November 7, 2003

Mann Library Creates AGORA

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An online collection of up-to-date agricultural journals will now be available to scientists in third-world and developing countries, thanks to a program developed at Mann Library under the direction of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Unveiled at the FAO headquarters in Rome on Oct. 14, Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA) is the second major online scientific database used to help scientists with inadequate research materials; the first one, started by the World Health Organization, focuses on medical research.

AGORA allows scientists, researchers and students in countries with a per-capita income of less than $1,000 to access over 400 journals with subjects ranging from soil science to pest control. Countries that are eligible for free AGORA access are mostly in Africa but also include Afghanistan, Albania, Georgia, Haiti, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Yemen. There are nearly 70 countries currently eligible for the program.

Funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and the WHO, AGORA is much like another Cornell-created computer-based agricultural database known as The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL). TEEAL, referred to as a “library in a box,” is made up of scores of CD-ROMs of recent agricultural and life-science journals with updated editions released annually.

When it was confirmed that many TEEAL subscribers had access to the Internet, Mann Library administrators approached the FAO about creating an Internet-based system similar to the one already in use.

“This is an essential thing for scientific education all over the world,” said Prof. Bob Herdt ’67, applied economics and management. Herdt is a member of the advisory boards for both TEEAL and AGORA.

Nearly 85 research institutions and universities can now log in to the AGORA database and search specific journals. Some of these institutions have been without relevant journals for nearly a decade, due to war or lack of funds.

“It was a major stumbling block for scientists not to have access to this literature,” said Olivia Vent, outreach coordinator for TEEAL and AGORA.

Mary Ochs, head of collection development at Mann Library and the information management specialist for AGORA, helps coordinate the program with the FAO. She said they hope to expand the database to 600 journals by next year, with a total wish list of 800 titles. The only limiting factor that could prevent AGORA from spreading further is a lack of Internet connectivity in some of the less-developed countries and field locations, Ochs explained, since most agricultural research institutes are not in urban areas with consistent electricity.

There is a “global understanding that more needs to be done for these low-income countries,” Vent said. She cited this as the reason why publishers have agreed to post their journals on the site for free. Cooperating publishers include Lippincott, Oxford University Press and Blackwell Publishing.

“Mann is the leading agricultural university library in the world,” Herdt said.

The University is involved in international agricultural development and has had an especially “longstanding tradition of supporting agriculture in developing countries,” Vent said.

Worldwide response to AGORA has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 20 institutions signed up within the first week.

“The day we launched, the e-mails started pouring in,” Ochs said.

“It is an exciting reality” to have access to these journals, wrote Prof. L. M. Mumera of Egerton University in Kenya, who was one of the first people to receive a username and password to access the system.


Archived article by Melissa Korn