Andy Clark & Mary Gold
Sustainable Agriculture Network
National Agricultural Library
USDA-Agricultural Research Service
A database is simply a body or collection of factual information used as a basis for discussion, reasoning and/ or calculation. It is often about one topic and is organized for easy search and retrieval. Databases come in all sizes, subjects and formats. From phone books to restaurant menus, research bibliographies to census surveys, generating and using databases have become everyday activities.
Databases are proliferating because information continues to be created at a staggering rate. Much of this information is required for optimum performance, perhaps survival, in our jobs, and at home. The availability of good information is essential. "Good" information, in this day and age, must be judged not only by its content, but also by its accessibility. Information is useless if no one can find it when it is needed. Without the landmarks and maps that good database organization requires, the proverbial information highway will get us nowhere.
The National Agricultural Library is a good place to sample some of the many different databases now available in the field of agriculture and to experience the different searching and retrieval systems their creators have made available. These databases vary in content as well as in format. They range from the Librarys card catalog (one of the oldest kinds of databases still in use) to germplasm information databases, accessible and searchable through the Internet.
One of the most specific databases is the Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise, published by the Sustainable Agriculture Network. This database of experts in sustainable agriculture is a good example of valuable information that can be accessed and searched in several different formats. It is printed in book form, with subject and geographical indexes. The Directory has also been put into electronic format, onto computer diskettes and onto the Internet. The same index that appears in the book has been transformed into a keyword machine searchable index for the disks, and for the gopher and the World Wide Web formats.
The Directory has been developed with a specific audience in mind: farmers and field researchers who are interested in obtaining hands-on sustainable agricul-tural information, and who possess a wide range of technological equipment and skills.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Librarys database of databases, called the Agricultural Network Information Center (AgNIC). AgNIC is an electronic source of agricultural databases and information systems available over an international network of networks. Each database or system is described separately in a document called a metadata record that functions much as a card in the card catalog. Clickable links are provided for databases that are Internet accessible.
The list of metadata records may be viewed alphabetically, or may be searched by keyword. For instance, a search on the term "farms" will present you with a list of databases whose description includes the word "farms" somewhere in the text.
The databases will range from a Farm Market directory of active farmers markets by state, produced at Purdue University and available on the Internet, to the 1988 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, a US Census database available on diskette.
A few other databases related to small farm research and activities:
AGRICOLA, the index of journal articles, reports, etc., created at NAL
Current Research Information System (CRIS) which records and indexes all currently funded USDA and Agriculture Canada research projects
U.S. and worldwide directories of associations available on-line and on Compact Disk - Read Only Memory (CD ROM).
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) project reports on computer diskette and on the Internet. Various agribusiness resources, catalogs, directories, in different formats. As the information age continues to unfold, it will become increasingly important to create user-friendly databases, and for the user to be conversant in accessing and using databases. "Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it" (Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784).
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