National Agricultural Library Assessment Report
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Report - Section 1
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Executive Summary and Panel Recommendations
USDA Under Secretary Miley Gonzales and Deputy Department Secretary Rominger appointed the present Panel in October 2000 to conduct a study of the National Agricultural Library to, in words of the charge (Appendix A in full report):
"…review the activities of the National Agricultural Library in pursuit of its mandate to serve as the chief agricultural information resource of the United States and make recommendations to the Under Secretary, Research, Education, and Economics on NAL's management, staff, programs and operations."

The last full review of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) occurred in 1982 (See Appendix B in the full report, a summary of the activities that resulted from the 1982 recommendations, and Appendix C, "Milestones 1982-2000 – National Agricultural Library," prepared by the National Agricultural Library). The present Panel reviewed relevant laws, NAL management and staff, other U.S. national libraries, USDA administrators, and conducted a survey of NAL's many diverse users.
The NAL was officially made a national library by Congress in 1990 in PL 101-624, in the "Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990" (Appendix D). This law ensures that the NAL serves as a National Library of the United States and as the Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (7 USCS 3125a 2001).
The Panel evaluated the Library’s success, both as a Library of the USDA alone, and in response to its mandate to act as a national library. It was concluded that the NAL is unable, with its current level of support, to do both well. User response indicates a generally satisfactory response to NAL from USDA personnel, though there are weaknesses needing attention judging from site review of facilities, user surveys, and NAL status reports. As a national library, however, the NAL has thus far been unable to meet the expectations or the required intentions.

Recommendations of the Panel

The results of the customer surveys and the Panel’s analysis make a case for the continuation and development of NAL’s intended role, both as a library service for USDA personnel, and as the project centerpiece of a dynamic national agricultural information system.
As has occurred with the National Library of Medicine, this system would draw on innovative technologies to directly link users to quality content (abstracts, full-text, data, and information packages) in all areas related to the sustainable management of natural resources in the support of the total U.S. food and fiber enterprise. Included would be a complementary mix of services including a greatly enhanced AGRICOLA database, a series of comprehensive and topical web sites, 24/7 document delivery, and all interconnected through a powerful search interface providing users with the closest approximation possible to a "one-stop-shopping" reality. Responses from NAL staff members demonstrate they understand these customer needs and have a real interest in providing the high-quality services necessary to meet those needs. What is lacking are the human and financial resources, and the explicit support of USDA, to do so.
Thus, the Panel recommends and endorses the following changes and improvements to our National Agricultural Library system:
To fulfill its Congressionally mandated mission, the NAL should move as quickly as possible to attain and maintain a leadership position in obtaining, managing and distributing new and previously unavailable agricultural knowledge using the tools of the electronic digital age to meet demands of customers located anywhere and in need of information anytime. Steps to reach this end include:
    1. Provide rapid, accurate, comprehensive access to the full range of agricultural information resources through a variety of the most cost-effective delivery systems, but with particular emphasis on ensuring leadership in applications of advanced digital technologies, and based on user-identified needs
    2. Establish a national grant program on the NLM model, to be administered by NAL, for the initiation of innovative and collaborative digital projects in agricultural information systems.
    3. Update and enhance the AGRICOLA database to a level equivalent with the NLM's Medline and PubMed services, particularly through improvements of the Web version, extent of coverage, and linkages to full-text and summaries. Related to this, complete the retrospective conversion of the NAL catalogue to digital form for inclusion in the ISIS online catalogue.
    4. Further develop the Agriculture Network Information Center (AgNIC) Alliance and Program as a portal to agricultural information, data, and resources, and as the foundation for a national digital library for agriculture.
    5. Continue to build the NAL Information Centers as subject gateways to key topics of particular interest to citizens, policy makers, and scientists, based on frequent user surveys and knowledge explosion.
    6. Identify and initiate cost-effective improvements and expansion of the current document delivery service.
    7. Update and implement the Technology Plan of 2002 with modifications as needed to accommodate recent and emerging advances in technology.
    1. The NAL should change its self-concept from being a place to that of performing customer-driven functions, and its national role from being the place where every item is, into the role of being the hub through which every item can be obtained online anytime.
    2. Update and reaffirm the NAL mission and vision statements to reflect its mandate as a national library and its commitment to the use of technology to meet the information needs of the U.S. citizenry. Formulation of these statements is the responsibility of the NAL Director and the proposed Board of Regents.
    3. Provide 30 percent increases in funding each year from now until the next 5-year review when programs and services will be formally reassessed and evaluated for successful initiation of new directions. The Panel believes the annual NAL budget should eventually reach approximately $100 million (2001 dollars) to meet its Congressionally mandated mission in the digital age. This will provide sufficient resources to develop superior expert system search tools, to hire and retain the infotech talent it needs, to fill the growing gaps in its coverage of new knowledge in research journals and historical documents, and to ensure its security in view of the new security hazards it will face. It will enable the NAL to provide services and levels of service required of a National Library in the 21st century.
    4. Increase the number of positions by 50 or more during the next 5-year review period.
    5. Realign the NAL within USDA to reflect its national mission. To reflect this mission, the NAL should report directly to the Secretary/Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.
    6. Organize a Board of Regents, on the NLM model, to direct on long-range planning, advocate for the NAL within USDA and elsewhere, guide the development of new products and services, and monitor for quality in all services. A Strategic Planning Task Force should be appointed and serve until a Board of Regents is implemented.
    7. Develop a NAL Friends Support group to assist the Board of Regents and other groups in promoting NAL programs and services.
    8. Establish the position of the Director of the NAL in the Senior Executive Service, with a four or more year term, and renewed based on performance; library degree is preferred but not required.
      (The strength of interest on the panel on this issue is represented by its range of opinions, ranging from one emphasizing an exclusive political appointment to opinions that were open to either/or: political appointment or inclusion in the Senior Executive Service, to opinions advocating inclusion exclusively in the Senior Executive Services.)
    9. Authorize the NAL to solicit and accept donations, with those funds exclusively designated for use by the NAL.
    10. Establish a Development Officer to enhance liaison with private foundations and individual donors.
    1. Introduce a formal five-year review by external reviewers, including USDA personnel, to ensure progress on long-range plans and customer service orientation, with a 100% turnover of the membership of that review group every 4-5 years.
    2. Implement a system to obtain ongoing input from all categories of customers (web, in-person, mail, telephone), and summarize the information in an annual report. These reports should include actions taken in response to customer input and should be available to the public through the NAL website.
    3. Establish internal advisory groups from USDA agencies to provide feedback to NAL about its products, services, and long-range plans.
    4. Results from the five-year reviews and all other feedback data should guide the long-range planning process. Long-range plans should be developed for a five- year period, with annual updates by the Director and the proposed Board of Regents to ensure continued viability.
    5. Complete and implement a plan for a national digital library for agriculture (NDLA) that will be the main focus and long-term organizing principle for NAL and the national network of university and industrial libraries.
    6. Establish liaisons within NAL who will act as market managers to track specified NAL customer segments for their needs and user satisfaction.
    7. Develop a plan for facilities management and improvements, including space requirements, as an integral part of the long-range planning process.
    1. Provide leadership for and become the central hub of the world's agriculture libraries to facilitate users' access and use of agricultural information on a perpetual basis using a knowledge management approach.
    2. Continue to develop the NAL role in the preservation of digital publications-and- data initiative of the USDA and in the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.
    3. Continue to take a leadership role in the development of national digital efforts to bring the wealth of agriculture-related information and knowledge to U.S. citizens by using the most advanced technologies and by developing the most advanced and easily used expert online search system available.
    4. Enhance contractual collaborative relationships with other governmental agencies and non-governmental units to meet the NAL's mission for collaborative collection development, preservation, and archival functions.
Larry N. Vanderhoef, Chair of the Panel
Chancellor, University of California, Davis
August 2001
Report - Section 1
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Last Updated August 13, 2002