ForumYour National Agricultural
With only a few clicks of your computer mouse, the flower-filled pages
from the earliest editions of a British gardening journal will blossom
on your screen. These beautiful watercolors, along with the informative
text that accompanies them, give today's gardeners and scholars a glimpse
of what was known in the period 1787 to 1807 about hundreds of flowering
plants. Collected from around the world, the plants were chosen for
the publication because they could be grown in British flowerbeds, borders,
Editions of this important journal, Curtis's Botanical Magazine,
are one of the many historical treasures preserved and safeguarded at
America's National Agricultural Library, located in the Washington,
D.C., suburb of Beltsville, Maryland. An article beginning on page 10
tells more about this interesting, informative periodical.
Because the library is operated for the benefit of all Americans, every
citizen can come hereby weekday appointmentto read and enjoy
this interesting journal. For everyone who can log onto the Internet,
we've made illustrations and key text from the oldest, most coveted
editions available for viewing at http://www.nal.usda.gov/curtis.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine is one of many outstanding collections
at the library, some with documents that date back to the 1600s.
Through purchases, donations, and exchanges, we obtain other historic
periodicals, as well as early books, journals, letters, paintings, and
photographs. At the same time, we continue to acquireor develop
in-housenew materials in an array of formats. We make this information
available to researchers, students, and other library users so that
they can keep up with the latest findings in agriculture and related
fields, from agronomy to zoology. We provide rapid access to the best
knowledge in the traditional agricultural sciences as well as in newer
fields like bioinformatics, genomics, and proteomics.
Right now, the National Agricultural Library manages more than 3.5
million items of information. But you don't necessarily need to be here
in Beltsville to make use of them. No matter where you live in the United
States, if you need a copy of an agricultural journal article, for instance,
your local library can obtain it for you from the National Agricultural
Library for a nominal fee.
And we are making more and more content available electronically at
no cost on the World Wide Web. The library hosts some 40,000 web pages,
with more launches every month. Our web pages are colorful, easy-to-navigate
sources of reliable, timely information. In all, our web sites attract
more than 16 million visits a year. That means the library is not just
a museum of books; it is a vital, active gateway to agriculture and
its many sciences.
We also offer innovative services. The registered dietitians and other
professionals who staff our Food and Nutrition Information Center, for
example, compile detailed bibliographies and prepare authoritative fact
sheets, reports, brochures, and bulletins. What's more, they post answers
to frequently asked questions about food, nutrition, food safety, and
more on the center's popular web site. In addition, center specialists
provideon the sitedetails about other useful sources such
as videotapes, CD-ROMs, and manuals. Plus, they list links to hundreds
of other web sites in relevant subject areas. The Food and Nutrition
Information Center is one of six Internet-oriented centers we have created
to rapidly respond to the changing needs of target audiences.
The other five information centers focus on water quality, animal welfare,
alternative farming systems, rural revitalization, and technology transfer.
Each provides quick connection to comprehensive, science-based information
in its specialized area. Visitors to center web sites are from community,
agricultural, or environmental organizations; small and large businesses;
libraries; colleges and universities; and professional associations.
Our center staffs are carefully structured to provide expertise not
only in library and computer sciences, but also in agronomy, biology,
forestry, plant physiology, or other disciplines.
The National Agricultural Library was foundedalong with U.S. Department of Agriculturein 1862. Today, as one of America's four national libraries, we manage the world's largest and most accessible compilation of agriculture-directed learning. We continue to pioneer new technologies that will add to the depth of our collection and improve the immediacy with which it is available. Visit us soon on the World Wide Web at http://www.nal.usda.gov, or work with us in person, by appointment, at 10301 Baltimore Avenue here in Beltsville. Discover watercolors, web sites, and the wonderful range of services and knowledge available from your National Agricultural Library.
Peter R. Young
|"Forum" was published in the September 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.|