Relatively little research on the role of information in rural industries and the information needs of workers in these industries hampers the design of information services in general -- and the development of digital libraries, in particular -- to serve this population. This paper provides results from a project, conducted in 1995 with the cooperation of the industry association Red Angus of America, which investigated ranchers' access to computing technology and their use of networked information services as an information acquisition strategy. Results from a national survey of 1600 members of the Red Angus show that the "electronic" or "digital" ranch is in the early stages of development as "early adopters" begin to use networked information services. Implications are derived for the development of digital libraries for cattle ranchers.
2. Related Studies
3. Cattle Ranchers
4. Research Questions
5. Data Collection
This paper reports findings from a study, which investigated the information needs of cattle ranchers, a major rural industry group, and their use of computing and network technologies as a possible means of meeting some or all of these needs. Computer networks can offer ranchers access to remote information sources and opportunities for the dispersed population to communicate via electronic mail and bulletin boards. The aim of the study was to provide data on the current use of computer networks by cattle ranchers -- the state of development of the "electronic" or "digital" ranch -- and investigate factors associated with network use.
We are living in an emerging information society, where access to information, particularly information in digital form, is becoming ever more important. Substantial public investment in the nation's telecommunications, computing, and information infrastructure through such programs as the funding the Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI) aim to facilitate technology transfer, increase research and development (R&D) and improve U.S. industrial competitiveness and productivity. But much of the digital libraries research is being conducted in academic environments, and there is a serious need to understand how information is embedded in the daily lives of the broad population of users. Moreover, the digital library and information infrastructure requirements of agricultural industries are an important area requiring further research . The development of effective computer networks and information services, digital libraries, and policies governing their implementation and use, depends on a good knowledge of users' needs and requirements. This knowledge includes understanding the impacts and outcomes of networked information on the cattle industry's productivity as well as on its potential place in ranchers' culture, characterized by a dispersed population with specific and sophisticated information requirements. Until now, few researchers have examined the information needs and information seeking patterns among ranching industry groups and little data exists regarding the role computer networks are beginning to play in ranching work, productivity and social life.
A small but growing body of empirical studies has investigated the role of information in the resolution of human problems and the human process of information seeking. Previous studies have investigated the information-seeking behavior of retired women , battered women , students and library users , health workers [5, 6], and university researchers . Researchers have proposed models of human information-seeking processes and the role of information in human problem solving [8, 4]. Moreover, many studies have examined the role of public libraries in the provision of information services for rural communities [9, 10, 11].
Some empirical research has also examined the characteristics, use and effects of computer network use [12, 13]. For example, Bishop  found that computer networks are used widely by aerospace engineers, and contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of their work tasks. But although the role of computer networks in rural communities has also been studied [1,14, 15], little is known about the use of computer networks by the ranching industry, a major domestic and export industry.
Cattle ranching is a complex information and communication activity requiring ranchers to access diverse sources of information to support a broad range of ranching tasks and activities: purchasing bulls (or bull semen, e.g., http://www.ccp.com/~angus/journal/96_049pr/semen.htm) or heifers; breeding cattle; following commodities markets (e.g., beef sales, feed); and acquiring financial, veterinary, and medical; monitoring weather forecasts, which affects feed and feed prices as well as decisions on pasturage and grazing. Also, the types of information and communication services cattle ranchers need, including information-seeking patterns and network use by cattle ranchers, follow seasonal patterns with the changing tasks associated with cattle breeding, feeding and slaughter. The proliferation of personal computers, the growth of the Internet, and accompanying development of information and communication services, has given cattle ranchers potential access to many new services. We need to explore the types of computer technology and networks that cattle ranchers access and for what reasons, e.g., to support ranching tasks or to reduce the barriers of rural isolation.
The cattle industry is currently concerned about preserving the ranching way of life within the evolving information society, developing closer ranching coalitions, and lobbying government regarding regulations related to food safety, the environment, and international trade. The project discussed in this paper provides a significant contribution to the ranching initiative. The issues of concern to the ranching industry involve the distribution of information (governmental, commercial, or industry) and the need for increased communication within the ranching industry. The use of computer networks and services, including information databases, E-mail, electronic bulletin boards and other appropriate services, could contribute to preserving the ranching way of life and the creation an integrated coalition of ranchers through the development of an electronic ranching community. This paper also explores the state of development of the electronic ranching community or "digital ranch."
The results of the study also contribute directly to goals of the Red Angus Association's Strategic Mission 2000 to improve the provision of information and education to their members. The study provides pointers to new types of information services, networks or network features, and digital libraries for cattle ranchers. Understanding the relationships among ranchers' information-seeking behavior, network use, work, and communication tasks will allow the impact of information services and electronic networks on the productivity of cattle ranchers to be assessed. The results also provide valuable data on the information requirements of cattle ranchers and suggest possible information-seeking patterns and network use by other types of ranchers and related agricultural groups, e.g., farmers. The results are useful for librarians, including the Texas State Library and local public libraries, who are responsible for the provision of network-based and long distance information services to rural communities. Information science researchers will also be provided with valuable data to develop and enhance theoretical models of information seeking and use, network usage, and adoption of technological innovations.
The study reported in this paper was guided by the following research questions:
1) What types of information do ranchers need to
support their work tasks?
2) What are the patterns of information-seeking exhibited by cattle ranchers?
3) What types of computer technology and networks are currently used by cattle ranchers?
4) What tasks and communication activities do cattle ranchers use computer networks to support?
5) What are the impacts of network use on cattle ranchers' work tasks and communications?
6) What is the current stage of development of the electronic ranching community?
7) What are the characteristics of cattle ranchers who are "early adopters" of networked information?
A survey instrument was designed using examples of
previous surveys of network usage  and
information needs [5, 6], and pretested during summer 1995 with
the Executive Secretary of the Red Angus Association of America,
Dr. Dick Gilbert and his staff. The Red Angus Association of America
is a national association of sixteen hundred Red Angus cattle
breeders from 47 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, headquartered
in Denton, Texas. The association is dedicated to promoting and
improving the breeding, feeding and marketing of Red Angus cattle
 and maintains a computerized registry
of Red Angus breeding information.
The survey instrument with a cover letter from the Executive Director of the Red Angus was mailed to the 1600 members of the Red Angus Association of America with their monthly publication American Red Angus. A follow-up notice was also sent in the next issue of the American Red Angus. This survey solicited information regarding members' information needs and network use, and the types of information services needed by members. The joint survey development generated data useful to both the researchers and Red Angus Association of America regarding their membership. A longitudinal study will also provide data to assess the seasonal nature of network use, and information seeking and use by cattle ranchers. Additional data collection through site visits to cattle ranchers are currently being planned. These follow-up visits will include interviews with cattle ranchers regarding their use of computer networks, and information seeking patterns and needs. Interview volunteers were solicited during the survey. The interviews will also be used to establish sites for the collection of longitudinal data through an interview schedule over a twelve-month period.
The data analysis shows that survey respondents were generally ranchers using personal computers, including a small minority accessing computer networks. A total of 209 (approximately 13%) of Red Angus members responded to the survey. This number was lower than expected by the researchers. However, cattle ranchers, in general, are quite busy people and may not have time to respond to surveys. Initial data analysis shows that most respondents own and used a personal computer: 188 or (90%) of respondents, said they owned a computer. Of these, 51 (24%) reported owning a CD-ROM drive, 52 (24%) reported owning a modem and 53 (25%) reported owning a satellite dish. But although the clear majority owned computers, most respondents -- 175 (83%) -- said they did not use computer network services. Only 21 ranchers (about 10% of respondents) had used computer network services for an average of 25 months and for 5% of their average work week. A higher proportion -- 87 (41%) of respondents -- said members of their family used computer networks outside the home, mainly for school or work away from the ranch.
6.1 Computer Network Services Used By Cattle Ranchers
The vast majority of respondents had not used networked information services - within a range of 1% to 11%. The largest group (about 11%) was using the Red Angus Sire Finder and Bulletin Board, the Internet or America Online. Respondents made little use of existing agricultural networked information services.
Table 1 and Table 2 provide the responses by Red Angus members regarding their use and the value of existing networked information services.
Table 1. Network Information Services Used. (Number of Respondents = 209)
Red Angus Sire Finder
Red Angus Bulletin Board
Online Library Catalogs
Table 2. Value of Networked Services. (Number of Respondents = 209)
Red Angus Sire Finder
Red Angus Bull Board
Online Library Catalogs
6.2 Value of Information and Access Via Network
Respondents placed a high value on breeding information, auction values, general market information and veterinary information. However, most respondents were not accessing this information via networked services. Less interest was evident for other types of information. Table 3 shows the information valued by cattle ranchers and whether they had accessed this information via computer networks.
Table 3. Value of Information and Access Via Network. (Number of Respondents = 209)
Gen. Market Info.
6.3 Information Sources Used By Cattle Ranchers
Few ranchers were accessing information electronically. Most did not use libraries, or participate in political groups and bulletin boards. However, about a quarter of respondents showed an interest in using networks for electronic mail or information services. Table 4 shows that word-of-mouth sources, such as customers, suppliers, and other ranchers, and also industry magazines and ranching associations are major sources of information for cattle ranchers.
Table 4.Information Sources Used By Cattle Ranchers. (Number of Respondents = 209)
Despite the small number of respondents, the results
provide some interesting findings. At this stage of development
the "electronic" or "digital" ranch is beginning
to be a gleam in the eye of the ranching industry. Cattle ranchers
are beginning to utilize personal computers and access networked
information services. However, greater penetration of computing
technologies and networks into the ranching community is restricted
by the advancing average age of ranchers and unfamiliarity with
computers, a predominance of telephone communication, and small
(but growing) number of services for ranchers on the net. A group
of technologically innovative ranchers or "early adopters"
 has begun to explore and contribute
to the ever growing electronic information world with information
applicable to the ranching business. Those ranchers venturing
onto the net are seeking information such as breeding and ranching
information. Some ranchers are beginning to communicate with other
ranchers or the outside world the ranch via electronic mail. Some
family members already use the Web and web based resources from
locations off the ranch, either at work and at school.
A major aim of this initial survey was to collect basic data to form the basis for a larger study and begin the development of a Web based digital library for Red Angus members. The survey also begins to identify those "early adopter" ranchers taking up the reins of technological innovation for further study. Given the changing nature of the American economy and business, the evolution of digital libraries of ranching-related information and the "electronic" or "digital" ranch equipped with network access to information and communication services, seems inevitable. How this will occur and the nature of the evolving "electronic" ranching industry will be fascinating to observe. A cursory glance at the WWW shows that since this study was initiated in 1995 there has been an explosion of web-based cattle ranching sites. You can see pictures of bulls (with names such as "Megabucks" <http://www.unigen.org/mbuck.htm>) and read their vital statistics. Cattle ranchers and the cattle industry are beginning to embrace the potential of the Web. The American Red Angus is currently developing a Web based and multifaceted digital library for their members with researchers at the School of Library and Information Science - University of North Texas (http://www.redangus1.org/). This information service includes the Red Angus Sire Finder for Red Angus members to find that perfect bull (or bull semen) to service their herds. Further surveys and interviews are underway to extend the previous research and the development of the Red Angus Digital Library.
This study is funded by a Research Initiation Grant from the University of North Texas. The authors also to thank Dick Gilbert, Executive Director of the Red Angus Association of America and members of the Association for their contribution and assistance to this study. We also thank Judy Bateman and the UNT Computer Services for their invaluable assistance in the data analysis.
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