I am concerned about one specific sentence in your recent posting to the
SANET message group regarding the work of Lara Wiggert. You stated that
"The National Agricultural Library, as a USDA agency, supports current policy
pertaining to recombinant bovine somatotropin."
It is clear that SOME employees of USDA FORMULATE policy, and that many USDA
employees IMPLEMENT policy. (It might be appropriate to say that the work of
ALL USDA employees consists of implementing one or more governmental policies.)
However, NAL is not charged with implementing USDA policy regarding bst, and
it's not clear to me that there is any need for NAL, even as a USDA agency, to
SUPPORT current policy.
In fact, it seems to me that NAL should have a special obligation to remain
neutral on policy questions. Such a posture should be based partly on the
recognition that policy is always made based on current -- i.e., incomplete --
information, and that one of the functions of a library is to provide the
information base which can allow policy to be updated. This function is better
served if NAL perceives no obligation to support any particular USDA policy
other than the (implicit or perhaps explicit) policy of providing information
access which led to the creation of the Library.
The other unit within USDA which I believe has a special responsibility for
neutrality on policy matters is the Extension Service. Although Extension
specialists can appropriately recommend which of several alternative products
or methods will serve a farmer's needs in a particular situation, Extension's
public policy educators have long recognized the necessity of remaining neutral
with regard to public policy questions. (This has been alternatively
formulated as a need for objectivity or balance.) Such a posture acknowledges
that it is the voting public, their elected representatives, and agency policy-
makers who make public policy choices. Such a posture also maintain
Extension's reputation for neutrality in public policy matters which is
essential for acceptance of a similar Extension educational role in the future.
The distinction between public and private choices is not fully understood or
appreciated. And it may be that once a policy is set forth (about bst, for
example), that the Extenion posture may seem to shift when the role shifts from
policy education to technical implementation, but these realities do not make
the underlying principle of neutrality any less worthy.
I am currently involved in several staff development projects for the
Cooperative Extension System designed to broaden Extension's long-standing
role in public policy education, under the new label, "public issues
education." In this new work, we have been faithful to the longstanding
commitment to neutrality in policy matters..
It seems to me that there is a close parallel between Extension's role in
education and information dissemination, and that of the NAL. I urge you
to consider that NAL and Extension BOTH need to hold fast to a principle of
neutrality on matters of public policy, as an essential prerequisite to
carrying out the missions which public policy has called upon them to fulfill.
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