|National Agricultural Library Assessment Report|
|NAL's Technology Plan|
Executive Summary and Update
In May - June 1998, a Technology Plan for the National Agricultural Library was drafted and presented to the Management Team. The purpose of this Plan was to evaluate current and projected information technology (IT) and systems needs. The Plan also presents a systematic approach for dealing with the rapidly emerging and expanding IT field as it relates to the NAL mission.
In preparation for writing the Technology Plan, Information Systems Division staff attended a workshop sponsored by Computers in Libraries which addressed the specific topic of technology planning. Automation and technology plans prepared by similar organizations were evaluated to gather information about methods of preparation, successful planning, life cycle of planning, and results of planning. The Information Technology Branch brainstormed to identify the IT areas which required attention and proposed solutions and recommendations as appropriate. Future needs were addressed in these recommendations.
The Technology Plan includes a historical account of computers and information technology at the Library, the state of information technology and information management in 1998, future directions anticipated for both, and recommendations for the NAL's Management Team.
Since 1998, significant accomplishments at NAL have been made in the information technology arena. Some of these accomplishments were cited as goals in the 1998 Plan and others have occurred through the introduction of new program initiatives. Specifically, we have:
|NAL'S Technology Plan|
History and Introduction
In 1993, it was recognized that fundamental changes in computer strategies were taking place, specifically increased use of computer solutions for recording and disseminating information. This recognition prompted the formation of the Electronic Information Initiative (EII) team to thoroughly evaluate, investigate, and recommend appropriate actions and directions for the Library to take to align itself with emerging and future technologies. The final report contained significant information and recommendations for the Library.
In part, the EII Report recognized that the Library must make significant investments in information technologies needed to collect, organize, store, and disseminate electronic information. Today, more than ever, vast amounts of recorded information are being made available in both print and electronic format. Many resources are now only available in electronic form. In order to provide access to these resources, libraries need to offer electronic services to supplement the traditional print services. Coupled with this trend, are the increasingly sophisticated needs of our customers. These needs will translate into expectations for more timely delivery of information in a wider diversity of formats. The expansion of our information services is vital in meeting the present and future needs of our customers. Toward this end, in February 1994 an NAL Information Alert announced that the NAL in its commitment to becoming an electronic library, has adopted electronic information as the "preferred medium" for library materials.
The evolution of the World Wide Web (WWW) during the last decade has a momentous impact on society worldwide. For the Library environment, the WWW enables access to and dissemination of electronically recorded information more extensively and effectively than ever before. As noted in the WWW Policy and Guidelines of the NAL, the Web is "an increasingly attractive and effective dissemination channel for federal agencies."
In reaction to the EII Report and the WWW evolution, NAL prepared a document entitled Policy and Guidelines on Electronic Communication, dated September 20, 1994. This document discusses the importance of the use of electronic communication and how the use by NAL strengthens NAL's role and enhances NAL's image as an active member of the electronic community.
The early 1990's also witnessed the NAL's strategic planning process. Beginning in 1993, an environmental examination was conducted to determine our stakeholders and customers as well as internal and external factors affecting the agency. During this phase we restated our mission, articulated core values, and created a vision. NAL's vision holds firm the direction of NAL in the information technology arena.
"The National Agricultural Library leads in the information revolution by forging partnerships and exploring new methods and technologies that advance open and democratic access to information. As a dynamic, efficient, and effective organization, we are dedicated to the delivery of information to customers worldwide. The staff sets and maintains the highest standards of excellence in information services. As keepers of our Nation's agricultural legacy, we preserve and protect information for future generations.
"We are a multicultural and diverse organization. Decision-making and accountability are shared, creating an environment that is vital, challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable. Our work makes a difference--it enriches the lives of people everywhere."
These important events, the EII, evolution of the WWW, and NAL's strategic planning, have laid the foundation on which to design our technology plan. Realizing the value of participatory decision-making, an internal NAL partnership will be formed and each unit will contribute its unique measure to the final composition of our technology plan.
Scope of The Technology Plan
This Technology Plan is guided by the mission, values, and vision of the Library . More specifically, this plan serves as a blueprint to enable Library activity which "ensures and enhances access to agricultural information for a better quality of life." Not a unique document nor the beginning of planning at the National Agricultural Library, this document can be viewed as a continuation of the Electronic Information Initiative Final Report.
Information presented is for planning and to alert management to the current status of our technologies. Information and recommendations are based on today's computer technology and it is understood that some technologies in this plan may be obsolete or superseded before they can be implemented. Rapid information technology changes necessitate periodic updates. However, long range planning is necessary to ensure continuity and direction while allowing for flexibility to accommodate the introduction of new and innovative technologies and services. We need to continually monitor and respond to the various trends and emerging developments in library practices.
The focus of this plan will be computer technology and management including hardware, software, networking, servers, website management, fax machines, telephones (as they relate to voice over data networks), and electronic databases. Facility operations such as telephone, photocopiers, independent fax machines, voice mail, and environmental controls will not be addressed.
Computers, networks, and other information technologies are important working tools for our staff and important tools for providing information to our patrons. A successful technology plan is not just one of procuring bigger and faster systems but an intricate plan of what technologies we have a need for and of how our various technologies and systems interconnect. We must select technologies appropriate to the application needs and to the information to be delivered. The importance of collecting users requirements and conducting needs assessments cannot be overemphasized. Performing these evaluations assist in avoiding costly implementation for unnecessary or poorly performing technologies. We need to examine carefully what we really need. Conducting an in-depth analysis of technology needs is part of the large technology evaluation effort. Historically, implementing technology for technology's sake without regard for how the use of technology will be integrated has failed. A technology needs assessment is more effective when the analysis is based on actual goals and available resources.
Technology itself doesn't provide value to our customers. It is the NAL staff who uses technology and who assist our customers that makes the difference. Training and cross-training programs will be critical in maintaining an informed and competent library staff. New technologies, services, and resources must be effectively communicated to the public, USDA, and other government departments to increase awareness, use, and support for the NAL.
State of Information Technology at NAL
This section addresses the state of information technology at NAL. Since the release of the EII Phase II Report, many technological advances have occurred. While some EII recommendations are current, others are not. The status of the EII recommendations is provided in Appendix A. Initiatives recognized or developed since the report are included to provide the reader with a comprehensive report of information technology.
The NAL Infrastructure
The ever-increasing needs to communicate more effectively and work together more efficiently were the fundamental forces behind the planning and implementation of the NAL building-wide network. Planning began in the late 1980's/early 1990's when LAN technology began to achieve widespread acceptance, and the Internet was still in its infancy.
One of the early milestones of the NAL infrastructure is the 1989 installation of a T1 connection to SURANet, a major Internet Service Provider. This connection provided NAL with Internet capability to support a document delivery image transfer project with North Carolina State University. Several years later, in 1993, the building's fiber-optic backbone was installed, along with a modem rack, terminal server, and e-mail server. The wiring of the NAL building continued throughout 1994 and 1995, as twisted pair network cabling was installed between users' desktops and wiring closets located at strategic points throughout the building. These wiring closets contained equipment which allowed the twisted pair wiring to be connected to the building's fiber-optic backbone.
During FY 1996, NAL continued to expand its networking capabilities. The backbone networking equipment was upgraded to enable users to access network resources at higher speeds than in the past. This upgrade took place in several stages. Stage one consisted of an upgrade to the core networking equipment. The upgrade was purchased in FY 1996 and installed in FY 1997. It consisted of the installation of a backbone switch and converting the network backbone from a hybrid switched/routed environment to a purely switched configuration. This change has resulted in a decrease in network congestion and a corresponding increase in network throughput, bandwidth availability, and performance. The next stage of the network backbone upgrade plan will consist of upgrades to the network equipment located in the wiring closets throughout the building. Specifically, the shared hubs in the wiring closets will be replaced with Ethernet/Fast Ethernet switches. This change will increase the bandwidth available on the backbone and to the desktop. This change is expected to take place beginning in FY 1998, subject to available funding. Necessary wiring modifications as a result of the renovation are not known at this time.
To support state-of-the-art monitoring and service for the NAL Infrastructure, implementation of an NAL Network Operations Center took place in FY 1997. The center is dedicated to monitoring and managing the NAL backbone network. This project consisted of the purchase of hardware and software that allow for remote monitoring and management of all critical network resources from a single, centralized site.
Network Architecture Overview
NAL's building-wide network is a classic collapsed backbone architecture, consisting of a series of bundles of 12 fibers running between the computer room and network hubs in wiring closets throughout the building. This type of network design allows a great deal of flexibility in the configuration of the network. Initially, all segments of the building backbone were connected to a series of network concentrators located in the NAL computer room. These concentrators were connected to a router, which allowed for communication between the various network segments, as well as a gateway to the Internet via the T1 connection to SURANet.
The network backbone equipment has undergone several stages of modernization since the initial implementation of the building network. The original router has been replaced with a later generation model capable of increased performance. In addition, other backbone networking equipment was upgraded to enable users to access network resources at higher speeds than in the past. The network core function was migrated from the original router to a Fast Ethernet switch, allowing high-speed interconnections between hubs in building wiring closets and servers located in the computer room. Ethernet switches are beginning to be deployed throughout the network as well, in order to reduce network congestion and improve overall network responsiveness.
NAL's network consists a fiber-optic backbone connecting wiring closets on most floors of the building, a Catalyst 5000 FastEthernet switch tying together all of the wiring closets throughout the building, an X.25 (to be upgraded to a Frame Relay) connection to OCLC, a 10 Mb connection to the BARC backbone (which provides SMDS connectivity to the USDA network), and a T1 connection to the Internet. The wiring closets contain Ethernet hubs, for the most part. Recently one FastEthernet switch was deployed in ISD with excellent results. The hubs are now connected to the Catalyst 5000 FastEthernet switch, which in turn is connected to the router. The router is a Cisco 4500 upgraded from the older model Cisco AGS+.
Appendix B provides a graphical representation of the NAL Infrastructure. Appendix C is the detailed plan of action and milestones for the Catalyst 5000 integration.
USDA Internet Access Network
NAL has maintained a continuous Internet presence since the installation of its T1 connection to SURANet in 1989. This connection predates nearly every other Internet connection in the Department of Agriculture, and is more established than the USDA Internet Access Network (USDA IAN) by more than three years. In 1993, the predecessor to USDA's OCIO established a Department-funded-and-managed connection to the Internet via USDA's Technical Services Division in Ft. Collins. This was followed up by a proposal to improve service and allow increased redundancy by creating an east coast node for the USDA IAN. This was originally proposed to utilize NAL's existing Internet connection and connect NAL to the USDA South building via a dedicated leased line. This proposal was never implemented, and the USDA IAN east coast node was placed at the USDA South Building complex.
NAL continues to manage its own Internet connection instead of relying on the USDA IAN for a variety of reasons. These reasons include concerns about quality of service, a requirement for around-the-clock (24 x 7) monitoring on both ends of the connection, and insufficient bandwidth capacity of the Internet link.
BARCNet and ARSWAN
In 1996, NAL connected its network to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center's FDDI (fiber distributed data interface) backbone (BARCNet), allowing higher-speed access between NAL and systems located throughout BARC. This connection initially consisted of a fiber cable between NAL's backbone router and a port on the GRIN network located in the NAL computer Room. In FY 1997, this connection was reconfigured to hook directly to a BARC backbone switch, thus making NAL a true node on the BARC backbone. NAL's connection to the BARC backbone also serves as NAL's link to the ARS Wide Area Network (ARSWAN), which interconnects all eight ARS administrative areas via a series of Frame Relay links.
In addition, NAL serves as the connection point to the BARC backbone for the Livestock and Poultry Sciences Institute, located in building 200, via an AirLan located on the NAL roof. This BARC connection allows all of BARC to use NAL's Internet gateway and enabled an independent circuit, from the BARC network to the Internet, to be shut down. Savings are estimated at more than $15,000 in FY 1997. The BARC backbone connection also provides NAL with a connection to many USDA networks via a BARC-managed Switched Multi-megabit Data Service (SMDS) connection which connects several BARC-affiliated research sites throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Appendix D is a graphical representation of the BARC ARS Backbone Network.
OCLC Network Connectivity
During 1996, NAL converted its geographically-limited dialup OCLC access to a shared X.25 link, accessible to all computers with an NAL network connection, including those using the dialup modem pool. Previously, access had been limited to only OCLC-configured computers connected to a series of concentrators located at several points throughout the building, or to direct, expensive dial up. This type of service was eliminated in favor of the X.25 solution due to its more economical cost and expanded coverage.
NAL-wide Windows NT Local Area Network (NT LAN)
NAL began the planning and prototyping process for a building-wide local area network in FY 1996. The process consisted of meeting with end users to determine requirements, researching possible products and applications, prototyping solutions, and purchasing production-level servers. The servers were received, set up, and configured in 1996. In addition both personal directories and directories accessible to multiple groups were set up on the servers. The first applications were loaded, resources were configured for sharing across the LAN, and user accounts were set up. The planning process is fully detailed in Appendix E.
NAL's Local Area Network (LAN) is centered around Microsoft's Windows NT Server currently running version 3.51 on two Compaq Proliant backbone servers, dedicated to file and printer sharing applications. These machines have disk RAID capability for reliability in case of a single disk failure. In addition, system components are monitored for fault detection prior to failure, to allow a component to be swapped out before it fails.
The servers are in the process of being upgraded to Windows NT Server 4.0. In addition, a third server is being brought on-line to provide for an automatic failover if either of the two primary servers should experience a catastrophic failure. In addition, a Windows NT-based tape backup solution for NAL's NT servers is reaching production status, and will be used to provide both on-site and off-site backup sets for use in disaster recovery operations.
A complete suite of server-resident applications has been installed on NAL's NT servers, including the CorelSuite of applications (WordPerfect, Netscape, Quattro Pro, etc.) as well as Lotus 1-2-3, InForms, WinSPIRS, Hot Dog HTML editor, Adobe Acrobat, Passport for Windows, MultiTes, Thomas Register database, a 3270 emulation program for access to the National Finance Center's (NFC) Online Travel system, and Cataloger's Desktop. Some of these applications have been installed to be used in conjunction with a software license metering scheme. Software license metering allows for a reduction in the number of licenses to be purchased to support the entire library, since licensing is based only on the number of simultaneous users of any particular application. Thus, it is possible to achieve greater efficiency in the use of budgetary resources. These applications installed on NAL's NT servers benefit the entire library in general, but also many individual units within the library whose specialized applications have been made available in ways not possible before the installation of the LAN. Also during 1997, many units were set up to use network printers available via the building backbone. This allows many users to easily and transparently share printing resources located throughout the library, thus generating reduced operating costs and improving efficient use of computing resources. Appendix F is a list of all server applications available to NAL staff.
All LAN users have access to both shared and private disk space on the servers. Users are currently quota-limited to 10 Mb per user, but exceptions can be made on a space-available and as-needed basis. A software package monitors current disk quota usage and prohibits disk usage beyond the pre-established quota. Shared disk space on the servers has been organized along NAL organizational lines, and access privileges and permissions are set at the branch or division level.
A number of network management packages have been installed to allow for more efficient support of the NAL network. These include Norton Administrator for Networks, which is used to provide 1) software license metering, 2) remote software distribution, and 3) software and hardware inventory of all LAN clients. The Cisco Works for Switched Internetworks is used to simplify management of NAL's routers and switches. Cabletron's SPECTRUM Element Manager is used to manage the hubs located in NAL's wiring closets. Compaq's Insight Manager monitors the Compaq servers for hardware and system reliability. Finally, Windows NT Server has a variety of tools available for monitoring server and network performance.
The installation of the USDA-NFC On Line Travel system was also coordinated. This system allows for more efficient processing of both local and TDY travel. The results are a quicker resolution of outstanding travel claims which generates savings to the government.
Windows 95 Deployment
In early FY 1998, ISD developed a deployment plan for Windows 95 at the Library and opened up a test lab for the purpose of testing the functionality of NAL's current suite of software under the Windows 95 operating system. Users were encouraged to use the lab to familiarize themselves with the Windows 95 user interface and load their own applications for testing. The test lab provides the opportunity for staff to see what their new desktop will be like once Windows 95 is deployed.
The deployment schedule for Windows 95 begins in mid-April 1998 and will continue through the summer. Careful coordination of training and deployment plans was scheduled so that each user will receive hands-on training while the new operating system is deployed on their workstation. In that regard, there will be no lag time between training and actual use of Windows 95. Appendix F provides details on the Windows 95 Implementation Plan and the Windows 95 deployment plan.
Unix Servers, Electronic Databases, and the World Wide Web
Unix servers have been installed at NAL to support both the user community, the Electronic Information Initiative, and NAL's position on the World Wide Web. The first major server was cliff, NAL's e-mail server, which was installed during 1992. This was followed by the setup of NAL's gopher during the summer of 1994 which has since been shut down in December 1997 due to technology changes. That server represented NAL's first foray into the arena of providing information to patrons and the general public via the Internet. The NAL webserver was brought online in April 1995, marking NAL's entry into the World Wide Web. NAL's USENET news server was also established in early 1995. The USENET server allows NAL users to read and post news articles on a variety of USENET groups. In addition, the news server allowed the establishment of several local newsgroups to be used for local discussions on a number of topics. The local newsgroup capability improved the distribution of NAL's monthly reports by allowing reported to be posted and read electronically, eliminating the paper copies, and making reports available in a more timely manner than in the past.
In FY 1996, a new solution for backup of network servers was installed. The solution consists of network accessible tape drives and a tape library with network backup software. Backups are provided of all NAL's multi-user, mission-critical, server-based resources. Also in FY 1996, a majordomo list server was established. This provided the capability for user-maintainable mailing lists for both onsite and offsite users.
The beginning of calendar year 1997 set in motion the Electronic Media Center (EMC). Two Unix servers dedicated to this initiative have been purchased and setup. These servers provide access to a variety of agriculturally-related databases, including AGRICOLA, and to the Library's electronic archiving and publishing programs. Prototypes for NAL's implementation of the OCLC Site Search package and several ARS-produced databases were also developed on these systems. Available databases to date are listed in Appendix G. At present, there are 22 Unix systems serving the mission of the National Agricultural Library. The servers and their functions are listed in Appendix H.
Also during FY 1997, Unix system administrators planned the redesign of the computer room to accommodate additional equipment and they developed a new, comprehensive set of computer room emergency response procedures. All Unix systems will be relocated to the computer room which is a locked facility with sensing devices to alert administrators to changes in temperature and humidity.
When the concept of webservers and webmasters was in its infancy, the responsibility of a webmaster called for a technical person to oversee the development of the server and various applications. There has been an evolution in a webmaster's responsibilities in other organizations as well as at NAL. Since many of the initial technical issues have been overcome and industry standards are in place, the webmaster now needs to serve as a content expert rather than a technical expert. In early 1998, the NAL's webmaster position made the transition from technical to content. Appendix I provides the responsibilities and qualifications for the NAL Webmaster and Appendix J is the charter for the Web Management Team.
Information Technology Training
At this writing, the NAL computer training program is going into its 8th year of having an onsite computer instructor. The focus of the training program is to provide staff with hands-on instruction for microcomputer and Internet applications. Training classes are scheduled regularly for a variety of subjects and range from short one-hour sessions to all day workshops. The training room consists of ten student multimedia Pentium workstations and an instructor's workstation. Ten new classes were developed for NAL staff during FY 97 including course titles such as Introduction to HTML, Netscape: Bookmarks, AltaVista and Yahoo!, and Lotus 5.0 Working with Multiple Worksheets. In FY98, a considerable amount of time has been spent developing three customized training classes for Windows 95.
An NAL webpage, URL: www.nal.usda.gov/training, was developed for the exclusive use of NAL staff. This webpage provides detailed information on course content and schedules. Part of the webpage is specific to the Windows 95 deployment. Of great value is the newly established Frequently Asked Questions for Using Windows 95.
In 1997, in an effort to increase communication between ARS and NAL administration, steps were taken to add NAL management to the National Program Staff (NPS) domain within the GroupWise electronic mail system. This enables all ARS locations that use GroupWise to seamlessly add members of the NAL management team to messages and eliminates the need of each location to establish this group locally.
As an ongoing initiative, ISD staff evaluates issues involved with remote access and implements technology as needs dictate and resources permit. Initially, NAL's dial up capability consisted of an integrated rack of 10 V.32bis (14.4 kbps) modems connected to a terminal server. This system was used for terminal (VT100) access to NAL's e-mail server via a telnet session. Later, in 1995, a software package was installed on the e-mail server to allow pseudo-SLIP connections to be established, thus granting true Internet capability to dialup users. This step was followed by a modem pool and terminal server upgrade in 1997 that allows up to 16 simultaneous V.34 (33.6 kbps) connections and true SLIP/PPP dialup capability without the use of an intervening software product. Specifically, a bank of 16 integrated V.34 modems and a new terminal server were installed to allow users to connect to NAL's network using either SLIP, PPP, or a terminal-based communication package. This project allows seamless connectivity to many of NAL's network resources, regardless of where the user is located - on site or remote via a dial up link.
Remote access to NAL resources is divided into three areas 1) remote access via a modem and NAL's modem pool (modem access), 2) remote access via the Internet (Internet access), and 3) remote access via a USDA-managed network (USDA access).
Modem access: Currently NAL staff has remote access to all authorized SilverPlatter electronic databases (both at NAL in Beltsville and at SilverPlatter in Cambridge, MA) via a WinSPIRS client, ISIS (via telnet and/or web), email (via telnet and/or a terminal session), USENET news (via NAL's news server), and the entire Internet (via a SLIP or PPP connection). This access is made possible by a remote access solution consisting of a terminal server and 16-port V.34 (33.6 kbps) modem pool that was deployed in July 1997. The terminal server is configured to allow clients to set up terminal sessions (for telnet to cliff only) and SLIP or PPP sessions (used for accessing IP-based resources, like the Internet).
When the remote access solution was announced, ISD prepared an instruction sheet on configuring a Windows or Windows for Workgroups client for remote access. In September 1997, ISD prepared an instruction sheet on configuring a Windows 95 client for remote access. Both of these are available on the S: drive in the S:\NAL\DOCS\LIAISON directory. In addition, ISD always expresses willingness to assist users with configuring computers for remote access and has configured computers for users on numerous occasions.
Internet access: From an Internet-connected machine at a remote location, NAL staff can access the following: e-mail (via telnet), plus any IP-based resources (web server, ftp server, other IP-based servers). Access to these resources is currently secured only by a cleartext (i.e. not encrypted) username and password, or by anonymous access to the web and ftp servers.
USDA access: At the present time, staff access to NAL's resources via a USDA-managed network is nearly identical to Internet access (with some exceptions for DCRC). This can change as the USDA Enterprise Network takes shape, and security policies and procedures for interconnected USDA networks come into being. Appendix K provides a list of resources currently available as well as a graphical representation of the various types of access. In the section of this document entitled "Future Information Technology Directions", information is detailed concerning the expansion of remote access for other electronic resources.
Microcomputers as work tools were first introduced at NAL in 1985. They are now the main work tool for NAL staff and provide the means for accessing the Internet, working with software applications, providing document delivery, indexing, cataloging, serving acquisitions/serials needs, and as a need to conduct administrative tasks. The first microcomputers received were IBMs with 8088 processors, two floppy drives and 1200 baud modems. There were no hard drives or high density drives available on the market. The first operating system was DOS 1.1. Since that time, there have been remarkable strides in computer technology and a tremendous proliferation of microcomputers at NAL. Presently, NAL has approximately 500 microcomputers ranging in configuration from 386s to Pentiums, 8 Mb to 64 MB of RAM, and 160 MB to 4 GB hard drives.
On April 3, 1998 the USDA issued Departmental Notice 3120-1 "Technical Standards Architecture". This document is provided in Appendix L and details the minimum specification for all personal computers and laptops that are purchased by USDA agencies. NAL uses those requirements when purchasing all microcomputer and laptop orders.
Future Direction of Information Technology
This section specifies information technology issues that must be addressed in the near future. While many technology issues exist, there are four major issues that are recognized as immediate priority initiatives. They are a new email and scheduling package, remote access expansion, development of an NAL Intranet, and a security assessment of our computer systems. These four issues are in various stages of planning and implementation and the status is addressed in each individual section. Along with these major issues are many other topics that need to be addressed, evaluated, and prioritized by the Management Team. Those topics are also defined in this section.
New E-Mail and Scheduling Package
Our present email system and scheduling packages no longer meet the complete needs of NAL staff nor do they even begin to compare with the functionality of current packages available on the market. Recognizing this need, ISD collected requirements from the user community in February 1998 and developed technical requirements. ISD then evaluated several software packages against user and technical requirements. Specifically, they evaluated Eudora Pro's Email and Planner, Meeting Maker, Netscape's email package, and Microsoft Exchange.
Microsoft Exchange is a messaging system which has both email and scheduling as well as other utilities. Exchange met all of the user's requirements as well as the technical requirements. Of particular importance is the need at NAL for integrated application suites. Exchange meets this need by its compatibility with our existing LAN. It will provide greater functionality and interoperability with other applications than we currently have available, and it is extremely user friendly. For those reasons, Exchange was selected for our new email and scheduling package.
The next steps are to purchase hardware and software and plan the implementation. This process is expected to take about six months and will begin in September 1998.
Remote Access Expansion
A growing need is being expressed for expanded remote access to resources, such as the S and U network drives, LAN-based databases such as the EMC's Thomas Register, Acquisition's dBase, Indexing's Multites as well as the ISSN database and Cataloger's desktop application. This is in addition to any LAN-based packages used by the entire library, such as WordPerfect, Lotus, etc.
While it may be technically feasible to provide access to some of these resources with existing equipment and some effort on the part of ISD, there are many important issues involved with a comprehensive solution for remote access. These issues need to be resolved before any changes to the current remote access capabilities can be effectively and safely implemented. Issues that require evaluation are listed in Appendix M. Expansion of remote access is considered a major project for ISD staff making it ideal for the first session of the Management Team's analysis which is addressed in the "Recommendations for NAL Management" section of this document.
One of the many types of networks being explored and implemented throughout government and the private sector is an Intranet. An Intranet can be defined many ways but basically is an network internal to an organization that uses TCP/IP protocols and Web-based tools. In order for NAL to intelligently evaluate NAL's needs for an Intranet, the Associate Director of Automation requested that an on-site seminar be provided to his staff to educate them concerning an Intranet in a library setting. To this end, McQueen Consulting was contracted to provide an all-day seminar entitled Building the Corporate Intranet Knowledge Center. Topics included a basic introduction to Intranets, how to build a successful Intranet, document management systems, search engines, thin client technology for accessing databases, firewalls and security, as well as many other topics. The presenter, Howard McQueen, has been devoted to library-related technologies since 1986. He is the CEO of McQueen Consulting, a Baltimore-based company, that designs, implements, and supports new and innovative Intranet and management-based technologies.
In addition to ISD staff, the Web Management Team, Branch Heads, and NAL Management were invited to attend. The seminar provided a comprehensive foundation of knowledge on which to make future decisions concerning an Intranet at NAL. The next step is to determine the priority of an Intranet Implementation Project at NAL. It is recommended that the Web Management Team take the lead for this project.
In order to secure our computing resources and data at NAL, the Associate Director of Automation requested that a security assessment be conducted. This security assessment will determine the vulnerabilities of our systems and appropriate measures that need to be put in place in order to safeguard data integrity and to protect networks and services from the "hacker community", human error, and white-collar crime. The onsite security assessment will be conducted by an independent company and the resulting report will include the methodology used to conduct the assessment, a detailed description of NAL's network and systems, an assessment of vulnerabilities and risks including risks with current and proposed network configurations and administration, recommendations for correcting vulnerabilities and limiting risks, recommended security policies, and a recommendation for a firewall.
A statement of work for the security assessment was submitted to procurement in early May 1998. The award was given to Network Associates, Inc., formerly Trusted Information Systems, Inc. The onsite survey and evaluation will begin in June and will include interviews with ISD technical staff as well as end users and management. An important outcome from this assessment will be specifications for a firewall. It is now a USDA mandate for all USDA organizations managing or controlling Internet access points or gateways to make provisions to have these access points and/or gateways protected by a firewall. The procurement of the firewall will be an immediate step after the security assessment is accomplished. This initiative is a high priority for ISD.
There have been several requests to allow the use of anonymous email from the public microcomputers in the EMC and Reference. An official policy needs to be developed concerning anonymous email and research needs to be conducted periodically for ways to provide this service without the present security risks.
OCLC Dedicated TCP/IP Implementation
This project will consist of the necessary routing, filtering, and other hardware and software configuration changes to be made to NAL's systems in order to connect to the new OCLC dedicated TCP/IP router, to be installed sometime during 1998.
New aspects of this ongoing project include operations of the ARIEL software in Windows 95, testing and installation of an ARIEL machine for the USDA National Arboretum, new scanner/hardware testing and support.
EMC NT Server
This project involves developing specifications for a server to run Windows NT for the EMC, providing support for the installation and configuration, and ongoing maintenance and management of the server. The server will be used to house various EMC-related applications, as well as shared data and other databases intended for use by walk-in patrons. It is required in order to physically and logically separate the internal NT servers, intended for NAL staff use only, from a server to be assessed (and potentially probed, hacked on, and disabled) by the general public. This project will also investigate methods for securing the workstations assessed by walk-in patrons against intentional or unintentional damage.
RIC Server Upgrade
This project involves providing assistance to the Rural Information Center as they look for a replacement for their current CRIS database. It would include: setting up RIC-purchased software, installing Windows NT Server, and providing technical input and assistance as necessary in choosing/developing a new database solution. Some possibilities would include an easy-to-use front end, connecting to a robust back end database, such as SQL server or some other database.
Centralized Procurement of Hardware and Software
This project will involve an analysis of the spending trends for hardware and software throughout NAL and a recommendation for combining all hardware and software budgets for an equitable distribution of equipment.
Systems Engineering Initiative
This is an ongoing project dedicated to system administration of Unix servers and workstations. System Administration Standard Operating Procedures were developed in 1997 to provide the framework for administration of all systems.
Network Management Initiative
This ongoing project seeks to find new ways to allow for more efficient management of NAL's backbone network. Currently, it consists of various monitoring consoles running different applications, such as Compaq's Insight Manager, CiscoWorks for Switched Internetworks, Cabletron's SPECTRUM Element Manager, and others. A copy of Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) needs to be purchased in order to provide access to a more fully-functional version of the Network Monitor product included with Windows NT Server 4.0 and a copy of SQL Server needs to be purchased in order to enable the fully functionality of the CiscoWorks package. Currently, the long-term trending analysis capability, necessary to view and analyze long-term trends on NAL's network, is disabled. SQL Server is required to activate this functionality. Both SMS and SQL Server are a part of the Microsoft BackOffice 4.0 Suite.
New NAL DNS
This project will include investigating new methods for running various naming services at NAL. This will include DNS, DHCP, an integrated DHCP with dynamic DNS updates, plus a new naming scheme for network resources at the Library. The current naming scheme does little to provide information to those responsible for troubleshooting on the network. A newer scheme containing more informative names for network resources would allow for more efficient use of troubleshooting resources.
State of Information Management at NAL
This section addresses the state of information management at NAL as it relates to the tasks set forth in the 1994 EII Planning Report. Since the release of this planning document, NAL has witnessed a number of accomplishments in the areas of customer service, access to AGRICOLA, NAL's integrated library system (ISIS), cooperative ventures with external institutions, and the availability of electronic information. Brief descriptions of these initiatives and related activities follow.
Establish Customer Service Standards for USDA/ARS
A component of this EII planned activity centered on evaluating user needs focussing on USDA/ARS, the information requirements of its researchers, and their connectivity capability. In the summer of 1997, at the request of ARS administration, a survey of ARS scientists and staff was conducted on their secondary source information needs. The ARS Literature Searching Needs Assessment was performed within the framework of the continued need to offer the Current Awareness Literature Service and provides valuable insights on information gathering techniques used by ARS researchers and staff. As a result of this survey, anecdotal information also was gathered on the connectivity (or perceived connectivity) of ARS locations.
The resulting report was to be used by ARS Administration to determine if the value of CALS to its researchers justified the cost of providing the service. The service was extended into 1998, but continues to be evaluated by an ARS-wide team which includes a representative from NAL. This team is charged with assessing ARS research information needs and will provide recommendations to ARS administration in the summer of 1998. This assessment will be conducted via a survey targeted to the ARS researcher which complements the one issued in 1997. NAL will take the appropriate steps to comply with the decisions of the ARS administration which will be based on the recommendations of the ARS-wide team.
In a separate 1997 initiative, the Electronic Media Center began expanding the availability of its electronic resources to ARS researchers and administrators located within the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. These tentative measures are being taken to test a decentralized implementation model whereby access to electronic resources would be negotiated by and provided through NAL using single points of contact within the cooperating organization. These contact points would be responsible for implementing the access methods most appropriate for customers within their own organizations. Other valuable information such as variability in licensing agreements and database usage statistics are being gleaned from this initiative. Further expansion and continuation of this initiative will be contingent upon funding and the identification of practical logistical methods of implementation.
Establish NAL's online version of AGRICOLA on Internet
In May 1994, Beth Sandore, a visiting scholar from the University of Illinois Library, submitted her report entitled, AGRICOLA Across the Internet--End User Needs. This study identified AGRICOLA's target audience, examined the content and indexing practices of AGRICOLA as they relate to end user searching, analyzed the functionality of systems that provided access to AGRICOLA at the time of the study, and suggested important features and functions that should be included in an Internet-accessible front-end to the database. In the period that followed this report, activities were undertaken to comprehensively identify the records comprising this database and load them into a repository for future manipulation.
In 1996, ARS Administration agreed that AGRICOLA should be made freely available via the Internet despite the potential loss of revenue from AGRICOLA sale tape subscriptions. NAL management further made the commitment to have this resource accessible by June 1998. Due to time constraints and a USDA-wide moratorium on information technology expenditures, NAL's existing integrated library system and its web interface were identified as the mechanism for providing this access. Through this interim solution, NAL will have converted the entire AGRICOLA database into the MARC format which in turn will facilitate future migrations to other systems.
Integrated Library System
Although not addressed in the EII recommendations, NAL's integrated library system is a significant component of its information technology infrastructure. The existing system was purchased as a turnkey solution in 1987 using the VTLS, Inc. software application and running on a Hewlett Packard minicomputer with a proprietary operating system. In 1992, the hardware was upgraded in order to improve system response time. The system now supports NAL's acquisitions, cataloging, indexing, serials control, holdings, circulation, and AGRICOLA tape production activities. It also serves as the online public access to NAL's collection and will serve as the mechanism for accessing NAL's AGRICOLA. In response to anticipated challenges in providing customers with documents from the NAL collection during the NAL building renovation, the document delivery component also will be implemented by August 1998.
Continue & establish new cooperative efforts with other agricultural institutions
In 1995, NAL in collaboration with several land-grant university libraries established AgNIC (Agriculture Network Information Center) on the Internet to provide a focal point for worldwide access to quality agriculture-related information, subject area experts, and other resources. NAL's specific contributions in developing new resources include creating: AgDB which is a database that provides descriptions of and gateway linkages to more than 700 agriculture-related databases, datasets, and information systems; a directory which provides gateway access to directories of subject-and geographic-focused directories of agriculture-related information resources on the Internet; a Directories of Experts in Agriculture database; the AgCal Calendar of Events, a calendar of agricultural meetings, conferences, and seminars with a focus on those of scientific significance and that are national or international in scope; a searchable database of emerging plant disease announcements of the American Federation of Scientists' ProMed-Mail mailing list in order to provide access to this important information to those who would otherwise not have it; in collaboration with scientists of the ARS Northern Plains Area Office, a prototype database which provides access to the scientific research performed by Research Laboratories in the Colorado-Wyoming Region; and an ARS Sugar Beet Germplasm scientific dataset prototype covering research data from Beltsville, East Lansing, Fargo, and Fort Collins. The AGRICOLA Subject Category Code organization was incorporated into AgNIC's Directories of Experts in Agriculture, AgCAL Calendar of Events entries for CY 1998, the "Other Calendars" section of AgCAL, and AgDB to assist users in finding exactly the information they need. Another significant accomplishment was the 1998 migration of this system from an NT platform to UNIX. This migration was deemed necessary to take advantage of the abundance of UNIX-based web-enabling technologies and to conform to the platform used by the other AgNIC institutions.
It also has been identified as a high priority for NAL staff to begin incorporating AgNIC activities into routine NAL functions. Beginning with AgDB, NAL staff is redefining the data elements to facilitate the integration of AgDB record creation into the routine cataloging workflow. Defining the elements, mapping existing elements into the new ones, and determining the flow of these records through the OCLC/ISIS/AGRICOLA/AgDB/GILS system are tasks presently being undertaken by an NAL-wide internal task force. It is envisioned that implementation will begin by the end of calendar year 1998. Then, the system will be expanded to include input from cooperative institutions. Some modifications may be made to the elements and the process once the system has expanded to include other AgNIC participants.
NAL and its collaborators also have submitted a multi-year proposal to the Fund for Rural America. Technology related components of this grant include identifying and implementing a multi-server search engine and defining the metadata elements used to describe resources retrievable via this engine. Other AgNIC initiatives include: expanding AgNIC collaboration to additional land-grant universities and other institutions that have expressed an interest in participating; initiating a marketing program to enhance awareness of the value-added services available through AgNIC; contingent upon funding, conducting a customer needs survey; and contingent upon funding, participating in the development of a subject-specific prototype agricultural information system to benefit small-scale and limited-resources farmers.
Make NAL- and non-NAL-produced electronic information resources available
During fiscal year 1996, ISD held a series of three web authoring workshops for NAL staff. The purpose of these workshops was to expose interested staff to the concept of document structure and to the techniques of HTML-encoding. Courses in HTML-encoding are now an integral part of NAL's training program and facilitate the posting of documents on NAL's website. These courses will continue to be held as long as a need for them exists.
Since the inception of NAL's website, a subset of NAL-produced publications including policy and procedural documents; bibliographies; the 1993 and 1994 Annual Reports; Information Alerts; and vol. 21 numbers 4-8 of ALIN have been HTML-encoded and made Internet-accessible. Each area of the library has posted documents and/or created databases relevant to its particular domain. Non-NAL-produced Internet-accessible electronic resources have been incorporated or linked to as the needs were identified by NAL staff or requested by its customers and stakeholders. The site has grown so large, in fact, that now the Web Management Team is taking a step back to look at the existing structure and determine how it can be reorganized to better represent and make accessible the information NAL is attempting to share. This along with re-designing NAL's home page and identifying an appropriate search engine are immediate initiatives the Web Management Team are undertaking.
The activities of IMB's Imaging and Conversion Unit are being redirected to facilitate this and other efforts related to the dissemination and archiving of electronic resources. In order to redirect the staff, existing text digitizing commitments must be honored and completed as quickly as possible without negatively impacting the quality of the products. The milestones for existing projects are: Curtis CD-ROM - anticipated project completion in the spring 1998; Agronomy 4 - anticipated project completion in the spring 1998; Agronomy 5 - anticipated project completion in the fall of 1998; and Food Irradiation 3 - anticipated project completion in the winter of 1998.
In January 1998, ICU staff began encoding electronic versions of back issues of ALIN in order to make these issues Internet accessible and to familiarize themselves with document structure and HTML-encoding. This is seen as the first step in the process to produce NAL documents in SGML for further print or electronic distribution. A related ongoing activity is that of the NAL AdHoc Committee on Electronic Publishing who are working together and in collaboration with the Library of Congress to develop a Bibliography DTD to be used in the creation of subject-specific bibliographies. In both of these initiatives, it has been recognized that a more user-friendly, streamlined process must be developed for the creation of SGML-encoded documents. A near-term priority is the identification of an electronic publishing suite that will facilitate these activities.
The results of these activities along with those of the Electronic Preservation Initiative, the Bean Improvement Cooperative project, and other NAL digitization efforts as well as NAL's archival responsibility for the Journal of Extension have led to a significant growing collection of SGML- and HTML-encoded documents. A system must be developed to methodically provide Internet access to these collections and to ensure the long-term retention of these electronic resources. So far, some prototyping has been done using public domain software and a number of demonstrations have been arranged to heighten the awareness of NAL staff on the capabilities of various document management solutions. Next steps include working with the Electronic Preservation Committee and the Web Management Team to identify and refine the requirements of such a system.
Future Direction of Information Management
Technology has changed since ISIS was originally purchased and many library management system vendors (including the one currently supporting NAL's activities) have moved away from proprietary centralized solutions to UNIX-based client-server ones. Despite the existing USDA moratorium on information technology expenditures, internal library processes and products need to be re-evaluated to determine which capabilities NAL's next generation library management system should accommodate. This re-evaluation will begin in 1998 with the resulting documents forming the basis for procurement activities. It is envisioned that implementation of a new solution will begin in 1999 and continue through the year 2000.
The use of ISIS as the vehicle for providing Internet access to AGRICOLA will provide NAL staff with the opportunity to evaluate the merits of integrating this resource into its library management system as opposed to a separate technology solution. The planning and implementation processes also have exposed staff to desirable system and end-user capabilities and undesirable limitations. These along with a more formal six month evaluation process will help guide the selection and implementation of NAL's next generation AGRICOLA.
NAL's desire to create a uniform interface through which all of NAL's Internet-accessible resources can be accessed may also play a major role in the selection and implementation of the next generation AGRICOLA. Another initiative presently under consideration would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of combining the search and retrieval of SGML-encoded documents and bibliographic records using a Z39.50 compliant database management package, search engine, and front end. This evaluation study also would examine the workflow and document management issues surrounding such a system. In implementing a long-term solution of this nature, NAL's production library management system would be separate from one that provides public access to electronic information.
A Note on Information Technology and Management Projects
Information technology and management projects derive from a number of sources. These sources include: USDA, REE, ARS, and/or their affiliated information resource management organizations; NAL management initiatives, end-user requests; and internal ISD tasks. The scope of these projects vary from the generation of reports to the identification and/or development of new systems.
Project initiation and implementation also vary depending upon the source and the immediacy of the problem. Those stemming from USDA, REE, ARS, and/or their affiliated information resource management organizations usually entail the gathering and reporting of information, but can also include the implementation of new administrative or office management systems or a re-evaluation of networking strategies. These are usually mandated, have predetermined requirements, and have a finite schedule for completion.
Those stemming from NAL management are usually large-scale, resource intensive, and impact entire NAL operations. They require NAL-wide commitment for successful implementation. An example of such a project is AGRICOLA98.
Internal NAL end-user generated projects enter the ISD workflow through the Request for ISD Assistance. These requests are assigned priorities by the Associate Director responsible for the unit from which the request originates. Occasionally, these requests stem from e-mail messages to Help, or phone calls to the ISIS support line that are found to be more complex and resource intensive than anticipated. For the most part, Help and ISIS support line messages involve trouble-shooting system difficulties that must be handled as quickly as possible and are therefore not considered ISD projects.
ISD-related projects are usually technology driven and center on upgrading and maintaining the installed hardware and software base and providing for its security. Some ISD-generated projects involve the testing of new technologies for potential NAL implementation. The testing of new technologies, however, is often found to be a lower priority than the many other information technology and management needs of the Library.
Recommendations for NAL's Management Team
The Information Systems Division (ISD) has the responsibility of being cognizant of new and emerging technologies related to NAL and to information technology and management, of developing and overseeing the implementation of projects, and advising the Library on technology issues. The Associate Director is the conduit for staff concerns and/or questions about technology and will periodically report on progress made in the areas of information technology and management.
Working with the various units throughout NAL and staying abreast of technology developments, ISD is in a position to determine many of the information technology requirements of the Library. However, ISD also depends on staff members to relay their needs and questions concerning technology issues. Two forms were developed in FY 1997 to serve this need. The Request for ISD Assistance and the Request for Electronic Resources. They have been successfully used since their implementation. A combined version of the forms along with some revisions are expected to be made in FY 1998. More recently, a functional requirements procedure document was developed which outlines the responsibilities of ISD staff and the user community in the development of requirements for new information technology projects. While these procedures assist in the processing of requests for technology and management assistance, it is imperative that a formalized approach be used to determine where NAL's resources will be spent.
It is recommended that an assessment of information technology and information management (IT/M) issues be conducted bi-annually in the months of November and May by the Management Team to determine long-range goals. November is suggested because it follows immediately after the busy end of the fiscal year and still allows for the obligation of funds to met needs. May is suggested because it provides the opportunity to redirect funds within the fiscal year if necessary and it is a six-month separation from the initial fiscal year assessment. As part of this assessment, the Associate Director for Automation will provide a status report on all IT/M projects. The bi-annual sessions will allow the Management Team to confirm or reassess priorities and will foster greater understanding of Branch or Unit specific information technology or management issues. It may also facilitate the generation and completion of future requests.
In addition to the bi-annual assessment, it is also recommended that new IT/M issues be discussed, as needed, at the weekly Q2 meetings. This will provide an opportunity for all branches, task forces, and committees to submit through their Associate Director all suggestions, concerns, and questions regarding information technology and management as they may apply to NAL. To facilitate discussion and potential action, these topics will be presented with:
Small-scale projects that can be implemented are those that can be done quickly, do not require special resources, will not affect other projects or activities, and do not require special consideration or options. Large-scale projects requiring further evaluation are those that are time intensive, require additional resources, pose security risks, and need additional evaluation. If it is determined by ISD that additional evaluation is required, the evaluation will be conducted by an ISD staff member who will work closely with the point-of-contact. They will prepare information for the Management Team to further assess and determine a priority. The research and evaluation conducted for each topic may vary. For example, topics requiring a large-scale study will only be defined as such but will include an approximate cost and time line. Those topics requiring less research or topics with which ISD staff has expertise will have more details reported. It is the goal to provide to the Management Team information in these areas for each topic.
Appendix A -- Status of EII Recommendations
Appendix B -- Graphical Representation of the NAL Infrastructure
Appendix C -- Project Plan for Catalyst 5000 Integration
Appendix D -- Graphical Representation of BARC ARS Backbone Network
Appendix E -- Windows NT LAN Planning Process
Appendix F -- NT LAN Server Applications and Description of Application
Appendix G -- Databases Available on EMC Servers
Appendix H -- NAL Servers and Their Applications
Appendix I -- Responsibilities and Qualifications for NAL Webmaster
Appendix J-- Web Management Team Charter
Appendix K-- Graphical Representation of Available Remote Access
Appendix L -- Departmental Notice 3120-1, Technical Standards Architecture
Note: Other appendices reflecting IT policies will be added to this document.
Last Updated August 13, 2002