Technology

NAL Provides
Services Over
the Internet

In 1994, access to the resources and staff of the National Agricultural Library became available worldwide over the Internet.

NAL has set up nearly two dozen e-mail addresses that allow users to contact the NAL staff quickly and easily by computer, and gain access to specific library services and information. The aim is to make the priceless resources and trained staff of the National Agricultural Library available to as many people throughout the world as possible. Like many organizations, NAL is taking advantage of the Internet to do that.

General NAL reference services are available on "agref@nalusda.gov".

Aquaculture information and assistance from NAL's Aquaculture Information Center (AIC) are available on "aic@nalusda.gov".

NAL's computer bulletin board ALF (Agricultural Library Forum) is available on "alf@nalusda.gov". ALF provides electronic access to information about NAL products and services; is a vehicle for the exchange of agricultural information resources among libraries, information centers, and other users; and supports messaging, bulletins, file tranfer, and conferencing.

Animal welfare information and assistance from NAL's Animal Welfare Information Center are available on "awic@nalusda.gov".

Biotechnology information and assistance from NAL's Biotechnology Information Center is available on "biotech@nalusda.gov".

Information on the availability from NAL of specific titles and NAL lending policy and details on NAL's Document Delivery Services Branch (DDSB) policy and required data elements are available on "circinfo@nalusda.gov".

To communicate with NAL's branch located at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC use "dcrc@nalusda.gov".

To communicate with NAL's Education Programs unit, which handles tours and demonstrations of NAL systems for groups and individuals, use "epu@nalusda.gov".

Food and nutrition information and assistance from NAL's Food and Nutrition Information Center are available on "fnic@nalusda.gov".

To submit requests for materials known to be in the NAL collection use "lending@nalusda.gov".

Information on alternative farming systems and assistance from NAL's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center are available on "nalafsic@nalusda.gov".

Information on NAL's regional document delivery system is available on "nalrdds@nalusda.gov".

For news media inquiries on NAL and assistance from NAL's Public Affairs Office the contact is "paffs@nalusda.gov".

Plant genome information and assistance from NAL's Plant Genome Database and Information Center are available on "pgenome@nalusda.gov".

Rural development and rural health information and assistance from NAL's Rural Information Center are available on "ric@nalusda.gov".

To communicate with NAL's special collections unit, which handles rare books and special collections of research materials from noted agriculturalists contact "scoll@nalusda.gov".

Information on the transfer of new agricultural technology from the Federal Government to private enterprise and for assistance from NAL's Technology Transfer Information Center are available on "ttic@nalusda.gov".

Water quality information and assistance from NAL's Water Quality Information Center are available on "wqic@nalusda.gov".

Youth development information and assistance from NAL's Youth Development Information Center (YDIC) are available on "ydic@nalusda.gov".

"Gopher" Assists
Access to NAL

Immediate electronic access to the resources and services of the National Agricultural Library became available worldwide in 1994 through the new NAL gopher server and the Internet. The NAL Gopher can be reached by anyone having access to a gopher client and the Internet. ("Gopher," in Internet terminology, is a means by which a person can connect to various other computers and retrieve information.)

Among services available through the NAL gopher are--

--Information Centers: Gives access to information made available by NAL's information centers (currently 8 of 11 centers provide information through the gopher). Covered are alternative farming systems, animal welfare, biotechnology, food and nutrition, plant genome, rural information (including rural health information), water quality, and youth development.

--NAL publications and resources: Included are NAL bibliographies and publications such as the "NAL Electronic Initiative Final Report," "AGRICOLA Across the Internet--User Needs," "AGRICOLA--Guide to Subject Indexing," and "Draft Gopher File Format Standards."

--Other agricultural publications and data: Provides links to agricultural items authored outside of NAL.

--Other agriculture-related gopher systems: Provides links to 31 other gopher servers. NAL monitors the Internet and routinely adds appropriate gopher servers to this section.

Also, the gopher servers of the other two U.S. national libraries--the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine, can be accessed from the main menu of the NAL gopher.

NAL is spending several months evaluating the effectiveness of the NAL gopher so that the service can be improved, expanded, and upgraded as needed.

NAL Commits to
"Electronic Library"

On January 1, 1995, the National Agricultural Library took a major step in its commitment to becoming an "electronic library." On that date, electronic information became the "preferred medium" for library materials in an all-out push to make NAL's services and its collection available in various electronic formats worldwide. NAL's goal is to become "a library without walls" in which NAL's extensive collection can be accessed by computer by anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. NAL is making this commitment because of its belief that "the current paper-based information delivery system is inadequate to keep pace with the needs of the modern agriculturalist."

The "electronic library" goal was set in "Electronic Information Initiative--Phase I" undertaken by NAL as part of a strategic plan to guide NAL operations into the next century. The purpose of the initiative is to research, plan, and implement a systematic program of managing data in electronic form. Phase I was a consideration of the issues associated with NAL's ability to manage electronically created and stored information. The final report recommends actions NAL must take in order to provide full electronic access to information in the increasingly networked agricultural community.

NAL set the January 1, 1995, goal in a "statement of commitment" in the Phase I Final Report. In part, the statement says, "Increasingly, information is produced in digitized form, and with recent telecommunications innovations and the Internet, the resources available to the computer literate researcher are expanding exponentially.... [Consequently] the NAL is taking the initiative in a systematic program of managing data in electronic form and establishing strategies for collecting, storing and distributing U.S. agricultural information in electronic form."

Other steps NAL will take to achieve its electronic library goal are to tie in to electronic networks worldwide to provide "seamless access to information;" shift and add resources to acquire, process, and make available electronic data; work closely with other world agencies and libraries to emphasize electronic information; and convert its own publications from print to electronic media.

Internet Aids
Document Delivery

NAL's Document Delivery Services Branch began accepting Internet requests for information about NAL holdings, collection access, and document delivery services. The Circulation and Access Section also regularly reviews several Internet listservs, responding to requests for help in locating materials in the library.

By sending an Internet message to NAL, Internet users may request information on titles in the NAL collection (journal, article, book, translation, audiovisual, and other media or types); procedures to borrow the title or obtain a photocopy; and NAL and USDA services, programs, and policies.

CYFERNET
Provides Youth
Development
Information

NAL's Youth Development Information Center (YDIC) established an information resource on the Internet called CYFERNET (Child, Youth, and Family Education and Research Network). It incorporates file server and gopher computer technologies and contains curricula and program support materials of interest to child, youth, and family development professionals. Program support materials are gleaned by YDIC from Federal, State, and nonprofit organizations using the Internet. The CYFERNET gopher logs about 400 accesses per month.

YDIC, using CYFERNET, is helping to establish "networks for action" within the youth and family development community of the land-grant university system. These networks will be composed of four or more universities collaborating through the Internet on common projects.

Electronic Bulletin
Board Gives
Access to NAL

ALF (Agricultural Library Forum), NAL's computerized bulletin board, continued to improve its service. ALF provides remote access to library services and products.

Internet users were given ALF access when the National Technical Information Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that FedWorld bulletin boards would allow dial-out via its gateway system. ALF usage increased immediately, and NAL increased the size of the current-user file to accommodate extra callers. After connecting to FedWorld via Telnet or direct dial, users may connect to any of more than 100 Federal bulletin board systems and database services, including ALF. A Small Business Administration bulletin board also provides access to ALF.

Several hundred bibliographic and full-text NAL documents are loaded, including NAL Quick Bibliography titles, special reference briefs, NAL news releases and special publications from NAL information centers, as well as a number of calendars and resource lists.

ALF received over 50,000 calls during the year, and there are currently some 200 files on ALF for user access. More than 20 subboards cover various special interest topics.

NAL Computer
Network Grows

NALnet, the NAL computer network, experienced dramatic growth. Of note is the transition of NAL Internet mail service to "Cliff," the NAL Sun SPARC2 UNIX workstation. All NAL staff needing mail access received accounts on Cliff, and training sessions in using the service were held. Staff use is high and growing.

NAL uses PINE mail software for its Internet mail service, and NAL staff use such tools as gopher and WAIS to search remote information systems through the Internet. Also, the NALnet backbone has been extended. Fiber optic cable now connects the NAL computer room to 11 strategic hub locations throughout the library. From these hubs it is possible to extend copper wire to the desktop of each NAL employee.

In collaboration with the National Science Foundation, Iowa State University, and USDA's Extension Service, NAL has launched an initiative to deploy a system for managing electronic information in agriculture. A pilot project known as the Agricultural Network Information Center, which will implement the initiative, is being developed by NAL.

Text Digitizing
Program Enters
Eighth Year

The National Agricultural Text Digitizing Program (NATDP), shepherded by NAL, continued to produce and distribute CD-ROM's of important agricultural literature. Planning is also under way to upgrade NATDP's optical scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) system.

NATDP began in 1987 as a study by NAL and over 40 land-grant university libraries to evaluate the use of optical scanning and OCR in the library environment. An evaluation report, entitled "National Agricultural Text Digitizing Project: Toward the Electronic Library," was completed and published in November 1992.

Since NATDP became a fully operational program, several discs have been produced, including: Aquaculture II, completed in late 1992, containing over 6,500 pages of full text and images from selected public domain materials; a disc containing the papers of famed agricultural scientist George Washington Carver (from the Tuskegee University collection); and Food Irradiation 1, completed in 1993 and containing nearly 5,100 images (this is the first of six or seven food irradiation CD-ROM's).

Scanning and indexing for a second Agronomy Journal CD-ROM was completed, and disc premastering got under way. It will be published as a cooperative effort between NAL and the American Society of Agronomy. This will be the final database scanned with the original NATDP system, in use since January 1988. A new scanning and OCR system was selected in 1993.

Future discs will include other volumes of Agronomy Journal, continuations of the Food Irradiation series, and a series containing the American Journal of Agricultural Economics to be produced cooperatively with the Foundation of the American Agricultural Economics Association.

NAL Releases
Home Landscaping
Disc

NAL, the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, after a 3-year development and evaluation period, released the final version of "Plant It! - CD," an interactive multimedia CD-ROM for home landscaping.

Nearly 1,000 U.S. plants are described in detail on the disc, accompanied by full-color photographs, printable landscape designs, and such materials as backyard composting and attracting birds. The preliminary version of the disc was released in January 1993 to 200 evaluation sites nationwide. The disc became available commercially in late 1993, distributed by IFAS.

NAL Develops
Computer-Assisted
Training for
Indexers

NAL's Indexing Branch began work on a project to develop a computer-assisted training program for NAL indexers that is comprehensive, consistent, high- quality, self-directed, and less time-intensive than the traditional one-on-one technique. The program will replace NAL's present instructional program.

NAL expects that the new training, called "CAIT" (Computer-Assisted Indexing Tutor), will reduce the time required for novice indexers to achieve journeyman level and for experienced indexers to train novices. It should also increase productivity, increase consistency and quality of the AGRICOLA database, increase opportunities for other NAL staff to learn about indexing, update the existing NAL Indexing Manual, create an online indexing manual as a reference tool, develop an indexing technician training program, and potentially assist in training others outside NAL.

CAIT is divided into three sections, and each section is divided into several topic chapters providing thorough and comprehensive coverage of each area. For example:

Section One--Introduction and Orientation. Features information on using the program along with an explanation of NAL's Indexing Branch and overall NAL function and organization

Section Two--Descriptive Indexing. Features document management issues, MARC format, and descriptive data

Section Three--Subject Indexing. Covers category codes, use of the CAB Thesaurus, NAL indexing rules and policies, and selection

Each chapter simulates actual indexing procedures; presents information in a concise, task-oriented manner consistent with the principles of adult and computer education; provides examples of articles that illustrate NAL indexing rules and philosophies; utilizes hypertext to facilitate access to information; and includes test questions and exercises to reinforce information.

To initiate this project and gather evaluation data, an evaluation module briefly demonstrating the features and potential of CAIT was constructed. Based on initial favorable reaction, NAL began development of the full program.

Networking Project Tests Image Transfer

NAL, the University of Pittsburgh School of Library and Information Sciences, and Michigan State Cooperative Extension Service began a project to examine the use of images in information retrieval. A database of 2,000 digitized images of rare botanical prints plus horticultural pests and diseases was produced and made accessible from a server in Pittsburgh. Local network testing began prior to making the system available on the Internet. A telecommunications protocol was designed to maximize the use of the network server during interactive sessions.

After searching the database, images can be downloaded for preview in thumbnail sizes and requested in high resolution and full color in a choice of formats. NAL is developing a CD-ROM version of the database. Once the online version is fully operational and accessible at test sites, Internet access will be available.