The development of a national program to preserve the history of agriculture and rural life is a logical extension of the work carried out by land-grant universities in cooperation with federal, state, and local agencies.  The land-grant universities of the U.S. constitute a remarkable and uniquely American research, education, and extension system with a long tradition of cooperation and a legal mandate to serve the citizens of the nation.  The concentrated focus of each of the nation's 72 land-grant universities has resulted, among other things, in a remarkable set of library collections.  Documentation of state and local agriculture and rural life has been primary collecting responsibilities of land-grant libraries for over a century.  Better than any other resource, these collections document the concerns, needs, interests, aspirations, and resources of the people of their state.  While these collections were largely built in the service of then current needs of science, technology, the state, commerce, and the average citizen, they have become prime historical repositories and targets for preservation in the interest of humanities research.

Mindful of this, the land-grant university libraries, working closely with the National Agricultural Library (NAL) through the United States Agricultural Information Network (USAIN), have developed a national preservation plan to preserve this record.  Organized state by state, with a history of and structure for national level cooperation, this consortium of libraries is uniquely positioned to systematically preserve one of the most important slices of American history.


The best acreage for a farmer to cultivate
lies within the ring fence of his skull.
-- Charles Dickens

The system of land-grant universities was established out of a deep American impulse to democratize education, to consciously direct knowledge and research in the interests of the average citizen, and to improve the productivity of our food system and the quality of rural life.

Existing colleges and seminaries were dedicated to classical studies on the model of their European counterparts.  These institutions existed to educate the monied classes, government leaders, and the professions -- not to serve a democratic vision of opportunity for all.  In the 1840s, Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois, a Yale-educated farmer, newspaper editor, and college professor, made education for the working classes a cause.  His Plan for a State University for the Industrial Classes advanced ideas that are fundamental to the land-grant system, such as experimental research and its dissemination.  What began as mild protest grew into widespread agitation by the middle of the nineteenth century, and Congress began to debate the role of the federal government in higher education.  Newly formed agricultural societies, in particular, insisted that colleges where agriculture could be studied must be widely available.

Justin Smith Morrill, a representative and later senator from Vermont, introduced legislation to Congress in 1857, and obtained passage in 1862, to establish a system of colleges dedicated to teaching agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts -- as well as classical studies -- so that the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.  The addition of military tactics to the original 1857 bill helped obtain its passage during the war-torn years of the Civil War, combined with a president with the same rural-roots point of view.

The Morrill Act of 1862 provided grants, in the form of federal lands, to each state to establish a “land-grant” college.  In 1887, the Hatch Act extended the land-grant system by authorizing direct payment of grant funds to each state to establish an agricultural experiment station in conjunction with the land-grant institution.  The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a Cooperative Extension Service associated with each land-grant institution.  The universities are connected to the citizens of the state by means of Cooperative Extension Service offices and staff in every county of most states.  This goes beyond education, to provide research, publications, and the dissemination of information to the average citizen.

Concurrent with the establishment of the land-grant colleges, Congress established the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to promote the interests of farmers, a persistent idea since George Washington’s days as president.  The effectiveness of the U.S. agricultural system lies in cooperation among government, the universities, and industry; a system that has produced perhaps the most successful research and development program in history.  From the beginning, the interests of the land-grant colleges and universities extended beyond the technology of farming to farm management, rural sociology, agricultural economics, land management, home economics, rural life, and social, family, and community concerns.  Within this framework, considerable rural-related, disciplinary social science research was conducted by historians, political scientists, general economists, sociologists, and anthropologists.


Collection and dissemination of information was part of the land-grant mandate, and the close ties among the land-grant institutions, the agricultural experiment stations, and the extension services ensured intensive collection of their publications, as well as those of the agricultural societies, rural organizations, and relevant popular, trade and scholarly literature.  Much state and local level agriculture and rural life literature was published in short runs and was not widely disseminated.  Adding to the problem of scarcity is the fact that much of this material was considered at the time of its publication to be out of collection scope by many of the nation’s major research libraries.  Consequently historians from non-land-grant libraries often have to travel to these libraries to conduct their research.  Additionally, the problem of deteriorating and brittle paper affects the historical literature of agriculture as severely as it affects all publications produced before 1950.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Cornell and other leading land-grant universities, in cooperation with the United States Agriculture Information Network (USAIN) and the National Agriculture Library (NAL), discussed the need to initiate a nationally coordinated plan to preserve and improve access to the historical literature of farming, rural life, and the agricultural sciences.  NAL had a foundation of past preservation activity upon which to base future efforts, including a cooperative project with the land-grant university libraries conducted from 1974 through 1987 to microfilm agricultural, forestry, and extension publications.  USAIN was established in 1988 to provide a forum for discussion of agricultural issues, to take a leadership role in the formation of a national information policy as related to agriculture, to make recommendations to NAL, and to promote cooperation and communication among its members.

In October 1991, USAIN sponsored a program to explore the feasibility of developing a national program to preserve the literature of agriculture and rural life.  Organized by Samuel Demas, former Head of Collection Development and Preservation, Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University, the two-day event drew thirty librarians, preservationists, and representatives of funding agencies.  Following a review of the status of preservation programs and cooperative strategies, the group enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a nationally coordinated preservation program to ensure both preservation of, and access to, the historical literature of agriculture and rural life.  The attendees outlined recommendations and a planning process and urged USAIN, together with NAL, to prepare a more detailed plan.  Subsequently, the USAIN membership unanimously endorsed the recommendations.

USAIN appointed Brice Hobrock, Dean, Kansas State University Libraries, to chair an Advisory Panel on Preservation with eleven members from land grant, government, and commercial organizations.  The Advisory Panel hired Nancy E. Gwinn, then Assistant Director, Collections Management, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, to facilitate the planning process and draft a national plan.  The result, A National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature (USAIN, 1993) was adopted by the USAIN membership in October 1993 as a guiding document for coordinating and stimulating preservation efforts within the agricultural sciences.  Throughout this process USAIN has provided organizational sponsorship for development and implementation of this plan.  [See Appendix B for letters of support from the current president of the USAIN and the director of NAL.]

The national preservation plan provides a disciplinary framework within which to divide the preservation challenge among USAIN libraries.  Its goals are being accomplished through a series of systematically organized and coordinated projects combined with local initiatives.  Preservation projects may be structured around genre, period, region, subject, or combination of these, and will use a variety of preservation strategies including reformatting to microfilm or digital formats, preserving the original, or a combination of these depending on the nature of the material, its condition, and its expected use.

Progress in Implementing the USAIN National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature

Over the past eight years considerable progress has been made in advancing this unique national cooperative plan for systematic preservation of the literature of a discipline.  Table 1 shows the key components of the agricultural literature in the National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature and assignments of preservation responsibility for each component.

This proposal addresses the components labeled “Land-Grant Publications,” “State and County Documents” and “Core Historical Literature -- Popular and Trade Journals”.  Popular and trade journals, identified in the Core Historical Literature Project, have been divided by state of publication and are folded into the state and local level preservation projects.  Phase I of the proposed project enabled nine states to move forward in fulfilling their responsibilities under the plan.  Phase II of the project allowed four of those nine states to complete their microfilming of top ranked materials and brought six new states into the project.  Phase III provided microfilming funds for three of the states, which finished their bibliographic work in Phase II.  Five new states were added in Phase III, of which three will complete their bibliographic work and filming in this phase.  Phase IV will provide funding for microfilming for two of the states who completed their bibliographic work in Phase III, and for three new states to begin the bibliographic work.

The land-grant publications of 42 states have already been preserved in a cooperative microfilming project led by NAL (component labeled “Land-Grant Publications” in Table 1).  Work completed in this groundbreaking cooperative preservation project is taken into account in the USAIN National Preservation Program and in the proposed NEH project.  Land-grant titles already filmed in the earlier project will be excluded from the current project, and any titles missed in the earlier project will be considered in the current project.  Also, the eight states, which did not film their publications as part of the NAL cooperative project, may do so in the course of this project.

In an entirely separate project, work is well underway on a central component of the National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature, labeled “Core Historical Literature -- Scholarly Monographs and Serials” in Table 1.  For several years, the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University has been working on preservation of the Core Historical Literature of Agriculture.  With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and support from the Hatch Act and the NAL, Wallace C. Olsen directed a major bibliographic effort to identify the most significant, or core, literature of the agricultural sciences published since 1950.  The methodology was adapted to historical literature, principally to assist in developing preservation priorities for materials of national scope and importance.  The core historical literature is being preserved in a series of projects.  Most recently Cornell has completed scanning and producing COM film for 1,250 volumes in agricultural economics and rural sociology that had not been microfilmed.  The two-year project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and directed by Ann Kenney, Associate Director of the Department of Preservation and Conservation at Cornell, tested the feasibility of using digital image technology to create microfilm that will meet national preservation standards for quality and image permanence.  Another 1,000 volumes of the core historical literature were scanned with funding from Title II-C, U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of Sam Demas.  A project to secure permission for national distribution of those titles still under copyright protection is underway with funding from the National Agricultural Library.  The goal of the Core Historical Literature project is to have archival microform for preservation of the entire corpus of over 20,000 volumes, and to distribute nationally in electronic form the full corpus for public access.

With the appointment of Evelyn Frangakis as NAL Preservation Officer and a permanent allocation of funds to establish a preservation program, NAL has commenced work on the components of the plan labeled “Federal Documents” and “Pre-1862 Imprints”.  A new component was added to the National Preservation Program in 1998: an action plan for preservation of the digital publications of the USDA.

A conference on the topic was held and Action Plan for Preserving USDA Digital Publications has been reviewed and augmented.  It has been added to the National Preservation Program, with implementation the responsibility of NAL.  Other elements of the national plan will be advanced by initiatives of the members and by the USAIN Preservation Committee.  Current members are Kay Walters, University of Nebraska (chair), Mary Ochs, Cornell University, Anita Ezzo, Michigan State University, and ex officio:  the USAIN President, Amy Paster, Pennsylvania State University and the NAL Preservation Offices, Evelyn Frangakis.


A 1991 USAIN survey of the status of and need for preservation of agricultural literature revealed that USAIN members assign highest preservation priority among the published parts of the record to materials on local agriculture, agricultural society transactions, and state level publications.  The National Preservation Program calls for each state to preserve its own state and local level publications in a nationally coordinated project.

In light of this priority, the USAIN National Preservation Program Steering Committee selected this component to implement next.  They invited land-grant university libraries to send a representative to a meeting at the Midwinter 1995 meeting of the American Library Association to discuss their interest in participating in the development of a cooperative national project to preserve state and local literature of agriculture, modeled on the pilot project for New York State literature conducted by Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University.  In addition to significantly advancing the national plan, the project would provide experience in implementing a cooperative effort.  Interest in the project was substantial.

Preservation consultant Carolyn Clark Morrow, formerly the Preservation Librarian at Harvard University, was hired by USAIN in spring 1995 to develop the project plan and a proposal for funding in cooperation with nine land-grant university libraries.  That proposal (Phase I) was funded and work commenced in the nine states in July 1996.  Phase II began July 1998 and extended work to include six additional states.  Phase III began in July 2000 and extended to five new states with three states completing the microfilming of the material they identified in Phase II.  Phase IV will extended to three further states and complete the microfilming for two states from Phase III.  If funded, 23 states will have been participants by July 2004.

The national framework to preserve the history of agriculture and rural life in the United States is firmly in place.  The project described in this proposal is an important piece of the national plan.  Its purpose is cooperatively to preserve and improve access to a critical mass of state and local publications in a diverse cross-section of states using the proven methodology originally developed at Cornell University’s Mann Library.  (See Appendix C for an article describing one project.)  The twenty states participating in Phases I, II, and III were selected on the basis of geographic spread, existence of a substantial preservation capability within the land-grant library, willingness to contribute institutional resources and to undertake systematic identification and evaluation of the literature, willingness to commit collection development as well as preservation staff to the project, and ability to undertake cooperation with other libraries in the state as necessary.  The same criteria were used in selecting the three new states for Phase IV.  Section 5 provides a profile of the preservation capabilities and the project staff for each participating state in Phase IV.

At the completion of this proposed funding, twenty-three states across the country will have combined their efforts to make a significant contribution to preservation in an important area documenting American social, cultural, and economic history, including the history of farming as a technology and business, the documentation of rural life and communities, the integration of immigrants into American rural institutions and communities, and the impact of farming on the visual landscape and on ecosystems.  Section 6 provides an overview of the relevant literature documenting agriculture/rural life for each state in Phase IV.

The project will result in the preservation of at least the most important 25-28% of the total universe of publications on each state’s agricultural and rural life heritage in 40% of the states.

Additional outcomes will be to: 1) continue the momentum for the National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature; 2) complete the national Core Historical Agricultural Literature project underway at Cornell (; 3) replicate and adapt the Cornell model for preservation of state literature through the experience of other states; 4) serve as inspiration for additional states to follow suit, thereby building a more complete national picture of the history of agriculture and rural life; and 5) prepare the way for other coordinated projects to meet the goals of the national plan, including unique collections of primary resource materials such as manuscripts, archives, and other non-print collections.

Four states in Phase I have completed their bibliographic and filming work.  Four additional states, California, Florida, Nebraska, and Texas, from Phase I completed their filming in Phase II (April 2001) along with the Phase II states.  Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, and North Dakota completed their filming in Phase III.  North Carolina and Michigan prepared the bibliographies and will complete filming in Phase IV.  Georgia, Illinois, and Ohio will develop their bibliographies in Phase IV.  A Project Managers meeting will be held in Atlanta, in June 2002 to initiate Phase IV and to take stock of lessons learned in conducting the bibliographic and scholarly review components. (see Section 4.3).


The development of a national preservation plan for agricultural literature is consistent with the concept of a discipline-based approach to preservation.  It emphasizes selection of the most important material from the universe of relevant literature, the involvement of scholars in the selection process, and a cooperative approach that acknowledges that the most important materials will be found in more than one library.  The discipline-specific approach to preservation is also based on the fact that society is unlikely to allocate sufficient funds to preserve all of the publications in any given discipline, and that not everything is worthy of preservation.  With a well-developed preservation infrastructure in place, the need to develop and implement intellectually viable, cost-effective strategies for preservation, discipline by discipline, begins to take on greater importance and relevance.

To our knowledge, this is the largest, most systematic, discipline-based, cooperative preservation project ever undertaken.  Scholars involved in the evaluation process are delighted with the opportunity to participate in a systematic process of identifying and setting preservation priorities for this important literature.  Cooperation within and among the states has been excellent, and all indications thus far are that this approach has potential as a model for cooperative preservation in other disciplines.

Grant Proposal, PHASE IV
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