23 August 2006

Of infobaskets, infocenters and ag libraries: How Canada makes aginfo accessible

While all countries share quite similar agricultural information aims and objectives, there are many differences in the strategies and tools by which agricultural information is organized and made accessible. Surfing across the Canadian aginfo web, you can only be impressed by the quantity of interesting information resources that is available, as well as the diverse and creative ways to make them accessible.

Let's start with the Canadian Agriculture Library (CAL) which is a focal point for the Federal Government's efforts. Its services include AgriCat - national union catalogue; AgriWeb Canada - national directory of Canadian agriculture and agri-food information resources available via the Internet; document delivery (together with CISTI); and 'ask a librarian' - which brings you in contact with librarians spread across the country. The CAL was founded in 1910 and anyone interested in its early history should read the story of the first 60 years (from 1971).

The CAL parent ministry - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) - provides information, research and technology, and policies and programs to achieve security of the food system, health of the environment and innovation for growth. It does this in partnership with 'portfolio partners' including agricultural ministries of Canada's provinces and territories - who each offer access to agricultural information through their web sites and gateways.

Surfing these sites, it is very interesting to see how they present agricultural information of all types (news, policy, reports, data, weather, prices etc). Some provinces give additional emphasis to their information services: Saskatchewan has an agricultural knowledge centre with knowledgeable resource agents and specialists able to provide information on a broad range of topics. Ontario has an agricultural information contact centre where agents respond to farm, agri-business and rural business inquiries.

Most interesting perhaps in British Columbia whose InfoBasket is a 'one-stop shop for Agri-food information on the Internet'. It is particularly interesting as it is organized into areas of interest called 'communities' (agroforestry, beef, etc) in which all kinds of information is collected - for example, production and processing, business management, marketing, regulations, directories, key contacts, market data, alerts, hot topics and a calendar of events. While the communities are perhaps little different from the subject sections on other portals the idea that readers/users identify with their community space is an attractive one.

Another resource is the Canadian Rural Information Service (CRIS). This is a 'clearinghouse' for information relevant to rural Canada covering subjects like rural renewal, literacy, rural tourism, community development, and opportunities for rural youth. The librarians at CRIS provide reference and referral services, pathfinders on various topics, customized information on specific subjects, and news on rural issues; these are delivered online, and by telephone, fax, or mail. The Information Service is complemented by some other activities - notably electronic dialogues where citizens can engage with government.

These efforts are impressive and probably only give a partial picture of mainly governmental activities. Such surfing shows just what a vast amount of information is available in a large country like Canada; also the wide array of gateways, portals, and information services that have been put together to organize and make this information more accessible.




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