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Eleanor Frierson: A Tribute to the Grande Dame of Government Science Information Partnerships
by Dr. Walt Warnick on Mon, 13 May, 2013
Eleanor Frierson

Eleanor Frierson, who passed away in April 2013, was the grande dame of partnerships to improve public access to federal and international science information.  For 10 years, she helped spearhead U.S. interagency efforts to make federal science information more accessible to Americans, playing an absolutely crucial leadership role on the Science.gov Alliance.  She took Science.gov  all the way from a nascent concept through to its maturation.  Ms. Frierson also made similar contributions to the international science portal, WorldWideScience.org.

She had extensive and diversified experience in information service development and management and had great business acumen and network-building skills.  But Ms. Frierson was much more than a consummate professional; she also was a caring colleague who took great personal interest in her associates.    

Eleanor Frierson was that rare public servant who made a very special mark.  Her legacies continue on today as vital national and international resources. 

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Eleanor Frierson received her B.A. from Oberlin College and her Master’s in Library Science from Syracuse University.  She was a library staff member at Syracuse, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the International Monetary Fund and also served as Chief of the Bureau of Library and Information Services of the International Labour Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

From 2000 until her retirement at the end of 2011, Ms. Frierson was Deputy Director of the National Agricultural Library (NAL), which holds one of the world’s largest collections devoted to agriculture and related sciences.  The NAL is part of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ms. Frierson was honored as Federal Librarian of the Year for 2010 by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee of the Library of Congress for her leadership of NAL and her service as chair of the Science.gov Alliance.

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Eleanor Frierson played a founding role in the development of Science.gov, now celebrating its tenth anniversary as the one-stop, real-time search engine for U.S. government science information, and of WorldWideScience.org, the global portal that offers easy access to science information from more than 70 countries.

At an April 2001 workshop on Strengthening the Public Infrastructure for Science, Ms. Frierson, then Deputy Director of the NAL, shared lessons learned in a variety of partnerships, including collaborations with land-grant universities, other national and federal libraries and international organizations.  She stressed the importance of flexibility and enumerated the essential qualities of successful partnerships for any type of business enterprise: wins for all partners; a good fit between mandates and partnership goals; energetic leadership and an honest broker to execute activities; open communication among all members; stated objectives agreed to by the partners; and recognition of individual contributions.

At the workshop, participants endorsed the concept of Science.gov as an interagency science portal, and agency representatives formed the Science.gov Alliance to work on the initiative.  Eleanor Frierson was chosen as chair of the Alliance, and she served in that capacity until her retirement in 2011.

The idea was that Science.gov would provide a comprehensive gateway to federal science information that would not only raise scientific and technical literacy and serve as a foundation for future discoveries, but also foster greater understanding and appreciation of the public’s return on investment from the U.S. government’s science and technology efforts.  In addition, the site would help users quickly and accurately navigate through federal science collections and resources; provide scientists and the public with well-organized information; and support future scientists and engineers with information and science education resources.

Early on, Ms. Frierson touted Science.gov as a “potluck picnic” of science agencies pooling their efforts so citizens could find the science information they need without knowing which agency had produced the R&D results.  At a celebration of the gateway in 2007, she said, “While I can’t speak for everyone who’s been involved in Science.gov, I’ve certainly had fun developing this voluntary collaboration among 12 federal agencies, all without centralized appropriated funding or legislative mandate!  When we started work on Science.gov, in the spring of 2001, those agencies brought to the Internet table their unique information specialties and arranged them on a simple website, powered behind the scenes by impressive collaborative intellectual work and fabulous computer systems and software.”  And then in characteristic fashion, Eleanor Frierson went on to credit by name the many individuals and organizations who helped make the Science.gov gateway service a reality.

Science.gov has continued to grow in content, capability, features and functions.  The number of pages available at “Your Gateway to U.S. Federal Science” has grown from 47 million to 200 million; the number of scientific databases has increased by 30 percent; and the annual page views now top 34 million, a 45-fold increase from the earliest days.  In June 2012, Science.gov Mobile made two Top Ten federal application lists, and last October, the Science.gov Alliance launched Ciencia.Science.gov, a Spanish-language version of the site.

Ms. Frierson also was instrumental in the development of WorldWideScience.org.  Not long after the launch of Science.gov, she compiled a list of similar national science gateways and suggested that a search engine of international science sites would offer significant benefits.  She went on to serve as the principal U.S. representative to the WorldWideScience Alliance from 2008, when it was established, through 2011.

“WorldWideScience makes the most efficient use of search time for those who need to find data and program information from verifiably scientific sources or for those who need to know what work is being done worldwide without having to wade through a mass of irrelevant or unscientific web pages,” Ms. Frierson remarked in 2011.

Today WorldWideScience searches over 400 million pages of important science information from more than 70 countries in fields such as energy, medicine, agriculture, environment and basic scientists – and it offers multilingual translations across 10 languages.

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Dr. Walter L. Warnick is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI).  OSTI helped develop and hosts Science.gov and WorldWideScience.org.

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Dr. Walt Warnick's picture
Dr. Walt Warnick
Former Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information