4-H research database proves valuable to scholars

University Park, Pa. — Jan Scholl had heard the claim made over the years: The research base undergirding the 4-H youth-development program was inadequate for 4-H to be considered a serious scholarly endeavor, endangering its future viability. But her instincts told her this wasn't true, so she set out to disprove the premise.

After searching through stacks and stacks of material at the National Agricultural Library and its archives in Beltsville, Md., Scholl documented a rich storehouse of 4-H research, which she subsequently indexed in an online database. Since its inception, this resource has been used by hundreds of scholars around the country to write literature reviews, develop projects and evaluate programs.

"When I heard people questioning the intellectual rigor of the 4-H program, I wondered whether it was possible that no one had tried to find these research and evaluation studies," said Scholl, associate professor of agricultural and extension education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "I set out to locate and document all research studies about the 4-H program, starting with graduate theses, since these were most prevalent in library systems."

In 2003, Scholl located 1,600 studies dating to 1911, indexed them in the database by author, title, date, degree and college or university and published them in a bibliography. The following year, she published a second edition, adding 1,800 studies to the database. Those efforts also led to an article in the Journal of Extension.

In 2005 and 2006, the National Agricultural Library provided funds to move the database online (, and during the following two years, 1,000 state, national and experiment station studies and 100 additional graduate studies were added with many abstracts.

"Finding the studies was difficult because 4-H is cited in various ways throughout the world, and the characters also are found in many chemical compounds," Scholl explained. "In addition, most of the studies were not in library databases, and reviewing the original materials was tedious and sometimes hazardous because some documents were sprayed with chemical preservatives and/or insecticides to preserve them in archival settings."

But the end result was worth the work, according to Scholl, who was assisted by Amy Paster, head of the life sciences section at Penn State's Paterno Library. "The database is a significant and long-term contribution to the 4-H program," she said. "We now have about 4,500 studies representing 130 institutions worldwide -- including at least 15 new studies every year since 1954.

"Now when people ask, we can say that 4-H does indeed have a research base, and it will continue to grow stronger as we add studies to the database."

4-H is a youth-development program administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Cooperative Extension. More than 100,000 Pennsylvania youth between the ages of 8 and 19 participate in 4-H projects, activities and school-enrichment programs in subjects ranging from animal, plant and environmental sciences to photography, nutrition and citizenship.

More information about Pennsylvania 4-H is available online at To learn more about 4-H locally, find your county office of Penn State Cooperative Extension online at

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated November 18, 2010