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Magazines > Information Today > January 2004
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Information Today
Vol. 21 No. 1 — January 2004
In Other Words
Buy the Farm, Pick the Pol, and Hold the List
By Lauree Padgett

It's January. And you know what that means: It's prediction time. As I write this, New Jersey has had its first major snowfall of the season. The weather forecasters started saying the "s" word early in the week. As usual, predicted amounts changed daily. And then on Thursday, the night the snow was to start, it seemed that every half-hour the live Doppler radar was showing some different weather development.

My dad, who probably missed his calling as a meteorologist, phoned from Florida to see how I was liking the "blizzard," as his local weather channel called it. He was amazed when I told him that it was only snowing lightly and total accumulations for the day were expected to be 1 to 3 inches. The way I see it, predictions for 2004 are about as reliable as snow forecasts. Consequently, I'm not making any of my own—except to say that you're going to really like the articles I've picked out this month.

Crossing Over

Most libraries have two separate holdings catalogs: one for the local holdings, the other for full text. This means that patrons who are searching for a specific title have to scour two different lists. Karen Coombs, information technology and instruction librarian at the State University of New York­Cortland, decided to tackle this problem. She chronicles her story in "Reaching the Crossroads of Two Lists for Periodicals Holdings" (Computers in Libraries, January 2004, p. 14).

Coombs' goal was to create a single interface that would allow users to search all holdings—electronic, print, or microform—at once. Since XML lists for both sets of holdings were available, she decided to use XML as her mode of operation. XML also gave Coombs the flexibility to easily tweak the look of a given page. And she knew that learning XML would be of great use for future library applications. Coombs writes: "After reading, researching, and experimenting, I discovered that there are several components needed to display XML on the Web": the XML file; the XSL (eXtensible Stylesheet Language) file; and the parser, which reads and displays the file. The last component is a Web programming language.

After selecting and testing the parser and code, Coombs was ready to develop her XSL file. A big challenge here was designing an interface that would accommodate a variety of search options. The final task proved to be the hardest: combining the electronic and print/microform holdings lists.

Coombs' key to victory was making the two lists "appear" to be one on the Web by linking two pieces of data: the ISSN number and title. This link enables library patrons to move seamlessly from one list to the other without even knowing it. The searchable list went live in October 2003, 6 months after the project began. The favorable responses from faculty and students have convinced Coombs that her time was well-spent.

Oh, Crop!

Founded in 1862, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the third-largest civilian department of the government, with 100,000 employees spread over all 50 states and 60 countries. In "Harvesting USDA's Agricultural Information" (ONLINE, January/February 2004, p. 16), Matthew McBride focuses on two of the USDA's executive offices as well as its seven primary mission areas.

The USDA Office of Communications publishes a variety of informative titles. One of the most useful is its annual USDA Agricultural Fact Book, which chronicles the current and historical state of agriculture and the USDA. The Office of the Chief Economist advises the Secretary of Agriculture on programs and policies that affect U.S. agriculture. It also produces the department's commodity and farm-sector forecasts. You can find the data used in these analyses at the USDA Economics and Statistics System Web site
(http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/data-sets/baseline).

McBride summarizes the types of information available from the seven primary mission areas. Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services aims to keep American farmers "growing" through uncertain weather and economic times. The Office of Food Safety oversees the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which ensures the quality of meat, poultry, and eggs. Natural Resources and Environment, which is concerned with sustainable land management, includes the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The mission of the Rural Development area is to improve the economy and quality of life for residents in rural America. Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services offers programs that deal with food nutrition and assistance. Marketing and Regulation Programs facilitate the marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensure the health of U.S. animals and plants. Research, Education, and Economics provides research, analysis, and data for consumers and promotes agricultural productivity and sustainability.

Overall, McBride gives the USDA and its related sites two green thumbs up. Reading his article will give you more specific areas to dig into for all kinds of agricultural information.

Candidate Clamor

Another lost cause—although way too many pundits will attempt it—is predicting the outcome of November's presidential election. However, if you just want sites to help you get a handle on the different candidates, be they Republican (yes, George W. has party competition), Democrat, or third-party, Irene McDermott's Internet Express column (Searcher, January 2004, p. 18), "One Little, Two Little, Three Little Candidates," is a good place to start. While McDermott confesses she's still suffering from "post-traumatic election syndrome" flare-ups from the results of the 2000 presidential race, she tries her best to give all sides equal coverage.

To start, McDermott recommends a number of good overview sites, such as CNN's American Votes 2004: Presidential Primary Preview; C-SPAN.org's "Road to the White House" weekly series; and Democracy in Action: P2004, which she calls "a great site with lots of detailed information on all of the leading 2004 presidential candidates."

If you're a primary watcher, you'll want to go to the NHPrimary.com site. Haven't been able to wade through all the Democratic presidential wannabes to find out who agrees most with your ideology? McDermott suggests a visit to SelectSmart.com. There, you can answer a list of 20 questions, press a button, and find out which candidate you agree with most on major issues. Finally, McDermott provides the official Web sites for 10 of the top candidates and even throws in a conservative site for good measure.

OK, Maybe One ...

Well, I'm done. And with so much time to spare, maybe I can make one prediction: My editor will faint when I turn in my column 2 days early. Think I'd better bring along some smelling salts.

 


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is lpadgett@infotoday.com.
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