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NMSU library project preserves agricultural history

New Mexico State University agricultural librarian Tim McKimmie is presiding over a literature search to select publications that best represent the scope of New Mexico's agricultural history. The top-ranked titles -- books, brochures, and magazines -- will be preserved on microfilm and listed in a nationwide bibliography.

NMSU librarian Tim McKimmie wants to make sure future generations can read all about New Mexico's agricultural heritage. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

McKimmie says the push for preservation is in response to a growing interest in the nation's agricultural heritage.

"In the need to cling to our history Americans are studying every topic possible," says McKimmie. In New Mexico those topics could range from the social importance of communal irrigation ditches, to how ranchers dealt with drought, to why the railroad promoted farming.

The NMSU library project "Preserving the Literature of the History of New Mexico Agriculture and Rural Life 1820-1945" is funded by a $97,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United States Agricultural Information Network.

New Mexico's preservation project is part of a nationwide effort begun five years ago. Ten states, including neighboring Arizona and Texas, already have completed their microfilming and bibliographic work. New Mexico and nine other states are actively working on their projects. "As time goes by, we hope the other 30 states also will come on board," says McKimmie.

Much of New Mexico's agricultural history can be pieced together from books, journals, and magazines. Because most of these publications are rare and likely fragile, they are housed in the library's special collections section and can't be checked out.

However, today's information technology--on-line catalogs and the worldwide web--makes public access to these materials nearly universal. The task at hand for McKimmie and his research team is to locate and sort through the thousands of titles published between 1820 and 1945 that pertain to New Mexico's agricultural history. The 1820 date was chosen in part because it was the ending date of an earlier documentation project and publications from that period are in greatest need of preservation. The year 1945 was chosen because copyrights from that time would have expired by now, freeing those publications for unrestricted use.

McKimmie is well equipped to select the first round of publications. He holds a degree in sociology, one master's degree in agronomy and plant genetics and another in library science. In addition he spent time in the world of agribusiness working for Northrup King Seeds. In 1990 he came to NMSU's library to take the newly created position of agricultural librarian.

Although similar positions were open at other land grant universities, he chose Las Cruces for its agricultural integrity. "Farmers here still practice on-the-ground farming," he says. It is the type of hands-on farming that makes for interesting history.

History also can prove educational. For example, a 1908 publication titled "Experiments on the Digestibility of Prickly Pear by Cattle" reports the results of feeding cactus to cows during severe drought. "This is information we may have forgotten, but that may prove useful to researchers as we once again face a drought cycle," he says.

In addition, social historians will be able to access magazine articles for first-hand accounts of community life in rural New Mexico one, two, and three generations ago. These articles, says McKimmie, discuss ordinary but historically important topics such as the type of gardens people planted, the politics they practiced, and the games they played.

Once McKimmie has compiled a bibliography of some 5,000 publications, he will turn the list over to an interdisciplinary team of reviewers. They are Kelly Allred, animal and range sciences; Ray Sadler, history; Lois Stanford, sociology and anthropology; and Bob Hart, a historian representing the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The reviewers will rank the titles according to their research value, selecting the top 30 to 50 percent for microfilming.

Two years from now when the project is completed anyone anywhere in the world will be able to borrow microfilm copies of these selected titles. That final collection probably will include every issue of some 20 periodicals and about 500 books.

Photo is available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/mckimmie_tim.jpg.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.
CUTLINE: NMSU librarian Tim McKimmie wants to make sure future generations can read all about New Mexico's agricultural heritage. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

Dec. 20, 2000