National Agricultural Library Assessment Report
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Appendix Y
USDA Blue Ribbon Panel on the National Agricultural Library
Task Group on Section D of
the Questions for Long-Range Planning
Members:   Philip Hudson, Martin Apple, Austin Hoover, Robert Willard
          The NAL has an important role as the library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its most important role may be that of being a leader in the field of agriculture information. To optimize its effectiveness in that role NAL will need to 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."
    We applaud the above vision set out by the NAL in its Vision statement, but see the NAL as struggling in its fulfillment due to resource restrictions and competing expectations.
    The Internet: The internet has created a challenge for all libraries. A rapidly growing user base prefers on-line searching as a methodology for both speed and comprehensiveness. Libraries have played an 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 needs for knowledge are, and can be, fulfilled. Continued leadership in the internet field will require new perspectives, ongoing new ideas and understandings, and a significant commitment of financial and human resources.
    Visibility: NAL may be providing valuable services that are largely invisible to key decision-makers who affect NAL.
    Resources: Shrinkage of financial resources over the past several years has diminished the ability of NAL in its leadership role. The library management system (software) is old; facilities are in need of repair; services have not been able to keep pace. Federal budgets for agency programs and services (non-entitlement) have been restricted for several years and will probably continue to be restricted in spite of projected surpluses.
    Staff: Seen as a current strength of NAL, the question remains to how long NAL will be able to recruit and retain top-flight staff with budgets shrinking in real dollar terms.
    Market Adaptation: NAL action planning emphasis needs to be more emphatically shifted from data collection and retrieval / broadcasting into addressing and satisfying a wider spectrum of customers' changing needs for information, analyses and knowledge management.
    Information has no value if it is not used; its value is measured by its use. However, there needs to be a measure of the "future value" of some information, a novel Net Present Value estimation. The current costs associated with the retention of unused information can be justified by some measure indicating that some of the information be retained now will not have value (be used) until years in the future.
    Strategic choices: The role as USDA's library is assumed as a baseline requirement for NAL and well within its capacity. Leadership in the field of agricultural information requires difficult strategic choices. What resources will be allocated to NAL the place, what resources to on-line services versus physical texts, what toward preserving historical treasures versus advancing new knowledge?
          AGRICOLA, for example, has served as a leading solution for agriculture researchers. More recently it is not delivering up to expectations in some user's eyes because shrinking budgets have created gaps that compromise its value. Researchers are increasingly turning to alternatives, sometimes much more costly. What steps could be taken by NAL to receive some of all of the differential revenue that users are willing to forego when they seek such alternatives?
    Advocates: NAL lacks a strong constituency to lobby for resources.
    The future of customer groups needs to be assessed, along with potential competition to satisfy their needs, to see where the NAL niches may be developed or strengthened. This matrix needs data & conclusions, including determining the different strategies that are best for each basic types of user:
    Customer Segments What type of Services do they need now? What will they need in the future? What competition may serve these needs? NAL's strengths in this niche, both present and possible in future
    Other USDA
    Other Federal        
         Land grant, 1890
         Priv. Coll, K-12
    Small Farmers;
    Extension Services
    NGOs; Non-profit Organizations        
    Professional Associations        

    There is a need to enhance NAL marketing and marketing research on changing customer needs. Regular surveys of customers, prospective customers, and other stakeholders are needed in order to reallocate resources and optimize services. Perhaps the Friends of NAL might be a source for such ongoing research that might be otherwise encumbered if attempted by traditional federal channels.

    Alternative Customer Segmentation

          Alternative customer segmentation should be developed for two purposes: first, to be able to understand and capture both newly emerging types of users and newly emerging areas of need for information, and second, to be able to better develop new areas of expertise withing the nAL to ensure that NAL maintains its leadership. It is more important to have the ability to appreciate and understand early the changing needs of customers than to pick easy-to-document categories that mask the emerging trends and require NAL to redeploy more resources to catch up. One such example is shown below.
    Customer Segments What type of Services do they need now? What will they need in the future? What competition may serve these needs? NAL's strengths in this niche, both present and possible in future
    Res Scientists - ARS
    Res Sci-entomology Res Sci-pathology Res Sci-soil science Res Sci-genomics Res Sci-nutrition Res Sci-food safety, etc.
    Res Sci-Other
    Government Mangers
    Business Managers
    Extension Agents        
    Campus Librarians
    Other Librarians
    Small Farmerss-crops;
    Small Farmerss-animals
    Grad Students
    Other Students
    Knowledge Management        
    Etc. Etc.        

          The leadership challenge facing NAL might be highlighted by focus on a grid of strategic choices between on-line versus physical texts and historical research versus research that advances new knowledge. It is in the quadrant of on-line approaches that create and advance new knowledge where we believe that the most critical and expanding leadership role can be played by NAL.
    Graphic of a 4-square grid
    This leadership role for NAL might mean focusing on a Knowledge Management approach that would 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.
    Some other possible leadership roles could be:
    • Facilitation of dialogue of researchers on topics of new knowledge
    • NAL could be an effective partnet with the other National Libraries and other leading experts in creating uniquely effective new search engines/search processes in agriculture;NAL's future Expert Search software, designed for agriculture, could lead all other national libraries in effectiveness.
    • Teaching agriculture knowledge management processes to colleagues in the field
    1. Serve as the hub in a differentiated information network that includes land grants, other universities, company libraries and topical www networks.
    2. Premier expert assistance on Ag research is an important NAL service to university libraries. Expand this important staff resource by recruiting specialists in important knowledge fields and train them in library sciences as subject specialists.
    3. Organize NAL services better for customer segments using "market managers" who would advocate for services to meet those customers' unique needs, market to those customers, and build constituent support among those customers.
    4. Focus on what is not indexed elsewhere and do a good job at that. Work out cooperative agreements with the States to index state agricultural publications.
    5. Select leadership niches (e.g: develop the [online] intelligent search system that always most rapidly and most accurately provides the most useful answers to the most diverse range of knowledge searchers).
    6. Develop funding strategies for various services. As each NAL's service becomes exemplary, construct user fees to support that service. Benchmark against services such as Chemical Abstracts. Inform and mobilize constituent groups to secure funding for certain services.
    7. Explore long-term loan/donation of rare book collections to the LOC or universities with interest in historical agricultural research, especially if they can attract private sector endowments to maintain and display.
    8. Coordinate the vocabulary/definition/classification/organization of agricultural information, regardless of where it is.
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Last Updated August 13, 2002