The importance of a collaborative network like AGRIS & CARIS and of the centres that participate in it globally, lies in the documentation to which they alone have access. National centres are the storehouse of what is commonly referred to as traditional knowledge, the legacy of experience over time in agriculture and the sciences, in the fight to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of living.
We should always remind ourselves of why we are maintaining a network of information collection, conservation and dissemination. The knowledge contained in the resources that are indexed and inputted to the national and central AGRIS database empower the policy and decision-makers, the agriculturalists, extension workers, researchers and scientists to strengthen their efforts towards food security and sustainable development. Good quality information can and does improve the quality of life itself.
Resources covered by the AGRIS centres – illustrations, reports, theses, manuals etc. – have been produced locally over time, and are often unavailable nowadays. Even if they were printed at some point, they are more than likely to be out of print now. Financial and human resources are everywhere at a minimum and many institutions in the developed and developing world hold the last copy in existence of numerous subject-specific publications.
Electronic publishing has brought both new opportunities and new problems to users, but in the field of rare or limited publications it represents the gateway to accessibility. These documents can be scanned and reproduced on-line for everyone to consult. Even when they are in such a physical state that reprinting would do more harm than good, a document can be scanned and published on-line. These are the unique resources which the AGRIS resource centres are in a position to offer to the agricultural community in the world: printed references for the researcher, extension worker, scientist and student. Making them available on line wherever possible perpetuates man’s knowledge of agricultural systems in any given area, through access to a wealth of invaluable information derived from generations of practical experience.
The continuing transmission of this knowledge will empower the users of this information in their efforts to achieve sustainable development. It will also, albeit much more slowly, help to narrow the “digital divide”, because although many countries will not be able to benefit from the advantages of technological progress for a long time to come, they will nevertheless be able to access printouts of the publications which are added to the AGRIS database, just by visiting or even writing to the national AGRIS centre.
The selection process is of primary importance for all AGRIS resource centres. The centres are responsible for collecting all relevant material published within their territory in the field of agriculture.
The contents of a documentary unit are, and should be, of general interest and the publications it holds should be obtainable. Therefore the following items should be excluded:
- a very short article on original taxonomic description
- a case study in veterinary medicine
- notes on projects in progress
- summaries of theses or conference papers if full length work is not available
- obituaries of outstanding scholars especially when they include a bibliography on a subject about which little has been published
In some cases, when the contents of a document are treated seriously and in depth, also include:
With reference to extension literature the following general criteria are suggested:
Since it is difficult to apply uniform selection criteria for extension literature on a worldwide scale, always apply the same criteria of usefulness, date limits, etc., described in the previous and following paragraphs, i.e. include:
The scope of AGRIS has been extended to include all forms of electronic publishing: databases, Web pages, national portals on scientific and technical information on Agriculture. To recapitulate: the breadth of input to AGRIS is increasing to cover specialized and relevant local information, pertinent to agricultural sciences and technology, but without losing sight of its focus. This increase of scope would allow for more technical and scientific coverage.
The new specifications are proposed in the light of many pressing issues, some of which are: a greater need for sending data in XML format; less willingness to send data in ISO2709 format; and rapid developments in technologies which allow for the searching of multiple databases.
The changes are made with the users in mind: what are they searching for? It became clear that some of the entries in the AGRIS data entry form are created for cross-checking, some are created principally with non-electronic resources in mind and the data structure was mainly flat and could not immediately be applied to the more popular and practical relational databases.
The current format of the specifications can be used for storing information in XML, RDF as well as for storing in relational databases.