Agricultural Documents: Acquisition and Control

By Smith, Helen | Special Libraries, Winter 1991 | Go to article overview

Agricultural Documents: Acquisition and Control


Smith, Helen, Special Libraries


Agricultural Documents: Acquisition and Control

* Agricultural information is often disseminated via publications of the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The nature of these documents ensures that their acquisition and management are cumbersome at best. A survey of libraries at Land Grant Universities determined the methods used to acquire, process, and maintain SAES and USDA publications.

Land Grant Universities supporting active agricultural programs historically have had to deal with the unique problems encountered with agricultural literature. Traditionally, much agricultural information has been disseminated via publications of the United States Department of Agriculture and the State Agricultural Experiment Stations. Indeed, the Hatch Act of 1887 mandated the publication of bulletins or reports for the transfer of information.[1] The 1914 Smith-Lever Act which initiated the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, also stressed the dissemination of information.[2] Almost from the beginning, the Land Grant University libraries were confronted with the vagaries of government publications. This created problems evident as early as 1927, especially with the cataloging and classification of these documents.[3-6] The situation concerning the control of, and access to, agricultural documents has received renewed interest in recent years, especially with coordinated microfilming projects and a Title II-C grant that the University of Illinois received to improve bibliographic control.[7-9]

But how are these publications managed in the Land Grant libraries today? Government publishing has changed, especially since the implementation of the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act, and this may have a subsequent effect on how agricultural publications are managed.[10] In today's changing economics and technology, it is necessary to evaluate library collections, policies, and services. There are many studies on managing state and federal documents but none recently that specifically target agricultural documents. This is an important area because of the special significance of these materials to the agricultural literature. It is premature to describe the advantages or disadvantages of the different methods of bibliographic management of these materials because the methods themselves have not yet been defined.

Method

This paper reports the results of a questionnaire administered in the summer of 1988 that attempted to discover the methods that Land Grant libraries were using to acquire, process, and maintain State Agricultural Experiment Station and United States Department of Agriculture publications. The intent was not to produce a statistically reliable study, but rather to provide a general picture of the methods used by the libraries in their collections. In this way, concerns and interests of the libraries could be discovered, and new research areas explored. It was considered unrealistic for libraries to provide detailed numbers or percentages of materials handled in specific ways. At best the respondents were able to give "guesstimates" derived from their perceptions and overall knowledge of their collections.

In late June of 1988, the questionnaire and an explanatory letter were sent to the agricultural/science librarian, or to the director of the library, of 50 Land Grant University libraries. Thirty questionnaires were returned with 29 usable responses for a 58 percent usable rate. The survey was composed of 20 questions designed to have the respondents estimate the percentages of the identified material treated in different ways, and to describe the changes made in the recent past. The first nine questions pertained to publications from the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES). Questions ten through seventeen related to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publications. The final three questions were of a general nature.

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