Banner Recommendations for the Revitalization of the National Agricultural Library - 2001
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National Agricultural Research, Extension,
Education, and Economics Advisory Board

REE Advisory Board Office Mailing Address:
U.S. Department of Agriculture STOP 2255
Room 344-A, Jamie L. Whitten Bldg.                             1400 INDEPENDENCE AVE SW
Washington, DC WASHINGTON DC 20250-2255
  Telephone: 202-720-3684
FAX:         202-720-6199

December 6, 2002

The Honorable Ann Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
14th St. & Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Veneman:

The National Agricultural Library (NAL), which had its beginning with the establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, is a great national resource with untapped potential to provide information resources to the benefit of all Americans and peoples around the world. The United States Congress has designated NAL as a National Library to provide information to all U.S. citizens on food, agriculture, natural resources and related subjects - a goal that it cannot reach without a renewed commitment to ensure that it has the necessary human and financial resources.
At the request of Dr. Joseph Jen, USDA's Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board (The Board) reviewed the Interagency Blue Ribbon Panel Report, which was based on a detailed study of NAL chaired by Dr. Larry Vanderhoef, Chancellor of University of California - Davis. The Board's recommendations are based on collective review of this Vanderhoef Report together with the results of thirty days of public comment, which concluded on September 16, 2002, and information gathered from other sources.
The Board endorses strongly all of the recommendations made in The Report, with particular emphasis that NAL's national mission be carried out with the highest visibility to scientists, educators, producers, industry, and American citizens. To do so, the Board recommends that the Secretary of Agriculture be NAL's champion and help support its positive growth and increased visibility as a national public resource for food, agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, natural resources, and veterinary science information.
The Board also recommends, under its additional 2002 farm bill requirement to report to specific agriculture committees of the U.S. Congress, that Congress provide increased funding to preserve and enhance the quality and accessibility of NAL's unique and dynamic collection as well as its tremendous potential as an invaluable and technologically-advanced information service for America.
Revitalization and visibility of the NAL should be high on USDA's overall priorities for the future. Increased support and funding for NAL by the agricultural committees and subcommittees of the U.S. Congress are critical for fostering a knowledgeable citizenry and an enhanced agricultural workforce. These benefits can be achieved via timely information transfer, communication links, and learning opportunities to a diverse public, both in rural and urban communities across the nation. Strong leadership by NAL and empowerment of its employees, along with transparent communication links across the land-grant library system, will strengthen further the untapped potential for quick access to and availability of information to Americans and peoples throughout the world.
Please refer to the enclosure for a more detailed account of the Board's recommendations to the Vanderhoef Report and public comments.

Chair Signature Chair Signature
Ronald R. Warfield Oscar Fletcher
Chair Chair, Working Group on
NAREEE Advisory Board      Interagency Assessment
Report of NAL

Advisory Board's Detailed Recommendations to the 2001 Interagency Report on NAL
Summary and Analysis of Public Comments to the Report on NAL (October 1, 2002)
Report on the NAL - 2001 (by Vanderhoef Interagency Panel for Assessment of NAL)

The National Agricultural Research, Extension,
Education, and Economics Advisory Board:

Detailed Recommendations to the 2001 Vanderhoef Interagency Report on the National Agricultural Library and 2002 Public Comments to The Report

The National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board (The Board) provides the following specific recommendations supporting the major issues in the Vanderhoef Interagency Blue Ribbon Panel Report and in the public comments.
  1. Communications. The Board recommends strongly that the NAL serve as the centerpiece of an expanded USDA communications effort for informing the American people about the inclusiveness of agriculture, the research that supports it, and the value of our food and fiber system. This recommendation upholds the Board's ongoing concern for enhanced public understanding of agriculture and the underlying research base that supports it, which was provided to the former Secretary of Agriculture in a 1998 White Paper (PDF) on USDA communications.
    The Board envisions the NAL as a continued repository of scientific information and an electronic information service to researchers, producers, processors, businesses, Congress and the press. The Board also views the potential for NAL to communicate educational programs, information and publications to the public - a way of telling more effectively the many accomplishments and public services provided by USDA. Consolidating communication services with the NAL would be resource efficient. Telling the story more widely and positively will serve the public better and potentially generate increased appreciation and support for the Department.
    During the October 28-30, 2002 Advisory Board Meeting, members discussed in depth the possibility of a name change for the NAL to reflect its broader mission, including important research, education, and extension areas as well as the wide range of its encompassing topics (food, fiber, natural resources, aquaculture and veterinary sciences). The Board voted that, at this time, a name change should not be recommended. The Board is also aware that it will take an act of the U.S. Congress to implement such a change.
    Public input expressed the need to increase the visibility of the NAL as a national resource comparable to the National Library of Medicine. The Report and public comments consistently state that NAL is not meeting its potential as a communication vehicle for the Department with the broad scientific community, industry and the public. Despite the fact that the NAL is the most comprehensive agricultural library in the world, it currently serves a limited range of scientists, missing an opportunity to maximize its information base in support of agriculture and the USDA more broadly. USDA's implementation of recommendations in The Report would enable NAL to meet its dual congressional mandates, which are to be "the project centerpiece of a dynamic national agricultural information system" for the public and "a library service for USDA personnel."
  2. Innovations in Information Services. Of the 109 public comments received on The Report, 68% were from scientists and librarians. The highest priority for NAL was increasing and maintaining current electronic access and working toward a National Digital Library of Agriculture. While the Advisory Board recognizes that this goal will require a substantial investment, it would significantly increase the usefulness of the library for a wider audience. Many agricultural researchers work in remote areas where library access is limited. The delivery of information in remote areas would enhance rural communities as well as serve the research community.
    The National Library of Medicine (NLM) should be used as a model for NAL. NAL should draw on innovative technologies to directly link users to quality content (full-text, data, abstracts, and information packages) in all areas related to research on and information transfer of food, fiber, natural resources and veterinary medicine.
  3. Leadership. The Board recommends that the NAL Director should be an ex officio member of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board to assure that the library meets its mission to provide science, education, and services to the public in high priority areas based on national needs. The Director and Associate(s) should be in high-level positions (preferably Senior Executive Service Personnel) to attract top-level personnel to meet the library mission. Creative, competent leadership and vision are essential in guiding a customer-oriented staff in reaching the full potential of the library as a communication vehicle, scientific resource and repository of information.
    Quality hires are essential together with a periodic merit review system. Effective staff must have experience and commitment to a 21st century, technical up-to-date library. A first rate contemporary technologically-based library is not a place, but a reliable customer-oriented resource.
  4. Planning and Evaluation Process. The Board concurs with the recommendation that formal five-year reviews by external reviewers, including USDA personnel, be implemented. The Board's role in the peer review process in ARS is a model that could be used by NAL.
  5. Organizational Structure. The Advisory Board feels strongly about the reporting structure being a significant factor in improving NAL's visibility. The Board respects the position of USDA and understands the problems associated with a changing structure. However, it is our opinion that the NAL should report to the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE).
  6. Board of Regents (BOR). The Board fully supports the recommendation of appointing a high level group to help guide formation of the revitalized NAL, advise the Director on planning, and be an advocate for the library. Membership of the BOR should include persons with experience in developing and managing the foremost contemporary libraries, those who can provide vision of how the NAL can best serve its various customers and those who represent the broad range of scientific and educational programs supported by the USDA. The BOR should have staggered terms of service to maintain its vitality. The Board commends the advisory structure of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) as a model for consideration in forming a BOR.
  7. Friends of the National Agricultural Library. The Advisory Board recommends that NAL management and other responsible individuals within USDA enlist the services of a "Friends of the Library" group. Such a group should be committed to increasing public awareness of the NAL, enhancing both public and private support for NAL programs and services, and helping convey the scope of NAL's food, agriculture, natural resources, and veterinary medicine information for the benefit of the citizens of the United States and the world.
  8. Funding. A revitalized NAL must have a major infusion of new resources if it is to meet its potential. The Board advises the U.S. Congress (in particular, the House and Senate agricultural committees and subcommittees) to seriously consider this funding support. The Department of Agriculture is constrained in its funding under mandatory spending limitations.
    The Report indicates that the $20 million annual budget needs to be increased to at least $100 million (for details and further justification, see The Report). The Board recommends that an immediate increase of $10 million is needed to launch the revitalization process. Thereafter, annual incremental increases are needed over the next five years to assure the library meets its development and service goals. Henceforth, appropriate annual increases will be necessary to maintain the vitality of the library. Continual upgrading of technology and enhancing staff services for NAL represent a major part of any new investment, but the potential they create for USDA to improve its communication with scientists and the public at large more than justifies the investment.

In summary, the Board recommends strongly that USDA place revitalization of the NAL high on its priority agenda, including leadership to carry out a new mission for the library, increasing the visibility and public understanding of agriculture across the Nation, advancing technological innovations for timely information access and retrieval, establishment of a Board of Regents, and accountability of NAL services via a five-year review system. The Board respectively requests that the Secretary report progress to the Board and to the U.S. Congress in six months and thereafter at yearly intervals.
The Board also recommends that U.S. Congress support the national role of the NAL by assuring that federal funds are made available for technological advances in the library that will provide a rapidly changing U.S. agriculture and the public with a useful, accessible, and high quality information resource system.
The Advisory Board respectfully submits the above suggestions and advice on the National Agricultural Library for your consideration. Please contact the Board for any elaboration or clarification of this report.

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Last Updated February 7, 2003