From One National Library to Another—Similar, Yet Different

Strategic planning underway at two national libraries

The ornate and impressive main reading room at the Library of Congress

Guest post by Dianne Babski, Deputy Associate Director for Library Operations at NLM.

The United States doesn’t have a single national library like other countries. Instead, we have five—the Library of Congress (LC), the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the National Agricultural Library, the National Library of Education, and the National Transportation Library—with LC and NLM the two largest. All five libraries are in the Washington, DC area.

Last month NLM Director Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan, Dr. Mike Huerta, Associate Director for Program Development, and I took advantage of the proximity and headed to the Library of Congress for a strategic planning conversation. We were joined by LC staff from the Strategic Planning and Performance Management office, including Dianne Houghton, Director, and Emily Roberts, Management and Program Analyst.

Together we celebrated our new directors: Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, and Dr. Brennan, NLM’s 19th leader. Each the first woman appointed to her position, they were sworn in within days of each other last September—and took the helm of two national treasures on the verge of major planning initiatives.

Founded in the early 1800s, both libraries have long histories and serve unique roles. LC is a research service for the US Congress, home of the Copyright Office, a national library for the blind and physically handicapped, and sponsor of the Poet Laureate. It develops its collection based on the Jeffersonian ideal that all subjects will be of interest and value to Congress, scholars, and researchers, as well as the public. In contrast, NLM, the world’s largest biomedical library, builds upon its vast collections in biomedicine, health care, and the history of medicine to further health care practice, support life sciences research, and enhance personal and public health.

The trio poses in front of an ornate fireplace
Dianne Babski, Dr. Mike Huerta, and Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan visit the Library of Congress to discuss strategic planning.

While our collections, roles, and customers differ, the two libraries face similar challenges, including shifting budgets, dwindling space for growing collections, an evolving publishing landscape, ever-expanding digital and IT footprints, and the need to recruit, train, and retain an educated workforce. These core similarities gave us much to talk about as we discussed our respective strategic planning efforts.

LC is in the early stages of “Envisioning 2025,” its planning initiative designed to chart the course for the Library’s next decade. In-house “tiger teams” comprised of LC staff are formulating questions and raising issues that will help set priorities for future strategic planning activities. LC expects to have a full set of priorities established by the end of the fiscal year and, if all goes well, will start to implement them in 2018.

Meanwhile, NLM is quite far along in its planning process. We have solicited input from our broad stakeholder community, brought together experts to discuss challenges and opportunities around four key themes, gathered ideas and suggestions from NLM staff, and collected and synthesized public comments. This input has been sorted, analyzed, debated, and refined, and together it will inform the recommendations report set for release in late 2017. Those recommendations will, in turn, shape the priorities for NLM’s next decade.

It’s an exciting time at both libraries.

We expect to build on that excitement through ongoing collaboration, sharing experiences in risk management, digitization and preservation, and workforce development.

With more in common than different, we have much to learn from each other, and our two dynamic, new leaders are ready to guide us into a promising future.