NAL History

National Agricultural Library Timeline

This timeline presents a brief overview of milestones in the National Agricultural Library's long history with a focus on notable firsts and public services and partnerships that continue into the present.


  • 1837 -- Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of the Patent Office, stressed the need for a library of scientific works in the field of agriculture

  • 1839 -- $1,000 set aside for the purchase of agriculturally related books for the Agricultural Division of the Patent Office

  • 1862 -- All property of the Agricultural Division of the Patent Office transferred to the newly-created Department of Agriculture and the Secretary of Agriculture is charged with the duty "to acquire and preserve in his Department all information concerning agriculture which he can obtain by means of books and correspondence" (Sec. 3)

  • 1864 -- USDA appropriation included for $4,000 for the library and laboratory

  • 1866 -- International exchanges of publications begun

  • 1911 -- First provided photographic copies for loans to other libraries

  • 1919 -- Acquired responsibility for the Horticulture Trade Catalog Collection (now called the Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection)

  • 1934 -- First provided microfilm copies instead of lending the original documents

  • 1942 -- Publication of Bibliography of Agriculture began, consolidating separate lists previously issued by various agencies of the Department

  • 1943 -- Library of Congress agreed to supply to the Department Library one copy of each agricultural book deposited for copyright at the Library of Congress

  • 1962 -- May 23 -- Designated the "National Agricultural Library" in Secretary's Memorandum No. 1496 from Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman

  • 1965 -- Began publication of the Dictionary Catalog of the National Agricultural Library 1862-1965, with the first volume available in 1967

  • 1967 -- September 28 -- Cornerstone for a new building in Beltsville, Md., laid by Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman

  • 1969 -- Library collections and staff move to Beltsville, Md., from Washington, D.C.

  • 1970 -- The National Agricultural Library Gift Act (Public Law 91-591) is the first recognition of the library as the "National Agricultural Library" in a law of the United States

  • 1971 -- Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC) established

  • 1975 -- Began contributing records to AGRIS, the International Information System for the Agricultural Sciences and Technology from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

  • 1976 -- AGRICOLA (AGRICultural OnLine Access) name adopted for the NAL database

  • 1984 -- NAL cooperates with the Forest Service in the development of FS INFO, an online network of field libraries and a bibliographic database supporting forestry

  • 1985 -- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) established

  • 1986 -- Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) established

  • 1987 -- AGRICOLA first available on CD-ROM

  • 1987 -- Pomological Watercolors Collection transferred to NAL from the U.S. National Arboretum

  • 1987 -- Rural Information Center (RIC) established

  • 1988 -- AFSIC began videotaping oral history interviews

  • 1988 -- Helped establish USAIN (United States Agricultural Information Network)

  • 1988 -- Began association with the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas

  • 1990 -- Water Quality Information Center (WQIC) established

  • 1990 -- NAL participates in the Core Agricultural Literature Project at Cornell University's Mann Library, online as the Core Historical Literature of Agriculture collection

  • 1990 -- NAL recognized in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-624) as a national library, the "primary agricultural information resource of the United States" (Sec. 1410A)

  • 1995 -- NAL arrives online at www.nal.usda.gov

  • 1995 -- NAL, in collaboration with several land-grant universities, launches AgNIC (Agriculture Network Information Center) website

  • 1997 -- NAL receives the USDA History Collection from the former Agricultural and Rural History Section of USDA's Economic Research Service

  • 1998 -- AGRICOLA becomes available for free on the internet

  • 1999 -- International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements Database (IBIDS) first released; IBIDS is now a subset within PubMed

  • 2000 -- Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman designated the Beltsville, Md., building as the Abraham Lincoln Building

  • 2001 -- Food Safety Research Information Office (FSRIO) established

  • 2002 -- Worked with other Federal agencies to establish three multiagency websites: www.science.gov, www.nutrition.gov, and www.invasivespecies.gov

  • 2002 -- Published first edition of the NAL Agricultural Thesaurus (NALT)

  • 2004 -- AFSIC collaborated with the University of Michigan to digitize 186 pre-1942 USDA publications related to organic agriculture; these documents are now part of the Organic Roots Collection

  • 2005 -- National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC) established

  • 2005 -- Renovated D.C. Reference Center reopens in the USDA South Building in Washington, D.C.

  • 2007 -- Collaborated with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture to develop the Spanish version of the NAL Agricultural Thesaurus and Glossary

  • 2009 -- Partnered with American Farm Bureau Federation to create an information clearinghouse for beginning farmers and ranchers, Start2Farm

  • 2009 -- Twitter account first began posting staff-contributed content

  • 2010 -- When Beans Were Bullets exhibit of World War I and II-era food posters from NAL Special Collections hosted at NAL

  • 2011 -- NALT made available as Linked Open Data




Timeline Sources

Bercaw, Louise O. "The National Agricultural Library." In: Yearbook of Agriculture. Washington: U.S. G.P.O, 1962. p. 634-637.

Fusonie, Alan E. "The National Agricultural Library: The Heritage of Gathering and Disseminating Agricultural Information." In: Station bulletin - Purdue University, Agricultural Experiment Station. Lafayette, Ind.: The Station, 1987. p. 254-261. Presented at the Second National Herb Growing and Marketing Conference, July 19-22, 1987, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Fusonie, Alan E. "The History of the National Agricultural Library." Agricultural History, 62.2 (1988): 189-207.

Mohrhardt, Foster E. "The Library of the United States Department of Agriculture." The Library Quarterly, 27.2 (1957): 61-82.

"National Agricultural Library." In: Kent, Allen, Harold Lancour, William Z. Nasri, and Jay E. Daily, eds. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, volume 19. New York: M. Dekker, 1976, 27-45.

The National Agricultural Library: A Chronology of Its Leadership and Attainments, 1839-1973. Beltsville, Md.: Associates of the National Agricultural Library, 1974.

Paskoff, Beth M. "History and Characteristics of Agricultural Libraries and Information in the United States." Library Trends, 38.3 (1990): 331-349.

Press Releases and Announcements of the National Agricultural Library. Beltsville, MD: NAL, 2003-2011.

Report of the Work Group on the History of NAL: National Agricultural Library Strategic Planning Process. Beltsville, Md: The Library, 1993.

Report on the National Agricultural Library, 2001 -- Appendix C, Milestones 1982-2000. Beltsville, MD: NAL, 2002.

Reports of the National Agricultural Library. Beltsville, MD: NAL, 1993-2004.

Sherrod, John. "National Agricultural Library Moves into a New Home." OECD Agricultural Review, 16.2 (1969): 56-59.




Selected Additional NAL Resources

Annual Report of the National Agricultural Library (under various titles). Beltsville, MD: NAL, 1894-2004.

Barnett, Claribel R. "The Library of the United States Department of Agriculture." Special Libraries, 10(2), 1919: 40-43.

Barnett, Claribel R. "Library of 200,000 Volumes Maintained in the Department." In: Yearbook of Agriculture. Washington: U.S. G.P.O, 1927. p. 423-424.

Barnett, Claribel R. "Frederick Vernon Coville -- Friend of the Library: An Account of His Contributions to the Early Development of the Library's Collections and Bibliographical Equipment in the Field of Botany". Agricultural Library Notes 12 (2), 1937: 95-103.

Carabelli, Angelina J., ed. "Centenary of the National Agricultural Library, U.S.D.A., 1862/1962: Papers in Celebration of the Occasion." Quarterly Bulletin of the International Association of Agricultural Librarians & Documentalists 7(2/3), 1962, 97-137.

Mohrhardt, Foster E. "The Library of the United States Department of Agriculture." The Library Quarterly. 27.2 (1957): 61-82.

National Agricultural Library Special Collections. Associates of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) Records. Collection 12.

National Agricultural Library Special Collections. Mohrhardt, Foster Edward, Papers. Collection 290.

The Foster Edward Mohrhardt Papers consist of Mohrhardt's published papers, speeches, studies, book reviews, and biographical articles and includes a bibliography detailing these publications.

National Agricultural Library Special Collections. National Agricultural Library (NAL) Records. Collection 113.

National Agricultural Library Special Collections. Swab, Joseph, Photograph Collection. Collection 227.

The NAL Activities Photographs were compiled by one of the National Agricultural Library’s (NAL) photographers, Joseph Swab. There are 116 photograph albums consisting of approximately 16,000 photographs, negatives, contact sheets, and slides. These albums contain Swab’s work as well as that of other NAL photographers, including Dan Starr, who photographed from 1989-1993. Subjects include the NAL building and renovation efforts, employees, meetings, events, and exhibits. The bulk dates range from 1987-1998. Additionally, Swab, as editor of NAL's newsletter Agricultural Libraries Information Notes (ALIN), saved photographs and negatives used for the production of ALIN from 1985-1997. All of these photographs were transferred to Special Collections for storage upon Swab’s retirement in 2003.

National Agricultural Library Special Collections. Swab, Joseph, Publication Collection. Collection 332.

The Joseph Swab Publication collection contains bibliographies, pamphlets, newsletters, and forms whose layouts were designed by Swab, primarily from 1970-1998. The collection also contains a select number of older materials not designed by Swab.

National Archives, RG16 Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture.

Shaw, Ralph R. "The Department of Agriculture Library and Its Services." College and Research Libraries, 9.2 (1948): 133-135.

Materials authored by NAL.