Musings on the Mezzanine

The history of this soaring space

Office space surrounds an open area with windows above and exhibit space below

A couple of you have asked about the title of my blog. A mezzanine? Am I working in a restored theater or something?

Since I’m new to the place myself, I thought a bit of research might be in order. As the minutes of a 1958 NLM Board of Regents meeting reveal, “mezzanine” is the term that has always been used for the second floor of the main National Library of Medicine, Building 38, where the Office of the Director and NLM administrative offices are located.

The history of the Mezzanine is interesting.

“Characteristic of the age we live in, particular consideration had to be given to bomb blast effect where it might influence structural design.”
Walter Kilham, Jr. | 1961, Bull Med Libr Assoc

When the Philadelphia firm of O’Connor and Kilham was drawing up the blueprints, they had serious concerns. The late 1950s were marked by Cold War tensions, and our beautiful geometric roof was put in place so that, in the event of an attack, it would collapse, creating a seal over our vast collection, housed on three underground levels. This fear is also the reason for our foot-thick Indiana limestone walls and other fortifications.

It might not be common to build a library that can withstand a bomb blast, but the architects pulled it off with style.

With a big open space called the Rotunda forming its core, the Mezzanine is graced by a large ring of windows under the roof. At times, geese fly by, their loud honking distracting us momentarily from our computers. I’m told that during winter storms, it feels like we’re inside a snow globe. We also have a 15-foot model of the DNA double helix, suspended from the ceiling, which is simply beautiful.

The library space below, housing casual seating and small exhbitions, opens above to the soaring expanse of the rotunda, featuring a large ring of lights and a model DNA strand hanging in the center.
The view from the Rotunda looking up toward the Mezzanine highlights the double-stranded model of DNA which hangs in the center. (Credit: Stephen Greenberg / NLM)

I invite any of you who are in the DC metropolitan area to come and see the Mezzanine. (You can even take a tour of the Library.)

This building opened its doors to the public in 1962. We remain open to the public today. And now we are building an open-access library, where PubMed Central‘s 4.1 million articles are used by over one million people every day.

I’m honored to be one of the more recent occupants of an office on the storied Mezzanine.

As we work on strategic planning for the next decade and beyond, all of us on the Mezzanine and beyond want to make sure you get the medical information you need, when and how you need it.

And we invite your thoughts on how we can best provide that service. Please share your comments and your audacious goals for NLM’s future.

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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