National Agricultural Library

National Agricultural Library

Dec. 1982-1983 – Acting Director

1983-1994 – Director

In 1982, the Library of Congress (LC) was asked to provide someone to participate in a Blue- Ribbon Panel to recommend solutions to the problems at the National Agricultural Library (NAL).  Even if I knew very little about NAL, I agreed to be that person.

[In 1982] a review group, convened as the Blue- Ribbon Panel on the National Agricultural Library, planted the seed for the re-emergence of the concept of an agricultural information network. The Blue-Ribbon Panel, more formally known as the Interagency Panel on the National Agricultural Library, was comprised of leaders from the library and information fields and from the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1982, its members assessed the role of the NAL for the secretary of agriculture and strongly recommended that NAL “coordinate a national network of public and private agricultural libraries and information centers, including libraries of land grant colleges and universities, state supported colleges and universities, and other public and private sector organizations involved in agricultural information.”

Extracted from Special Libraries, Spring 1989, p. 114 “United States Agricultural Information Network:  Genesis of a Cooperative Organization” by Sarah E. Thomas

Shortly after the completion of the report, the Director, Richard Farley, resigned.  I do not know if the report and the resignation were connected.

Once again, the Department of Agriculture asked LC if they would send someone for 6 months as acting director, to give them time to hire a new director.  The following was part of my outstanding rating I received May 12, 1982 from William J. Welsh, Deputed Librarian of Congress:

On loan, I vowed that I would not get involved emotionally with NAL and its problems; however, I soon found that this was impossible.  I came across problems that were right up my alley and I wanted to solve them.

For all of my career, I have loved solving problems and became restless when they had been solved.  At LC, I had become a bit restless for two reasons.

  • I had been stymied by somethings over which I had no control. The library’s computer division considered that they had priorities higher than those for the Processing Department.  For example, I wanted to merge all aspects of the cataloging process between the overseas offices with those on site and was not able to work on the challenge for the time being.
  • While I considered myself as a supporter of unions in general, LC’s union

demanded negotiating over every little thing, e.g., a change in a cataloging rule – slowing many things down to a snail’s pace.  NAL had no union, having voted it out recently.

Political Appointees

At the Library of Congress, the Librarian was an appointment by the sitting President; however, different from other presidential appointments, it was an appointment for life or resignation.

Working for political appointees was new to me; however, I was lucky to never feel any political bias, having wonderful support for the Library.  The drawback was the lack of continuity.  I can’t remember all of them, but I did have 2 outstanding bosses – Orville Bently and Duane Acher – both Republicans.

I did, however, have a troubling situation with Dr. Bently’s Assistant.  He insisted that I award a contract to one of his Oregon friends who lacked any qualifications for the job.  He was insistent!  Somewhat scared, I went to Dr. Bently and explained the problem – saying that it was against the law.  He listened politely and I had no idea what was going to happen.  I even considered that I could been fired.  It was a great relief when I heard that the assistant was issued out of his office by the department police.


My best accomplishment in my eleven years was to select the best staff.  After maneuvering around one troubling staff remember, I was able to select the best staff of any library anywhere. 

  • Pam Andre, Head of Automation (who replaced me as Director in 1994);
  • Keith Russell, Head of Public Services. He inherited a wonder staff member, Maria Pisa.  Keith became Director of University of Kansas Library.
  • Sarah Thomas, Head of Technical Services. Sarah moved to the Library of Congress; Director, Cornell University Libraries; Head Librarian of Oxford University and finally Director of Harvard University Libraries.

At NAL I had about 230 employees and 15 million dollar budget.  At LC, I had about 1800 employees with a budget of about 50 million.

 Land-Grant Universities

One of the recommendations of the Blue-Ribbon Panel concerned networking with land-grant universities – in particular, with their libraries.

A land-grant university (also called land-grant college or land-grant institution) is an institution of higher education in the United States designated by a state to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln, the first Morrill Act began to fund educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states for them to sell, to raise funds, to establish and endow “land-grant” colleges. The mission of these institutions as set forth in the 1862 Act is to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering—although “without excluding other scientific and classical studies”—as a response to the industrial revolution and changing social class.  This mission was, in contrast to the historic practice of higher education concentrating on a liberal arts curriculum.

Ultimately, most land-grant colleges became large public universities that today offer a full spectrum of educational opportunities. However, some land-grant colleges are private schools, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tuskegee University.

For a complete list see:,of%20Arizo%20…%20%2032%20more%20rows%20


United States Agricultural Information Network (USAIN)

NAL initiated the formulation of the United States Agricultural Information Network. (USAIN).  Sarah E. Thomas’ article in Special Libraries, Spring 1989, discusses the genesis of its organization.  Sarah did most of the work necessary for its establishment.  Her abstract is given below.

“Informal networking has been a tradition in the agricultural Information community. In the last five years, however, the National Agricultural Library (NAL) has worked assiduously to bring a formal organization into being. NAL’s efforts have led to the formation of the United States Agricultural Information Network (USAIN), an association whose goal Is to provide a forum for discussion of agricultural Information Issues. Under the leadership of four librarians elected as first officers of the organization in 1988, a structure to achieve this goal Is being proposed for consideration by potential members.”

This cooperation has led to several cooperative projects.  One, for example, each land-grant would be responsible for collecting, cataloging, preserving, and sharing its own publications.  This would ensure that all extension and experiment publications would be available to all libraries – including world-wide.


The National Agricultural Library’s (NAL) most long-term activity is in conjunction with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). NAL is a member of the AGRIS/CARIS system. Established by FAO, this is a world-wide system for collecting, describing, and disseminating agricultural information. Membership is over 125 national and 18 international centers.

AGRIS is a cooperative agricultural information system whereby a participating center in each country is responsible for cataloging and indexing its own publications in a standard format and contributing the resulting bibliographic data to FAO.

NAL serves as the coordinator of the AGRIS system in the United States. As such, it produces a special monthly tape of U.S. imprints for input into the AGRIS database. NAL contributes about 50,000 records annually to the AGRIS database on all subjects relating to agriculture, including forestry. – Provided by Pam Andre

U.S./Central European Agricultural Library Roundtables

Pam Andre provided most of the following summary.

In 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a major U.S. foreign policy initiative was to support the emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. Because most of these countries had agriculturally related economies, USDA became closely involved in the rebuilding effort.

As part of the effort, NAL initiated a program to work with agricultural libraries to help provide an information infrastructure for the agricultural community. With a grant from USDA’s Office of International Cooperation and Development, NAL was able to initiate a program to work with agricultural libraries in central Europe.  Our funds enabled NAL to fund per diem for foreign participants.  Lack of sufficient funds required the participants pay their own transportation.

The effort began in the fall of 1991, when NAL hosted a 2-week workshop with representatives from six countries.  In centered around Information Transfer in a Global Economy: Forging New Connections, November 12-20, 1991, Beltsville, MD, (hosted by the U.S. National Agricultural Library). This meeting focused on identifying the needs of the Central and Eastern European agricultural libraries.

The resounding success of this workshop was continued by future meetings, namely:

  • Possibilities for Cooperation between the U.S. National Agricultural Library (NAL) and Central European Agricultural Libraries, October 4-9, 1992, Budapest, Hungary (hosted by Hungarian National Agricultural Library).
  • Networking Agricultural Information: Next Steps, September 21-24, 1993, Radzikow, Poland (hosted by the Central Agricultural Library). This meeting focused on library networking systems.
  • The Use of Integrated Library Systems to Access and Disseminate Agricultural Information, September 26-30, 1994, Nitra Slovak Republic (hosted by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information on Agriculture– Nitra). This meeting focused on the importance of automated library systems.

By 1991, participating institutions had expanded to include representation from Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

A fifth Roundtable was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in the fall of 1995.

Accomplishments of the Roundtable Initiative include:

  • Joint Program for Cooperation signed by all participating institutions outlining areas of interest for cooperatively enhancing access to agricultural information.
  • Presentation and demonstration of CD-ROM workstation and agricultural information products on CD-ROM to the Hungarian National Agricultural Library through a USDA/OICD-supported grant.
  • Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture sponsorship of a CD-ROM training workshop in Budapest (mid-May 1993) for Central European librarians. NAL provided an instructor.
  • Funding received to launch Surplus Book and Journal Program. Assistance from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; USDA/OICD; and USDA, Agricultural Research Service.
  • Funds received from State Department and OICD for establishment of a CD-ROM-based agricultural information access capability in the Baltic Republic (installed August/September 1994).
  • Funds awarded under Cochran Fellowship Program to support two library internships at the National Agricultural Library.

International Association of Agricultural Libraries and Documentalists (IAALD)

IAALD was established in 1995 and held it first meeting in Ghent.  Its purpose was to promote, internationally and nationally, agricultural library science and documentation, as well as professional interest of agricultural librarians and documentalists, the term ‘Agriculture’ being interpreted in the widest sense, so as to include forestry, agricultural engineering, veterinary sciences, fisheries, food and nutrition, agricultural and food industries, etc.  (Quarterly Bulletin of IAALD, 2 (1):1.)

I was its president from 1900-1995: having elected in 1985 in the 7th World Congress on Information for food in Ottawa, Canada; served as President at the 8th Congress, held in Budapest, Hungary; and ending my term in Melbourne, Australia at the 9th Congress.

Pamela Q. J. Andre, my successor as Director of the National Agricultural Library, served as its President from 2003-2015.

Egyptian National Agricultural Library (ENAL)

The U.S. Agency for International Development invested billions of dollars to the improvement of Egyptian agriculture.

The National Agricultural Research Project, NARP included an information component that called for the creation of an Egyptian National Agricultural Library (ENAL). This was to be a modem, electronic library facility that would function as a regional center for agricultural information. Through a formal agreement with the USDA unit for international cooperation and development, NAL became a major resource for this effort.

Building plans were developed under contract in the late 1980s. In 1990, NAL became involved in the implementation planning for the ENAL operation. NAL staff were consulted on such issues as organizational size and structure, systems procurement, collection development, training, and AGLINET membership.

A great deal of effort had been spent, when, suddenly, the work stopped.  It later became known that there had been a scandal – the Egyptian library official and a staff member in the American Embassy had been illegally importing cars and selling them for enormous profits.

After my retirement, it all got sorted out.  Pam Andre, new director of NAL, was able, investing a lot of expertise and time, in the establishment of the ENAL. 

Latin America

As a result of numerous requests from our colleagues in Latin America, plus the impetus of the recently signed NAFTA agreement, NAL and the InterAmerican Development Bank sponsored an InterAmerican Workshop on Agricultural Information in January 1994 (in cooperation with the Associates of NAL, Inc., United States Agricultural Information Network, USDA International Cooperation and Development, and AIBDA — (Inter-American Association of Agricultural Librarians and Documentalists).

The attendees included key leaders in the information community from a cross-section of the Americas, plus major international agricultural information organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a regional plan for agricultural infrastructure development based on a draft outline by consultant Jane Kinney Meyers.

My retirement came at the end of the meeting, but the final report was completed and was entitled: “Regional Plan for the Establishment of an InterAmerican Agricultural Network:  Report of the InterAmerican Planning Workshop for Information Transfer and Networking.” It represents a consensus on the identification of priority areas for access to agricultural information in the Americas.

Special Collections

NAL’s Special Collections houses rare books, manuscript collections, nursery and seed trade catalogs, photographs, and posters from the 1500s to the present. Materials cover a variety of agricultural subjects including horticulture, entomology, poultry sciences, natural history, and are not limited to domestic publications. As part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Special Collections at the National Agricultural Library is charged with arranging, describing, preserving, and making available rare materials significant to the history of agriculture and the USDA.  A few of its collections are heighted below>

Thomas Jefferson Correspondence at NAL

The Thomas Jefferson Correspondence collection consists of eleven letters to Jefferson, from Jefferson, and about Jefferson (1786-1819) and a set of four letters (1915) between W. K. Bixby and Secretary of Agriculture D. F. Houston, regarding Jefferson letters that Bixby had found and sent to Houston. Houston later placed the Jefferson letters in the Department of Agriculture Library. The Jefferson letters contain information on agricultural topics. For example, subjects include nursery stock purchased by Jefferson, a request to Jefferson for an appointment to a federal agricultural office, letters from Jefferson transferring “millet seed” and “succory seed” to various acquaintances in the United States and Canada, and a letter to Jefferson from “Lord Sheffield” of the Board of Agriculture in London, England, commenting on Jefferson’s invention of a “mould board” for use in farming.

USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

The USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection is one of the most unique collections in the Rare and Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL). As a historic botanical resource, it documents new fruit and nut varieties, and specimens introduced by USDA plant explorers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection spans the years 1886 to 1942. Most of the paintings were created between 1894 and 1916. The plant specimens represented by these artworks originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S. There are 7,497 watercolor paintings, 87 line drawings, and 79 wax models created by approximately 21 artists. See

Wilhelm Heinrich Prestele Grape Paintings at NAL

The Wilhelm Heinrich (William Henry) Prestele Papers span the years 1887-1891. The collection is 12 linear feet and occupies 8 oversized folio boxes. The collection was housed in storage at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Division of Pomology in Washington D.C., then transferred to the Arlington Farm in Virginia. Subsequently, it was moved to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, and finally placed in the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library.

I believe that this was the collection that was on the loading dock of the main ARS main building, waiting to be trashed.  I received an urgent call and was able to rescue the collection.

Charles Valentine Riley

On the science front, he is credited with the first use of biological control (instead of chemicals) when he imported a beetle from Australia to eat scale that was destroying California’s citrus industry. Soon after, he was one of the first to notice that American grapes, Vitis labrusca were resistant to a yellow sap- sucking insect called Phylloxera which was devouring European vineyards. With J. E. Planchon, Riley grafted French grape stems on American V. labrusca root stock and shipped them to France. Together, they saved the French wine industry. For this, Riley was awarded the French Grand Gold Medal and was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

NAL has the gold medal and is desk.

Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first economic botanist, Percy Leroy Ricker, began collecting catalogs in 1904. Ricker’s enthusiastic interest included many trips to secondhand bookstores and the attics of nursery companies in search of horticulturally related catalogs. The collection consists of over 250,000 American and foreign catalogs. The earliest catalogs date from the late 1700s, but the collection is strongest from the 1890s to the present.


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