e- is for Animals: Building a Digital Library for the Animal Welfare Information Center

by Kathryn Gucer

Since 1985, the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC, (https://awic.nal.usda.gov/) at the National Agricultural Library (NAL) in Beltsville, MD, has been fulfilling its mandate under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) “to provide information for improved animal care and use in research, testing, and teaching.”  Under the AWA, investigators must show that alternatives to procedures that cause more than momentary pain or distress to animals must have been considered before they conduct research.

As the iSchool’s Digital Curation Fellow at AWIC, I’ve been helping the center create an online library containing materials to help serve this research need: the Animal Welfare Act History Digital Collection. This will be an extensive, searchable, and flexible tool that will be at the fingertips of researchers across the United States seeking to comply with the AWA. Our base collection will contain documents produced by the US government, such as public laws, congressional hearings, and regulatory notices.

But as the collection expands, we will also include unusual and interesting items held by the National Agricultural Library, such as Fifty Years a Veterinary Surgeon by Sir Frederick Hobday (London, 1938; NAL call number: 41 H653F).  Hobday, an English veterinarian in the period between the First and Second World Wars, was known for his creative ways of handling problems, including building prostheses for dogs.  I drew the image of the dog with “an artificial limb of silver and vulcanite with complete flexible and false paw” from this memoir. Hobday’s fascinating book and others like it lead us to believe that our collection will ultimately reach a wider audience than scientists. We hope that the collection will promote an awareness of animal welfare and the issues in research on animals among the public.

dog with “an artificial limb of silver and vulcanite with complete flexible and false paw”

Dog with “an artificial limb of silver and vulcanite with complete flexible and false paw.”

The launch date of the Animal Welfare Act History Digital Collection will be August 24, 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the AWA. But right now this collection is a work in progress and the process of compiling it will be interesting to the archivists, librarians, and other information professionals who’ll be visiting ARCLab.  With this interest in mind, I’ll be contributing to the ARCLab blog from time to time as the project unfolds this year, with the aim of discussing such topics as the making of physical documents into digital files, creating metadata for a specialized digital library, and defining the scope of a nascent collection. Stay tuned!

About Katie Gucer

I am a scholar of information networks, past and present. As a member of the ARCLab team, I work on several projects in digital curation for the National Agricultural Library. I am building a Drupal-based digital library of historical materials illuminating the history of the Animal Welfare Act for the Animal Welfare Information Center (https://www.nal.usda.gov/awic). This two-year project incorporates a user study and serves as a catalyst for NAL to review and revise its broader digitization workflows and policies. I also study the production and dissemination if of practical knowledge in early modern England and Europe. My current book project, Web of Exiles, examines cross-cultural information exchange in 1582-1685, a taste of which can be had here: http://collation.folger.edu/2013/01/the-folgers-mazarinades-libraries-within-libraries/

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