Mission and History

Our Mission

The mission of the NOAA Library and Information Services (LISD) is to ensure the delivery of scientific, technical, and legislative information to users. The library's users include NOAA staff, general public, academia, industry, and other government agencies. The principal resource for accomplishing this mission is a research collection with a comprehensive coverage of:

  • hydrographic surveying (from 1820)
  • oceanography, meteorology, and hydrology (from 1870)
  • living marine resources (from 1970 with selected coverage from 1870), and
  • meteorological satellite applications (from 1960).

The library traces its origin to the collection started by F.R. Hassler, the first Superintendent of the Coast Survey, a few years after that agency was established in 1807 (making it the oldest scientific agency in the United States). The library incorporates the holdings of the agencies that preceded NOAA - notably the Coast and Geodetic Survey Library, and the Bureau of Fisheries Holdings - and reflects many organizational and program changes that have occurred.

What Makes NOAA Central Library Unique?

Historical Aspects: The library has an extensive collection of historical Coast and Geodetic Survey materials (from 1807) and Weather Bureau materials (from the 1830's), including foreign meteorological data. These materials include historical meteorological data, information on instruments, and metadata. Most of these materials are found nowhere else in the world. These materials have proved critical for NOAA studies of previous weather and oceanographic conditions. Recent examples include research on the 1982-3 El Niño, development of a flood model for the Nile River, and predictions of 1993 mid-west floods.

Multidisciplinary Nature: The NOAA Central Library's collection is multidisciplinary to serve the needs of NOAA, a multidisciplinary agency. The disciplines include oceanography, ocean engineering, marine resources, ecosystems, coastal studies, atmospheric sciences (climatology and meteorology), geodesy, geophysics, cartography, mathematics, and statistics. This library's mission is therefore different from that of other libraries, which tend to collect in only a single, or limited number of disciplines. The collection enables "one-stop" reference service for ecosystems studies and other interdependent, multidisciplinary studies.

Content of Collection: As evidenced by a search of international catalogs, 35-50% of the Library's collection is unique. Historically, 40% of the items catalogued are not found anywhere else. Many older books cannot be replaced. They are very valuable, but a specific monetary value has not been placed on them. The works include 17th century works of Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle; 18th century works of Daniel Bernouilli, Daniel Defoe, and Pierre Bougher; and 19th and 20th century works of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington Carver.

Historical Local Climate Data: The NOAA Central Library has a collection of Local Climate Data from all states, in many instances from prior to the turn of the century. In most libraries, these data are available only for the last five years.

NOAA Central Library and Information Network: The Central Library is networked to the NOAA regional and field libraries and has access to their specialized collections. This is particularly important because many items in those collections are not catalogued and therefore not available except through the personal knowledge of the librarian at the site. The depth afforded by these joint collections gives the library a status that few other libraries enjoy. This network allows us to interact with other major information sources, such as the Chinese Government and the Aquatic Science and Fisheries Information Service (ASFIS). The Library has had recent interactions with the Chinese Fisheries and Aquaculture Institutes. ASFIS produces the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA). The Library, as the official United States representative to ASFIS, is responsible for including publication from the entire United States into the ASFA database.

Gray Literature Collection: The NOAA Central Library has the most extensive collection of the agency's gray literature publications. These publications include technical memoranda, reports, circulars, and in-house publications.

Community Outreach: Professors of atmospheric sciences from the University of Maryland include, in their course outlines, reference and research materials available only at the NOAA Central Library. Although much of the collection is above the high school level, the library has been and continues to interact with high-school teachers and exceptional students to give them unprecedented access to a major library.

Time Line: Library Milestones

1807: Survey of the Coast established

1811: Coast & Geodetic Survey Library established

1870: U.S. Weather Bureau and U.S. Fisheries Commission established

1871: Weather Bureau Library started

1965: ESSA/Environmental Data Service (EDS) established

1966: Scientific Information Documentation Division established

1970: NOAA formed

1977: Atmospheric Sciences and Marine & Earth Sciences Libraries merged

1978: EDS renamed Environmental Data and Information Service (EDIS)

1978: Library and Information Services Division (LISD) established to manage NOAA Library System

1988: Library operations contract awarded

1989: LISD becomes a component of NODC

1993: NOAA Central Library moves to NOAA office complex in Silver Spring, MD.

1995: NOAA Central Library WWW site created