History of TRAIL


Discussion began at the University of Arizona (UA), followed by meetings at the American Library Association (ALA) and the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) on a possible project to digitize U.S. federal technical reports to make them more visible and searchable. Maliaca Oxnam of UA led these discussions.

A letter of interest was sent to Judy Russell at the Government Printing Office.

The discussion group wanted to create a pilot to explore potential problems and successes of a national, collaborative technical report digitization, access, and preservation project. The demonstration project would be small (less than 500 reports or 50,000 pages), but large enough to identify and work out some technical and user problems.

Maliaca Oxnam started a TECHREPORTS e-list at UA to communicate with other interested parties.

Late 2005

GPO showed interest in the project but had no funding. UA received word that Bernie Reilly at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) was interested in the project. A group from UA met with Bernie, who agreed to gauge the interest of CRL libraries in the project.

The Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) opened discussions on possible new strategic directions. In response, UA submitted a proposal to develop a collaborative project with CRL to identify, digitize, and provide open access to federal technical reports.

A straw poll over the TECHREPORTS list asked subscribers which agencies' reports would attract the most interest.

Early 2006

Maliaca Oxnam and Bernie Reilly talked again at the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Reilly reiterated CRL’s interest in the digitization project. Results of the straw poll were reported.

GWLA announced that the UA proposal had been accepted as one of four strategic initiatives for the Alliance. A small group of GWLA Deans and Directors met to expand each initiative into a program outline and suggest next steps.


GWLA approved the outline for the technical report digitization project and the GWLA/CRL Federal Technical Reports Task Force was created to move the project forward. At this point the Task Force was primarily composed of engineering librarians. Maliaca Oxnam became Chair of the Task Force.

The institutions represented on the Task Force were:

University of Arizona
University of Arkansas
Center for Research Libraries
University of Colorado, Boulder
University of Hawaii, Manoa
Kansas State University
Linda Hall Library
University of Washington

The Linda Hall Library in Kansas City expressed particular interest in the project and agreed to assign an individual to work on the Task Force as well as to do a 200–500 report digitization test to identify costs.

The University of Arizona agreed to provide seed money for the project; funds were transferred to CRL to avoid fiscal year spending deadlines at UA.

The Task Force met for the first time; over two days, members reviewed the entire project and outlined questions and next steps for each stage. The Task Force also:

  • identified next steps that subgroups could work on in the short term
  • created a Gantt chart that outlined tasks and timelines
  • decided on a number of small collections that could be used for the pilot/demonstration project
  • developed preliminary cost model frameworks that were submitted to GWLA/CRL members for feedback.

These efforts were followed by:

  • development of interface and metadata requirements
  • creation of lists of agencies and institutions with interest in being involved in the project
  • investigation of digitization vendors
  • scanning of the first collection: the Monograph Series of the National Bureau of Standards.

Late 2006

The Task Force:

  • carried out the above projects
  • sent out calls for interest on various e-lists
  • developed long-term digitization plans
  • developed a prototype system at the University of Hawaii
  • identified publication of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) collections for scanning.

Early 2007

Task Force members met in January at the Linda Hall Library to continue intensive planning for the pilot and for a longer-phased project. They also developed digitization quality control checks.

AEC collections were scanned and added to the pilot site.

Pilot project was named TRAIL (Technical Report Archive and Image Library).

GWLA Deans and Directors agreed to support the project with $4,000 per GWLA institution (about $120,000 total). GWLA added a Digital Collections Program Officer to its staff, who joined the Task Force as the GWLA representative/liaison.


The University of Arkansas received a gift of the U.S. Bureau of Mines technical report series, which became the next major set of materials to be digitized. The University of Arkansas became the first “node”.

The University of Michigan Digitization Project (Michigan) offered to become involved. Michigan would funnel the technical reports the Task Force to be included in the project into the stream of materials that Michigan supplies to Google as one of its partners. Michigan would receive a copy of all scanned documents it sends to Google. Development of a separate interface that would allow searching of just the technical-report content was proposed, leading to much discussion between the Task Force and Michigan.

Late 2007

The Task Force met again at the Linda Hall Library to develop a process and workflow for a much larger volume of material, since Michigan had offered to do the scanning. The Task Force was recharged to address a production system (as opposed to a pilot) and added two new members, who were both government documents librarians. The Task Force created and assigned new task lists after this meeting.

Stanford expressed an interest in joining the project to design a user interface to the scanned documents.

The group agreed on a permanent project name—TRAIL—and the name of the group became the TRAIL Task Force.

Early 2008

Discussion began about having OCLC create collection sets of records for each series (or group of series from a particular agency) digitized by the Task Force.

Linda Hall Library bowed out of participation in the project since its commitment was only for the pilot. The Task Force welcomed four new members, three of whom were government documents librarians. The updated version of the Task Force met in Chicago to bring the new members up to speed, decide on future directions, and identify tasks.

The Task Force identified point people and groups to complete these tasks:

The “Collection Group” subgroup would define the collections to be included in the project.

The “External Communication” subgroup would develop a project Web site to inform the public and project partners about the work of the Task Force and how to become involved.


A skeletal website was launched using free Google space for hosting and creation, and much background work to populate the site with content.

UA developed a project internal tracking system.

The group made a final decision on the TRAIL logo.

Late 2008

Work began at the second “node” to process of all remaining report series of the National Bureau of Standards.


The University of North Texas (UNT) became a partner for hosting TRAIL content. UNT had a strong track record with content hosting and digital projects with the Government Printing Office and was very familiar with the unique needs of the technical report literature.  The University of Washington initiated to develop the web interface and federated search between UNT and the Hathi Repository.

Early 2010

TRAIL won the ALA/GODORT/LexisNexis Documents to the People Award. The Award “is a tribute to an individual, library, institution, or other non-commercial group that has most effectively encouraged the use of government documents in support of library service.”

In the spring of 2010, TRAIL became part of the Global Resource Network (GRN) within CRL. A new administrative structure was formed, bylaws were created and a funding structure established. TRAIL began soliciting institutional members who would provide support via a membership fee and also be willing to assist with the work of TRAIL.

Late 2010

The latter half of 2010 saw the creation and initiation of an orientation program for new members, increased participation in TRAIL from new member institution representatives, and the release and rollout of the new TRAIL search interface.

Early 2011

In spring of 2011, the first election of officers within TRAIL's new organizational structure occurred. The new officers began planning how to build an expanded member base as a Global Resource Network within CRL. A membership working group was formed to actively solicit new TRAIL members

Late 2011

The membership working group met with modest success as TRAIL's institutional member total finally eclipsed in 2011 what it had been when it was a GWLA initiative. The TRAIL Steering Committee determined that a major bylaws revision was needed and a small task group was formed to draft a reworking of TRAIL's bylaws. 2011 also saw a significant push to increase content available in TRAIL. A pilot to digitize microfiche and microcards was begun at the University of North Texas.


TRAIL’s new bylaws were approved. The retirement of the primary TRAIL cataloger caused a disruption in content processing. The first significant adjustment to the composition of the TRAIL Steering Committee occurred after the bylaws went into effect. The pilot project to digitize microcards and fiche was successful and 174 reports were added to the TRAIL collection consisting of 14,207 pages of content as a result of that pilot at the University of North Texas.


TRAIL search widget created by staff at Iowa State.  In an effort to boost membership, a new Membership Working Group was created and new members were solicited.


The next significant bylaws revision, which allows for personal memberships within TRAIL (in addition to the standard institutional/organizational variety) was passed by the TRAIL membership.  Although the pre-1976 focus for TRAIL content had not been a priority for years, at this point TRAIL dropped that focus completely.


TRAIL began to look more strategically and closely at harvesting content from other sites, including costs for metadata creation and/or clean-up when necessary.  TRAIL content at UNT crested 1,000,000 pages.  Overall number of TRAIL reports surpassed 50,000.  TRAIL was in the top 25 of content suppliers to the Hathi Trust.  The first non-educational institution became a member when the Government Publications Office joins TRAIL.


Number of TRAIL institutional members surpassed 40 for the first time.

2016 marked the 10th anniversary of TRAIL, recognized as the “10 Years of TRAIL” promotion.

By February 2016, TRAIL deposited over 39,000 volumes in HathiTrust.  This placed TRAIL in the Top 25 of HathiTrust content contributors.  Most top-rated contributors are universities, with notable exceptions being the Library of Congress, Getty Research Institute, and TRAIL.

TRAIL completed the digitization of Research and Development Progress Reports issued by the Office of Saline Waters (1955-1972). These technical reports are valuable for the study of thermodynamics, engineering, economics, and water resource policy.


TRAIL has made over 61,500 federal technical reports discoverable and searchable.


First pilot of microcard digitization began with 1,700 cards.


Instructions for how to download TRAIL MARC records created: https://trailguides.crl.edu/series/marc.

TRAIL reached 50 institutional members.


At the TRAIL Annual Meeting at the University of North Texas, the second pilot microcard digitization pilot is approved to proceed as a project.  Two vendors digitized 1,000 cards.


The inaugural Metrics page debuts in March. Usage data is updated every six months: https://www.crl.edu/trail-metrics.

In March, TRAIL distributed its first quarterly newsletter issue to members.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic-related travel and meeting restrictions, the annual meeting in May was held virtually.  Most of the sessions had about 40 attendees.

The pandemic affected other areas of the operations of TRAIL:

  • HathiTrust's Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) allowed more users to access TRAIL documents
  • The University of Arizona processing was curtailed.  The staff working on TRAIL reports started to catalog records for the 1,000 microcard reports during the Spring semester.
  • The Google Scanning Center closed because of the pandemic, meaning much of TRAIL’s print digitization stopped.
  • The University of Arizona shipped to the University of North Texas about 600 pounds or 51,000 microcards from the Atomic Energy Commission; this was equivalent to 33,000 reports.
  • In November, the first ten boxes of cards for the microcard project were delivered to the digitization vendor.


A creative video was made to virtually celebrate TRAIL's 15 years of existence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l5ZYaWdkyg.

UNT DL staff began processing microcard image files received from the vendor in February.  Microcard digitization was completed by the vendor in August. 

The TRAIL Annual Meeting was held virtually again.

Late in the year the Google Scanning Center reopened and processing of TRAIL materials resumed.


With the Google Scanning Center now re-opened, TRAIL content is again flowing into the HathiTrust DL. However, because of the huge backlog of material for the Google Scanning Center to process (including 120 boxes of material from TRAIL) it will be well into 2023 before all of the TRAIL material will be added to the HathiTrust Digital Library.


Current partner institutions of TRAIL are listed here http://www.crl.edu/grn/trail/member-list

TRAIL - Technical Report Archive and Image Library - logo

Search U.S. government technical reports issued primarily prior to 1976 and digitized by TRAIL.