Welcome to My New Blog!

An autumnal view of the front of the main library building

I invite you to join me as I share my impressions as the new Director of the world’s largest biomedical library, the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

NLM is an amazing place. We have technology covered, with electronic resources that deliver trillions of bytes of data to millions of users around the globe each day, but we also have a vast and varied collection, with items dating back to the 11th century. Many of our historical holdings have been digitized for public use.

We also have a remarkable staff. Not only am I busy learning the names and roles of many new colleagues at the Library and all of the National Institutes of Health, but I have submerged myself in learning about the Library’s long and deep roots (back to 1836), eyeing our impressive arc of information innovation, and considering the threshold we’re standing on, as we prepare to invite the world at large to help us anticipate our third century. What will that look like? What resources will we need? How will we meet the information needs of the public, where they are, as quickly as possible, and in the desired format? Because our public includes scientists to school teachers, parents to physicians, the answers to these questions will be different depending on one’s perspective. It will be our challenge to knit them together into a coherent, exciting, and achievable vision.

I hope you’ll join me for these fascinating times, and that you’ll consider this blog the perfect space for some two-way dialogue. Along the way, as I acquire new information about NLM programs, services, people, and places, I promise to share them all with you. (Remind me to tell you about the time I actually got locked inside the Library, after official hours. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something.)

To your good health,

Share your thoughts

Dr. Brennan has her left hand on a large book and her right hand raised while looking at Dr. Collins to her right. Her sister holds the book.
My swearing-in ceremony at the library on Monday, September 12, 2016. Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, administers the oath of office, and my sister, Dr. Jean F. McGuire, holds the commemorative copy of the US Constitution used for the event. (Photo: Ernie Branson/NIH)

13 thoughts on “Welcome to My New Blog!

  1. Learning about NLM has been a real eye-opener. The more I learn the less I know. I will follow the blogs with interest. Wondering how to use NLM to advance my research. Do librarians offer consultations?

    1. Consultations are what librarians do, Sally! I encourage you to reach out to a librarian to discuss your research and how NLM resources might help. You might want to start with one of the member libraries within the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM). That way you can find a medical library near you that is well-versed in what NLM has to offer. You are also more than welcome to reach out to the librarians here at NLM. Either way, I’m sure you’ll find knowledgeable librarians eager to help.

  2. I am looking forward to reading your blog, Dr. Brennan. As a colleague of the late, great library scientist, Miss Virginia Henderson, I am confident your contributions will follow her excellent example and bring new insights to the greatest archive of knowledge about human beings.

    1. Great to hear from Cleveland ties! Virginia’s red tome graces the bookshelf in a point of prominence in the Director’s office.

  3. As a school librarian and a patient at the NIH I look forward to reading your blog. I had a chance to tour the NLM in Aug. when I came to the Clinical Center for a follow up visit. Your staff was absolutely amazing. They made sure to really tailor the tour to my interests.
    Thank you!

  4. Hi Dr. Brennan.

    This is embarrassing. A colleague asked me what the NLM is . I realized that I really don’t know. So I said that it is like a really big library of medical stuff.

    What distinguishes it from a medical library in any big hospital? Is there an elevator speech?


    1. I’m so happy you asked, Dave! Yes, we are “a really big library of medical stuff”–the largest medical library in the world, in fact. As a national library, we have the responsibility to collect as comprehensively as possible across the biomedical and life sciences and to preserve that collection for future generations.

      We’re also a national resource for patients, families, health professionals, researchers, students, and the public, offering guidance and answering questions.

      But what really sets this library apart from a medical library at a hospital or med school is our work in research, education, and resource development.

      • We create and maintain the catalogs, indexes, and databases those other libraries use. (Think PubMed, GenBank, ClinicalTrials.gov, etc.—in all, 291 databases and APIs at the moment.)
      • We support, financially and otherwise, training for bioinformaticists, medical librarians, and related health information specialists, such as health care journalists.
      • We research—and support others’ research into—better ways to store, retrieve, and communicate health information, including working with electronic health records and the vocabularies behind them.

      I could go on, but since you asked for the elevator speech, I’ll end there. If you want to know more though, head over to our About page for the full story.

  5. I wonder if NLM should also support efforts for reaching out to some of the constituencies that you mention to make them aware not only of the library but of what it can do for people. I honestly believe that virtually nobody in the category of families really understands that they can access this information and how it would help them.

    1. Oh, we do that, too. NLM has a unit focused on outreach, and we work through the 6,400 members of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (supported by eight Regional Medical Libraries) to promote NLM’s resources and improve access to biomedical information for health professionals and the public across the country. We’re regularly visiting with different groups, including traditionally underserved populations, to make them aware of what we can do for them. We’re also very active on social media, spreading the word about MedlinePlus, our consumer health resource, and the array of databases for researchers and clinicians. Millions of people visit our website every day, so we know we’re known, but there are always more people to reach and to educate, so we’ll continue to deliver trainings, exhibit at conferences, attend health fairs, and engage with folks online and in person. I hope you’ll help spread the word, too.

      1. Dave Gustafson, as a school librarian I can attest to the fact that the NLM does do outreach to various communities. My co-librarian, Anne Piascik, and I attended a workshop sponsored by the NLM that highlighted health resources for teens. We signed on to become a member library and get all sorts of information, which we share with our students and staff. And I had the chance to tour the NLM when I was down at the NIH in Aug. As a patient at the Clinical Center of the NIH I had the opportunity while on a follow-up visit to set up a tour. It was absolutely fascinating, and I’d urge anyone who is in the area to take advantage of the tour. The NIH also does a tour which was very interesting.

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