS does not plan to discard the older formats; as long as customers want them, NTIS will produce and deliver them.

The NTIS document collection has about 3 million titles, mainly from the Federal sector.  (Private sector publications are added only if the underlying research was funded in whole or part by government money.)  About 20% of the collection is electronic; studies are underway to develop methods to digitize the remainder.  This is a huge task; the average report is 138 pages long, so millions of pages will be included in this project. 

A current key initiative of NTIS is to determine what it should look like in 2010.  A “roadmap” is being developed to achieve the goals.  NTIS has recognized is that just having a technical report and making it possible to view it online will not ensure its survival.  It must be provided in multiple ways that people use information, such as subscription services (SRIM), alerting (NTIS Alerts). 

Studies have shown that the NTIS Website, NTIS.gov, is not the first place people go to find scientific and technical information in reports, so NTIS is working on how to make the site more visible and enhance the user experience. 


Rita Evans, from the Institute of Transportation Studies Library at the University of California, Berkeley described how they have used NTIS’s products and services for many years.  The Library has 75,000 technical reports in microfiche, print, and electronic form.  Evans described a number of issues that they face and concerns they have.  Some of their concerns include:

Converting their significant collection of microfiche to electronic form,
Difficulties finding reports in the NTIS database,
Falloff in the number of reports deposited at NTIS by government agencies, and
Different approaches to accessing and preserving digital documents.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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