Archives Month: The Transportation Library

It’s National Archives Month! But you knew that, right? Chicago Collections and the Chicago Area Archivists have adopted the theme of “Hidden Stories” for Archives Month 2017, so we thought it would be appropriate to publish a series of blog entries highlighting NUL’s very own array of Distinctive Collections units. For those who have never had a chance to tour or collaborate with these units, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at each of the mysterious entities whose treasures are hidden in plain sight.


By Rachel Cole, Transportation Public Services Librarian

High atop the fifth floor of the north tower of the main library, researchers will discover the Transportation Library: one of the world’s premier sources of transportation research information, and one of Northwestern University’s hidden gems.Pan Am Latin America 1941 Timetable

On any given day, our work might include assisting researchers with questions on topics that include autonomous vehicles, residential displacement related to highway construction, and food service in mid-century air transportation. It’s fascinating work, supported by unique collections, in the service of the university’s faculty and students as well as researchers worldwide.

Founded in 1958, the Transportation Library has curated a collection of over 500,000 items built around the research needs of the university’s students and faculty. In our work with our key constituency of the Northwestern University Transportation Center, we collect on all areas of transportation: rail, air, pipelines, freight, bicycles – essentially, anything that moves people or goods. Today, this includes topics like autonomous vehicles (cars, trucks, drones…), alternative fuels, active transportation, and the sharing economy. Materials on current transportation research make up the large bulk of our collection.

New Haven Railroad 1954 Annual ReportAt the same time, the Transportation Library’s special collections and archives tell the stories of the history of transportation and the passenger experience. Among these are collections of airline and railroad menus, Great Lakes passenger steamship pamphlets, materials related to commercial bus transportation, postcards, photographs, and a wide range of ephemera and other unique materials.

Other collections of note include one of the nation’s largest collections of U.S. environmental impact statements, with the majority of EISs issued by federal agencies since 1969. Our annual report collection dates back to the 1820s and documents the financial and operational history of transportation companies around the world, with strengths in U.S. airline and railroad companies.

We have partnered with other areas of the library to make collections digitally available to a worldwide audience, as well encouraging interaction with our collections and librarians through our social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter, and online exhibits related to our collections.

Transportation Library Director Roberto Sarmiento, Public Services Librarian Rachel Cole, and Library Specialist Joe Ellison