The USDA History Collection includes materials gathered over several decades by the Agricultural and Rural History Section of USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS). Created as a working collection to assist historians, economists and others interested in the history of USDA, the collection grew to include over 660 linear feet of documents plus more than 8000 books and journals.

Photograph of the Agricultural and Rural History Section, about 1963.

In 1994, in a reorganization of ERS, the Agricultural and Rural History Section was eliminated. Following discussion of numerous options, USDA Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger decided to transfer the historical collection to the National Agricultural Library, with the strong support of NAL's Director, Pamela Q. J. André. One of the primary goals of the transfer was improved organization and access. As stated by Dr. Karl N. Stauber, Under Secretary Research, Education and Economics, the USDA historical collection's information "was virtually inaccessible to researchers without direct staff assistance from ERS employees. In the future, I hope that all of the Department's historical information will be made available to interested scholars and students through a properly cataloged and organized collection at the NAL in Beltsville." This Web site is the direct result of actions taken by Mr. Rominger, Dr. Stauber and Ms. André.

At the direction of Deputy Secretary Rominger, the following USDA agencies contributed funding to support processing, organization and improved access to the USDA History Collection.

The collection was transferred, in 1996, to NAL's Special Collections, under the direction of Susan H. Fugate. Following the evaluation of the materials and development of a project plan, NAL entered into a mutually beneficial cooperative agreement with the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library, continuing a long-standing productive partnership. Improved access to the priceless resources in the collection benefits the University's scholars in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Department of History, and provides an opportunity to students of the College of Information Studies to process an archival collection of national stature.

The decision to enter the cooperative agreement took advantage of the close proximity of the University to NAL, allowing for secure housing and uninterrupted access to the collection while it was being processed by appropriate experts and staff. The University of Maryland also had appropriate faculty and staff that offer the expertise necessary to develop and coordinate a program which incorporates preservation and archival handling. Key cooperators representing the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library, are Marietta Plank, Head of Technical Services and Yvonne Carignan, Preservation Officer.