D-Lib Magazine
October 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

National Library of Energy Science and Technology

Karen J. Spence
U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Assistant Manager for Program Direction and Information Access
P.O. Box 62
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831 USA
[email protected]


The Department of Energy (DOE) and its supporting national laboratory and other research facilities is a complex, diverse, and decentralized organization. Much of the public does not recognize the Department as a major federal research and development (R&D) agency and a significant contributor to the world's scientific and technical information knowledge base. As a result, the valuable information generated by DOE and its predecessor agencies' R&D activities is often overlooked and underutilized. The statutorily mandated need for the Department to make its contributions visible and available to the public was reinforced by Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson's recent confirmation remarks when he stated that "I want the American people to know the Department is working for them." To this end, the DOE should commit to making DOE program and R&D information available electronically via the World Wide Web, thereby enhancing its visibility. The establishment of a digital National Library of Energy Science and Technology is a key initiative that the Department is pursuing to achieve the Secretary's vision.

Program Description

The National Library of Energy Science and Technology will collect, organize, preserve, and disseminate (1) scientific and technical information, the principal product resulting from the multi-billion dollar R&D program, (2) program information, (3) energy-related educational information, and (4) energy production and utilization information and statistics, regardless of the source, platform, or format on which these information sources reside. The National Library will serve the Department, other government agencies, and U.S. industry, business, and educational communities with immediate and comprehensive information, a commodity which is a cornerstone to retaining U.S. leadership in the world economy in the 21st Century. In addition to U.S. domestic information, the National Library program will also provide access to worldwide energy scientific and technical information through interagency and international scientific and technical information exchange agreements. Other industrialized nations are also investing in energy R&D, and the resulting technical information is globally recognized as a valuable commodity that can be exchanged in order to save taxpayer dollars and avoid duplicative research. Representing DOE and the United States in international exchange agreements, the National Library program will acquire foreign research records annually for use by the domestic science community.

The Foundation

For more than 50 years, the Office of Scientific and Technical Information has provided leadership for the DOE community in making scientific and technical information available worldwide. Recent collaborative efforts with the scientific and technical information managers at all of the DOE facilities have positioned the Department to capitalize on emerging technologies to advance electronic information sharing. Many DOE organizations already have made considerable progress in making information electronically accessible. A suite of Internet tools, collectively called EnergyFiles, (, already makes these broad scientific and technical information collections, related resources, and other reference materials, electronic journals, bibliographic references, full text documents, and many other resources available. Related successes include: the DOE Information Bridge ( which provides free public access to nearly 30,000 DOE R&D full-text reports with 2 million pages of searchable text; DOE R&D Project Summaries (, a publicly available Internet system that describes over 15,000 DOE R&D projects initiated since 1995; and many other websites developed by the Department's Programs which provide useful collections of scientific, technical, public affairs, and educational information.

These individual successes and their enabling technologies, along with the multitude of those throughout the DOE complex not identified in this paper, lay the foundation for a National Library of Energy Science and Technology and are a step in achieving Secretary Richardson's vision. This foundation already provides the core or base for the National Library. It can be built upon by bringing together, for seamless one-stop customer access, this information plus the wealth of other program, statistical, public, educational, and consumer information sources that exist. However, the current situation wherein disparate DOE organizations host islands of information, without having the whole searchable or retrievable by topic, is unlikely to satisfy customer needs nor achieve the full benefits of openness. For example, a customer seeking waste management information should have easy access to R&D (e.g., glassification projects from the Office of Environmental Management), laws and law suits (information from the Office of General Counsel), assessments of leaky tanks (information from the Office of Environment Safety and Health), and other information (potentially distributed throughout the National Laboratories) without having to first discover each organization that owns that information. Customers seek information about topics of concern to them and should not have to assimilate the DOE organization chart to get it.

By adopting the goal of making DOE and program information available electronically via the World Wide Web, DOE has the opportunity to create a network of knowledge encompassing much of the physical sciences and accessible via a single entry point using distributed searching capabilities. Continued collaboration and coordination of information and Internet operations across DOE are necessary for this envisioned success. Technology advancements alone will not lead to such capability, but must be coupled with collaborative resource investments and annual incremental funding of this initiative. The various requirements and attributes of this National Library of Energy Science and Technology initiative are defined more specifically in the remainder of this paper.

Program Objectives

Objectives of the National Library of Energy Science and Technology would include:

Features of the National Library

The National Library program represents a continuing radical transition to state-of-the-art information technology and skills. Working in partnership across the DOE complex, the National Library program would achieve the objectives stated above and provide a wealth of information services including:

Potential Performance Measures

Government and industry organizations are now increasingly focused on measuring performance. Some of this new focus is attributable to the Government Performance and Results Act and some simply to survival and good business practices. As new initiatives like the National Library of Energy Science and Technology are undertaken, it is important to develop performance measures to provide accountability of results, intelligence for decision-making, opportunities for continuous improvement, and useful data that can lead to positive changes in customer service. As a starting point, the following potential performance measures have been identified, are linked closely with the previously identified program objectives, and could be implemented for the National Library of Energy Science and Technology:

Significant Benefits

Many benefits of a National Library of Energy Science and Technology are envisioned. Perhaps the most significant is the ability to build upon existing enabling tools and technologies to put together an easily accessed, virtual, and comprehensive collection of energy-related information for a diverse user community. More specific benefits include:

As technology and common standards advance, it becomes more timely and economical to exchange information in electronic media. While it is necessary for the Department to maintain a centralized point of coordination (the Office of Scientific and Technical Information) for this electronic infrastructure (for policy, standards, archiving, etc.), Departmental elements in coordination with the National Library program will realize efficiencies in information technology, management, printing, and publishing as a result of Department-wide electronic exchange, while public customers will benefit from more timely access to government-sponsored information...a direct return on taxpayer investments.

Scientific research is a cumulative and synergistic process where continued advances are dependent on previous research findings. The pace of these advances is largely dependent on researchers' and librarians' ability to locate and retrieve information pertinent to their research areas. While scientific journal articles and technical reports always cite references, locating and retrieving the full text of these references has historically been an additional, time-consuming step in the information search and possible only on the premises of major science libraries. The technology is now available to build electronic hyperlinks to the full-text referenced sources, taking a tiny fraction of the time of traditional searches and taking the labor out of learning. This capability, which is already being capitalized on in the life sciences at the National Library of Medicine, makes hyperlinks between electronic bibliographic systems and journal publishers' web sites containing full-text articles. The National Library program will bring the same capability to the physical sciences community, of major concern and great benefit to DOE and its customers to assure continued scientific discovery without duplication of research.

The National Library program will aggressively pursue agreements for the widespread availability of electronic science journals, thereby saving the Department and other user communities the cost of multiple paper-based subscriptions. Electronic journal agreements are estimated to save the Department alone $8,000,000 annually. Much progress had already been achieved in making core science journals available.

To complete the foundation of a National Library program, information collections residing at DOE sites (20 plus labs and other research entities) must be linked and searchable with a single inquiry. This will be achieved through technology and standards capable of searching across multiple platforms and formats. Customers benefit by not having to know and understand the complexities of the DOE organization in order to find needed information.

While the focus of the National Library program is on electronic access to distributed energy information collections, the National Library operating agent (located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee) is proud to be the one place in the world where the Department's entire collection of scientific and technical information can be found. With the transition to the electronic information age, the repository function for the nation's energy-related science base must adapt to the new media. Interagency standards and agreements must be developed, adopted, and implemented while conserving resources and promoting information access and retrievability.

Resource Requirements

Average annual budget requirements for other U.S. National Libraries (Medicine ~$140 million -- includes some research funding; Agriculture ~$21 million; and Education ~$20 million) were reviewed and compared to the objectives of a National Library of Energy Science and Technology. As a result, preliminary annual investment estimates for the National Library of Energy Science and Technology equate to approximately $20 million. These funds would be allocated to the Office of Scientific and Technical Information as the operating agent and leader of this initiative. The Office of Scientific and Technical Information would then re-distribute the funds as needed throughout the DOE laboratory complex to achieve the objectives of the National Library of Energy Science and Technology and the vision of an informed public.

Unresolved Issues

The development of a National Library of Energy Science and Technology requires the resolution of many challenging technical and administrative issues. These challenges are significant and include such issues as: working with physically decentralized information resources, maintaining identity of individual contributors and partners, technology for effective user interfaces and search engines, legislative requirements for National Library status, creating and operating virtual reference desks, funding, and many more. However, the Department's recent achievements in working collaboratively to improve access to its scientific and technical information, along with the enabling tools and technologies already available, lay the foundation for continued cooperative and collaborative efforts. In fact, there is great potential for working with other government agencies to leverage ongoing research projects (like those funded by the National Science Foundation) and perhaps even to leverage resources (like those of the Government Printing Office and National Technical Information Service for public service capabilities). While these challenges are significant, the potential results of a National Library of Energy Science and Technology far outweigh resource investments


For additional information about the National Library of Energy Science and Technology or the DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information, please contact:

Walter L. Warnick, PhD., Director
Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Germantown, Maryland
(301) 903-7996
[email protected]


Karen J. Spence, Assistant Manager
Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
(423) 574-0295
[email protected]

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Correction made to html code, The Editor, October 16, 1998 7:48 AM.

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