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 Librarys 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
Larry N. Vanderhoef, Chair of the Panel
The results of the customer surveys and the Panels analysis make a case for the continuation and
development of NALs 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:
- INNOVATIONS IN INFORMATION SERVICES
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Identify and initiate cost-effective improvements and expansion of the current
document delivery service.
- Update and implement the Technology Plan of 2002 with modifications as needed
to accommodate recent and emerging advances in technology.
- ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Increase the number of positions by 50 or more during the next 5-year review
- 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
- 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.
- Develop a NAL Friends Support group to assist the Board of Regents and other
groups in promoting NAL programs and services.
- 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.)
- Authorize the NAL to solicit and accept donations, with those funds exclusively
designated for use by the NAL.
- Establish a Development Officer to enhance liaison with private foundations and
- PLANNING & EVALUATION PROCESSES
- 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
- 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.
- Establish internal advisory groups from USDA agencies to provide feedback to
NAL about its products, services, and long-range plans.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establish liaisons within NAL who will act as market managers to track specified
NAL customer segments for their needs and user satisfaction.
- Develop a plan for facilities management and improvements, including space
requirements, as an integral part of the long-range planning process.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Chancellor, University of California, Davis