|Summary and Analysis of Public Comments: Report on the National Agricultural Library - 2001|
DiscussionMany responders commented on how they value the services and resources of the National Agricultural Library. They view the Library as an important resource that helps them to be productive and efficient in their jobs. They often complimented NAL for having accomplished much within limited resources. Some wrote of the national need for NAL to serve as a resource for: county extension agents; city-based child nutritionists working with Head Start programs; advocates for rural and disadvantaged clients trying to rebuild impoverished communities; and small business R & D departments who need to develop products for niche markets not filled by larger enterprises.
Throughout the comments a few common themes emerged that bear discussion and consideration. The themes relate to the responder's relationship to NAL.
For the sake of this discussion two principal relationships exist between the responder and NAL:
Many USDA researchers wrote how they have experienced an improvement in document delivery services and how vital the services NAL provides are to them, especially those who are working in remote locations. They supported the NAL-led Digital Desk Top Library Initiative (DigiTop) as a means to get persistent electronic access to key journals and databases at their workstations. In general they were pleased with services provided and would like to see further improvements. This group represented the stakeholder community for NAL as a Departmental Library.
All other responders spoke of the need for a national library to provide leadership in managing agricultural information. They spoke of collaborations and partnerships and extending services to the disadvantaged. They also wrote of the need for NAL to serve as the library of last resort, holding in the national collection those items that are missing from their own collections. This group represented the stakeholder community for NAL as a National Library.
After reviewing the comments as a whole it would appear that NAL has provided reasonably good services to its USDA customers, but is struggling to in its leadership role as a National Library.
USDA employees for the most part felt that NAL should remain within ARS. They felt a close connection to NAL and in some cases wanted an even closer relationship through the establishment of an internal advisory group that could represent their needs to NAL. In comparison nearly all other responders felt NAL should be realigned within the Department. They felt the national role for NAL was not supported and in fact neglected. Options proposed for realignment included the resumption of independent agency status reporting to an Under-Secretary; or increased national visibility through representation on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board or even through the simple expedient of a separate budget line in the Department's Appropriation legislation.
USDA employees were generally supportive of an increase to NAL's budget although a number expressed concern that the increase would be taken from their budgets. Under those circumstances they were less in favor of budget increases. It might be inferred they feared having to fund NAL's national role through their Departmental allocations. They wrote of NAL needing to take a leadership role in developing external advocacy groups to gain additional Congressional support for NAL's national mission.
Virtually all other responders understood that NAL's lack of success in meeting its legislated mandate to serve as the national library for agriculture was wholly linked to a serious lack of resources. Several responders were stunned when they read of the dramatic disparity in budgets between NAL and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) (especially when given to understand the equality of the two budgets less than 30 years ago). They cited the advances made in biomedical research with the support of a well-funded NLM and speculated on the potential advances in agricultural research if it were equally well supported by a similarly supported National Agricultural Library.
USDA employees supported enhancements to AGRICOLA and many wanted AGRICOLA to emulate PubMed. Many in this group are sophisticated users, conducting advanced biological research where the literature they need to consult is often in biomedical or other non-agricultural disciplines. They need access to an integrated database covering a broader range of subjects. Several in this group suggested merging the two databases, freeing NAL to cover in greater depth those journals and sources not currently covered in PubMed. It was not clear from the comments if they meant for these additional sources to be added into a greater PubMed database. Despite the breadth and depth of literature covered in PubMed, AGRICOLA continues to index key agricultural sources not available elsewhere.
The other responders are a more diverse group. They find AGRICOLA a valuable resource and do not want to see it lost. They are interested in seeing AGRICOLA enhanced and improved - particularly the Web interface and system performance. Some would like to see it emulate PubMed, while others would not. It would appear that AGRICOLA is filling an important niche for many of these stakeholders; perhaps the literature covered is a better match for their needs and less so for the USDA researcher.
The AGRICOLA database has a very diverse customer/stakeholder base which has not been well characterized. Reflective of this diverse customer base were the many opinions expressed, which demonstrates a lack of consensus for future actions. Given this diversity an in-depth study is desirable. For example, it is not known what the impact of merging AGRICOLA with PubMed would have for the non-USDA customer. Likewise, it is not understood at a community level what the impact would be if control of the database were given to NLM, possibly without representation on appropriate indexing advisory boards, or if NAL would be able contribute agriculturally important records to an enlarged PubMed.
An in-depth study should assess the uniqueness and value of the AGRICOLA database; characterize the customer base and its diverse needs; and evaluate the options for action. It is also clear the AGRICOLA database is considered a valuable national resource, but unfortunately a resource whose value is eroding at a dangerous rate.