National Agricultural Library Assessment Report
Horizontal Line
Horizontal Line
 
Go to Section 7
Return to Contents

 
6.     Discussion Related to Recommendations
 
6.1.     Organizational Structure

6.1.1.     Mission Statement

 
The Panel examined the NAL's mission and vision statements and has made recommendations that reinforce NAL's role in information technology and as the hub for coordinating agriculture information efforts for the nation. Specifically, it is recommended that the Library must adopt as its mission something considerably more concise and precise than those statements put forward in 1982 and 1993. The mission statement must communicate an explicit and bold purpose that will achieve its mandate as a national library.
 
Such a mission statement must devolve finally to this intent: To fulfill its Congressional mandate, the NAL ensures that whenever and by whatever means it is measured, the Library will demonstrate rapidly evolving and effective processes for quickly gathering and distributing agricultural knowledge.

 
6.1.2.     Vision Statement

 
Concomitant with a new mission statement is the need for a sweeping vision of the future. We know from recent experience that we cannot imagine what technology will make possible by the year 2020, but every organization and business must prepare itself for this future by building a firm foundation for growth and development. It is imperative for the NAL to be guided by a grand and forward-thinking view of its own destiny. With adequate support, NAL could indeed become the impressive entity envisioned by one Panel member:
In 2020, "NAL is a recognized leader in agricultural knowledge management for the past 15 years. It has achieved this status by leading in every important relevant development and in taking prudent, entrepreneurial risks at every opportunity. Its unique, continuously evolving expert system has been adopted by and licensed to every national library and most universities in the U.S. and abroad. It now serves as the hub of major 2-way information networks, including 50 million web sites, 3,000 university libraries, 10,000 company libraries, 150,000 scientific research labs, every farm in the U.S., and 50 state consumer networks. It is a fully integrated product of the digital age, with full, same hour voice access (in the 15 most widely used languages) to any new agricultural knowledge, provided in any form or format, and delivered 24/7 in minutes to its always delighted 100 major customer segments."
6.1.3.     Budget Support

 
This vision of the NAL as a "recognized leader in agricultural knowledge management" is not any different than is expected in the Library's mandate. The conclusions of the Panel, that there has never been sufficient support to meet that mandate, is supported by an almost identical mandate for the NLM many years ago, in this case though, a mandate that was adequately financed. The NLM has been successful, while the NAL has fallen far short. To realize the potential of the NAL vision and meet the growing demands for agricultural knowledge in the information age, management must recommend and the Department must implement budgets appropriate to NAL’s mandate. Since 1982, there have been revolutionary developments in information storage devices, including networked systems, the rise of the internet and text digitization. Changes in the Library's budget have not been parallel to what might be expected to maintain currency in this dynamic situation. In spite of the slight improvements in the Library's budget in the past few years through positive support from the Department's administration, Congressional appropriations for NAL still remain relatively flat. A ten-year table of NAL budget requests is included as National Agricultural Library Budget Requests 1990-2001 (Appendix R).

 
6.1.4.     Organizational Placement of NAL within USDA

 
The Panel recommends that the Secretary of Agriculture realign the organizational position of the National Agricultural Library so that the Director reports directly to the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture. The rationale for this change is quite overwhelming. The NAL has a national and department-wide function. Organizationally, it should be at the same level as other agencies and offices with national mandates and department-wide functions, reporting to Cabinet level officials. The NAL's status and leadership as a national library is best served by having the needs of the non-USDA, as well as those of USDA clients, brought directly to the attention of the Secretary of Agriculture by the Director of the NAL.
 
The Panel considered the organization placement of the other national libraries. The Director of NLM reports to the Director of The National Institutes of Health. The Director’s position is in the Senior Executive Service, and is not a term appointment. As such, the incumbent is not asked to resign during changes of administration, as are political appointees. However, the Director can be reassigned, like other Senior Executive Service members. Because of the mission of the NIH, the Director of the NLM always holds a M.D. degree, not a library degree. Similarly, since computer science or knowledge management expertise has become essential to NAL, any relevant advanced degree but not necessarily the library degree should be the basic credential for the Director of the NAL, and based on the successful model its Director should be in the Senior Executive Service.

 
6.1.5.     Board of Regents

 
The NAL requires an external advisory group of professional research and information scientists and representatives of agriculture segments to help plan and prioritize long term planning for its programs, services, and policies. In the words of the proposed legislative text in 1990, a Board of Regents is necessary "for the purpose of advising, consulting with and making recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on matters of policy in regard to the Library." This Panel strongly advocates prompt implementation and legislative support for a Board of Regents group, again using the National Library of Medicine and its Board of Regents as a model for operation.
 
Progress made by the NLM over its history is impressive, owing in large part to the counsel of its involved Board of Regents; the Panel recommends long-range planning cycles for the NAL to emulate the planning activity of the NLM Board. Such a Board was proposed for the NAL in Congressional action in 1990 and 1995, but failed to be enacted.

 
6.1.6.     Director (See also 6.1.4.)

 
Given the current situation, the recruitment of a strong and dynamic Director will be essential to the revitalization of NAL. In the words of the current Director,
"Leading NAL into its future is a challenging job, one that demands vision, drive, commitment to customers and passion for this national treasure. Successful leadership looks to the future from the solid foundation of past achievement. Attracting the best to lead NAL… is itself a challenge."
Properly positioned in the administration, advised on planning and visioning by a Board of Regents (6.1.5.) and with a Friends Group for support in Congress (6.1.7.), the new director will, as well, have to study NAL staff organization for appropriate mechanisms to ensure open communication at all levels and to respond to staff contributions for visionary library planning and governance.

 
6.1.7.     Friends Group

 
The NAL currently lacks a strong constituency to advocate for resources and support. At one time, the NAL had a "Friends" group that provided support through fostering special public relations programs and other outreach activities. Such "friends" groups typically grow out of and are organized by library users, but they do not develop and flourish without direction and encouragement from the library. The NAL’s role must be to encourage development of such a group and to provide it with a clear understanding of its purpose, namely to provide an important means of communicating NAL’s mission and vision to elements outside the Library, especially including those who influence financial support for the Library.

 
6.1.8.     Development/Gifts

 
Although the NAL has the authority to accept gifts, it must, as well, have the authority to solicit financial and non-financial gifts and donations and allocate the resources received without prejudice to its other federal support. This authority is pivotal for the acquisition of historically significant materials, as well as the funds to support their preservation.

 
6.2.     Planning Process

6.2.1.     5-Year Reviews

So as to provide the Secretary with an ongoing assessment of NAL performance, a complete external review of NAL programs and services should be undertaken every five years. The Department might consider contracting with NCLIS, or a similar organization, to periodically conduct these reviews, and include performance measures of importance to the proposed NAL Board of Regents.

 
6.2.2.     User Surveys

The NAL must methodically and periodically assess, analyze and adapt to changing customer needs. Under the auspices of the proposed Board of Regents, regular surveys of customers, prospective customers, and other stakeholders are needed to appropriately reallocate resources and/or optimize services. USAIN, the Friends of the NAL, the Board of Regents, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, a substantial and credible market analysis company in the private sector, or some other appropriate outside group could be a source and supporter for such ongoing research, since it might otherwise be encumbered if attempted by traditional federal channels.

 
6.2.3.     Internal Advisory Groups

In its role of internal service to the USDA, the NAL should develop liaison groups within the various agencies to gain additional input for planning purposes. Two-way communication with the NAL, wherein the NAL would provide the groups with an orientation to products and services, and the groups would provide evaluative feedback. The input would be made part of the NAL’s annual documentation on operations and impacts.

 
6.2.4.     Long-Range Plans

Building on the strong statement made by the NAL in their annual strategic and operating plans, and as mentioned in section 6.2.1. (Appendix O, Appendix P, Appendix Q) the Panel recommends long-range planning cycles for the NAL, such as those undertaken by NLM for their Board of Directors. These NLM cycles occur every five years and include stated goals and objectives, a track record of achievements, and a visioning document. Long-range plans will guide the Library in resource allocation and program direction, but should also be flexible enough to allow for mid-course corrections as events and technological developments take place. Again, the Panel makes reference to the NLM planning process as an example (Appendix W, NLM Long-Range Planning Process).
 
The NAL’s operations plans for the last three years and strategic plans for the last five are attached as Appendices:
 
NAL Strategic Plan FY 1996-2001 Annual Operating Plan FY 1999     (Appendix O)
 
NAL Strategic Plan FY 1996-2001 Annual Operating Plan FY 1999     (Appendix P)
 
NAL Strategic Plan FY 1996-2001 Annual Operating Plan FY 1999     (Appendix Q)
 

 
6.2.5.     National Digital Library Planning

NAL short-range plans should incorporate an action plan for becoming a highly effective national digital library for agriculture and its related fields, involving not only a significant technological orientation, but also the types of collaborations and long-range planning that would be necessary to build and ensure the perpetual currency of such a system. Included would be an assessment of how NAL might coordinate its own products and services towards achieving this end, and also a blueprint for how it might work with partners to maximize efficiency and inputs.

 
6.2.6.     Market Adaptation

The NAL planning must, beyond all else, address and satisfy a wider spectrum of customers’ changing needs for information, analyses, and knowledge management, even if it is done at the expense of data collection and retrieval/broadcasting. The future needs of customer groups must be assessed, along with an appreciation of potential alternatives to satisfy those needs to determine where the NAL niches may be developed or strengthened. For each customer segment (i.e. ARS, FDA, educational institutions, farmers, etc.), the questions that need to be answered are: (1) What type of services do they need now? (2) What will they need in the future? (3) What alternative sources may serve these needs? (4) What are NAL’s strengths in this niche, both present and possible in the future? and (5) When should NAL act to ensure the widest public access to information that is widely needed?
 
The Panel task group assigned to studying long range planning developed more details, including suggested templates for tracking market segments, attached as Appendix Y, with options that NAL might consider as alternatives for planning mid- course corrections.

 
6.2.7.     Facility and Space Issues

The Library offers the following assessment on the capacity for shelving in the Lincoln building:
"Two current projects will ease this situation enough so the collection will be able to ‘fit’ in the Lincoln Building for the next 10-15 years…. There are additional projects that would enhance our storage organization and capabilities, however, they require funding that has not been available."
The worst floors are 6 and 7 because this is where most of the currently received journals are shelved. In many areas of those floors materials are shelved on "overflow shelving," more commonly known as book trucks. Several years of the older volumes are pulled off the shelves in order to shelve the currently received issues. This process is followed throughout the year and then in the summer, if funds are available, mini- shifts are conducted to free up enough space to reshelve the overflow materials as well as to make room for the next year’s anticipated volumes.
 
"Two current projects will ease this situation enough so the collection will be able to ‘fit’ in the Lincoln Building for the next 10-15 years. The first is the renovation of the 5th floor. This project will re-locate approximately two-thirds of a floor of Special Collections materials to the 5th floor, freeing up space for General Collections. In addition, for the last two years the NAL staff have conducted an extensive weeding program to remove excessive duplicate copies of materials from the General Collection. A survey was also conducted to identify for acquisition microform versions of print newspapers currently in the NAL collection. As the microform versions are received the paper copies will be discarded; this will eliminate fragile and deteriorating newsprint from the collection thereby freeing additional shelf space for collection items. There are additional projects that would enhance our storage organization and capabilities, however, they require funding that has not been available." NAL investigated options for off-site storage in the early ‘90’s, but no decisions were made. Budget guidance from the Department indicated that additional funds would be unlikely to support either building additional capacity in Beltsville for NAL or procuring off-site storage.
 
All binding activities were suspended in FY 2000 due to lack of funding and have not resumed. Throughout the 1980's and early 1990’s, binding was routinely suspended due to lack of funds. Binding all current loose issues would cost approximately $1 million. This figure was based on estimates obtained in planning for the major collection shift that will accompany the 5th floor renovation project. The Panel observes, simply, that the suspension of binding jeopardizes conservation efforts and affects availability of shelf space.

 
6.3.     Leadership Issues/Opportunities

The NAL has an important role as the national Library of the U.S. for Agriculture and as a Library for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is intended to be a leader in the field of agriculture information. To do so, the NAL must focus on its expressed vision that "agriculture information will be more accessible to more people through technology," and that "the NAL will lead in the information revolution by forging partnerships and exploring new methods and technologies that advance open and democratic access to information."
 
The Panel applauds the above vision set out by the NAL in its Vision Statement but sees the NAL as struggling in its fulfillment due to resource restrictions and competing expectations.

 
6.3.1.     Challenges, Future Threats

Strategic choices:  Leadership in the field of agricultural information requires difficult strategic choices. What resources will be allocated to the NAL? To online services versus physical texts? Toward preserving historical treasures versus advancing new knowledge? The Panel believes that priority should be given to both online service and advancing new knowledge when resource allocation decisions are made.
 
Resources:  The NAL cannot, in its current circumstance, be a leader. The Library management system (software) is old; facilities or equipment are in need of repair; services have not kept pace. Federal budgets for agency programs and services (non- entitlement) have been restricted for several years and seem destined to continue to be restricted.
 
Staff:  The staff is a current strength of NAL, but the recruitment and retention of top- flight staff with budgets shrinking in real dollar terms will be an increasing challenge.
 
Visibility:  The NAL is likely providing valuable services that are largely invisible to key decision-makers who affect NAL.
 
6.3.2.     Opportunity: Knowledge Management and Digital Library Initiatives

NAL’s mandated leadership role means focusing on a knowledge management approach to facilitate the value, growth, and use of new agricultural knowledge. This leadership direction might be best served by turning the NAL basic paradigm from the biggest and best collection of knowledge into the most rapidly evolving and effective processes for gathering and distributing agricultural knowledge. In this capacity, NAL should participate in efforts to create new and more effective digital library systems for bringing agricultural knowledge to customers, not only through indexing and abstracting services, but as information packages to facilitate learning and decision- making.

 
6.3.3.     Opportunity: Preservation Initiatives

Research findings, policy statements, consumer guidelines and other important information resources are increasingly published in electronic formats. These formats provide powerful advantages for customers in searching, delivery, and reuse of the content. However, these formats are inherently more ephemeral than paper print format. The content is therefore vulnerable to loss. The Office of the Chief Information Officer is leading a Departmental Initiative to develop policy and guidelines for the Department governing the long-term preservation of digital publications. The NAL must continue to take a lead in this initiative and should be given support for its successful conclusion.
 
The NAL should also provide strong support to the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is a Library of Congress-led program. This initiative will set national digital preservation standards. It gives the NAL an opportunity to serve the agricultural community through sponsorship of vital projects, objectives, and shared policy-making. In addition, the NAL should continue to pursue, and should be supported in its effort to gain, Affiliated Archive Status with the National Archives and Records Administration.

 
6.3.4.     Opportunity: Collaborative Relationships

The NAL has a definite and defined set of natural constituents and collaborators/partners in this country's agricultural (especially land grant university) libraries and it is well known among these constituent groups for the range of resources and services it offers. Capitalizing on this advantage, NAL should play an aggressive leadership role for this group. One example: develop a realistic, holistic preservation strategy for the nation's agriculture literature, including state agricultural documents, extension documents, and the like, in all original formats.

 
6.4.     Innovations in Information Services

6.4.1.     Technology Issues

The advent of the internet has created a challenge for all libraries. A rapidly growing user base, now a clear majority, prefers online searching as a methodology for both speed and comprehensiveness. Libraries have played a historically significant role as places where information resources are stored and accessed. The Internet has changed and will continue to change the way research is conducted and the ways needs for knowledge are, and can be, fulfilled. Leadership in the Internet field will require new perspectives, ongoing new ideas and understandings, and a significant commitment of financial and human resources.
 
NAL developed a comprehensive plan for technology innovation, which was issued as the NAL Technology Plan 2000 (Appendix X). The Panel endorses the plan as one of its Panel recommendations.
 
The Technology Plan as formulated by the Information Systems Division (ISD) in October 2000 should be revisited and modified when the additional human and financial resources specified in this report are made available to the NAL. The ISD should outline the positions and infrastructure requirements necessary to support an upgraded integrated library system and to accommodate improvements and efficiency in all computer systems, particularly those supporting AGRICOLA, document delivery, and the various web sites. Only with a solid foundation of information technology and information management, will the NAL be able to realize its vision for leading "in the information revolution by forging partnerships and exploring new methods and technologies that advance open and democratic access to information."

 
6.4.2.     Innovative Technologies Grant Program

NAL should initiate a grants program for encouraging and promoting a national technical infrastructure for agricultural information and networking. This program would be similar to NLM’s extramural grant programs that are offered in a number of categories including Resources for Information Management and Research and Research Resources. These grants are authorized by the Medical Library Assistance Act and are given in areas such as: information access, information systems, Internet connections, integrated advanced information management systems, informatics, and digital libraries applications. Grants-in-aid are given to the extramural community, sometimes as contracts, in support of the goals of the NLM and as seed money to initiate a resource, service, or program. They provide an opportunity to develop the linkages between the NLM and its regional libraries and, at the same time, to greatly expand all of their capabilities through innovative projects.
 
Because this is a successful model, the Panel strongly endorses a grants program for the NAL as a mechanism for building on and formalizing the NAL’s ties to the now loosely knit network of developers of new innovations and the agricultural libraries within the land-grant system, including the full-range of USAIN institutions. NAL should help develop collaborations for the advancement of information technologies to disseminate agricultural information and knowledge.

 
6.4.3.     AGRICOLA

AGRICOLA, the primary index to U.S. scientific literature for agriculture and allied fields, has served as a leading solution for agriculture researchers for many years.

 
However, more recently AGRICOLA is not delivering up to expectation in some users’ eyes because shrinking budgets have created gaps that compromise its value.

 
To correct this situation, NAL management should conduct, preferably on advice of the proposed Board of Regents, a timely review of AGRICOLA to align its content with its significance to the nation’s agricultural information needs. This will include action plans and estimated costs for upgrade of content, and the addition of online linkages to full text wherever possible with priorities defined by the user communities to USDA and state agricultural extension publications. Until a Board of Regents is implemented, the Panel recommends that the Library appoint an expert Strategic Planning Task Force for direction and budget recommendations.

 

The Library has participated collaboratively with many research libraries on various information projects over the years since the last review. These projects are largely, but not entirely, successful by virtue of altruism on the part of participating individuals and libraries. For example, the NAL provided seed money for establishment of the Agriculture Network Information Center (AGNIC), but the network is maintained through volunteer efforts of participating institutions and individuals. This distributed network, which could be the foundation for a national digital library, already has achieved a certain level of success in bringing agricultural information to the public from a broad base of institutions and experts. In the future, it could provide customers with much more wide-ranging knowledge-based learning resources and with information and data that has previously been unavailable. However, to achieve this potential, the Network requires extensive technical expertise and infrastructure, as well as broader topical orientations. The NAL should be provided with the basic human and technical resources to create the necessary backbone for AgNIC’s system requirements and for general content development. Enhancements and special applications, such as interactive learning modules, and those using remote sensing and geographic information systems, could be funded through the proposed information technologies grant program, and NAL should provide a regularly updated, user- friendly, online learning module to teach new users how to use and gain most benefit from NAL.

 
6.4.5.     Information Centers

Increasingly, customers want more than bibliographic references and annotations; they want packages of information that directly answer questions they might have and that are available on a 24/7 basis. Similar to AgNIC, NAL’s Information Centers are an excellent beginning for providing this kind of value-added service. However, the topics covered in both AgNIC and the Information Centers need to be expanded to cover the full breadth of agricultural information interests. An example is the NLM's development of the MEDLINEplus, a web-based health information resource for the general public. This service, which started out covering 22 topics, now provides full- text documents, pre-formulated MEDLINE searches, and links to high-quality related web sites on 225 health matters of particular interest to U.S. citizens. The AgNIC alliance web sites and the NAL Information Centers could form the basis for a similar service for agriculture. Consideration in the long-range planning process should focus on how to structure these services into a more cohesive and identifiable service with a single user interface to facilitate a "one-stop shopping" concept.

 
6.4.6.     Document Delivery

 
Document delivery in paper and electronic form are important NAL services. The NAL responds to 150,000 requests annually for documents in its collection, to USDA employees and other public and private sector parties. High quality digitization, electronic transmission, intellectual property-right considerations, and questions of permanent archiving complicate the planning and budgeting for the future. It is clear that most users in the survey anticipate a growing reliance on electronic transmission of text as the preferred access route. The NAL will need to develop more timely and extensive electronic document delivery systems to meet future customer needs.

 
Go to Section 7
Return to Contents

 
Horizontal Line
Report Index  ||  Assessment Report  ||  Public Comment  ||  Recommendations  ||  webmaster@nal.usda.gov
Last Updated August 13, 2002