“I, Patricia Flatley Brennan, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
On September 12, 2016, I placed my left hand on Claude Pepper’s copy of the constitution, raised my right hand, and took this oath to became the 19th director of the National Library of Medicine. These words meant a lot to me then, and they continue to guide me. My oath is to support and defend the Constitution, bearing true faith and allegiance to the same.
Of all the words in the Constitution that I must support and defend, the most meaningful to me are “We, the people”. . . for it is the responsibility of the National Library of Medicine to support biomedical discovery and translate those discoveries into information for the health of people—all the people.
More importantly, as a member of the executive branch of the government, I am responsible for implementing legislation that directs the National Library of Medicine to:
- acquire and preserve books, periodicals, prints, films, recordings and other library materials pertinent to medicine;
- organize the materials by appropriate cataloging, indexing, and bibliographical listing;
- publish catalogs, indexes, and bibliographies;
- make available through loans, photographic, or other copying procedures materials in the library;
- provide reference and research assistance;
- engage in such other activities in furtherance of the purposes of this part as (the Surgeon General) deems appropriate and the library’s resources permit;
- publicize the availability from the Library of the above products and services; and
- promote the use of computers and telecommunications.
Thank goodness there are over 1,700 women and men to make sure this happens!
During this past year, other words and phrases have influenced and inspired me:
- Public access
NLM leads the nation and the world in ensuring that everyone, from almost anywhere, can access our resources—from our bibliographic database PubMed to the genetics information in Genbank. Assuring public access means creating vast computer systems and interfaces that allow humans and computers to use our resources. It means helping shape the policies that protect copyright, promote openness, and preserve confidentiality. It means considering the public’s interest as we acquire new resources and design new applications. And, importantly, it means that we provide training and coaching to make our resources accessible, understandable, and actionable.
- Third century
We date our beginning to books collected by a surgeon in an Army field hospital in 1836. Our first century laid the foundation for purposeful collection of biomedical knowledge, including creating catalogs and devising indexes. Our second century saw the digitization of knowledge and internet communication, delivering our resources at lightning speed around the world. In less than two decades, we begin our third century.
I can only imagine what our third century might bring! What I do know is that it is my job now to put in place a robust human, technical, and policy platform to prepare for our third century.
- One NLM
It is a common engineering principle that a strong whole depends on strong parts. Indeed, NLM has very strong parts—NCBI with its genomic resources, Library Operations with the power and skill to index the world’s biomedical knowledge, the Lister Hill Center with its machine learning to accelerate the interpretation of images, and more.
During the past year, I have begun to see the crosswalks between our parts—for example, the partnership between our Office of Computer and Communications Systems with Library Operations to serve up vocabularies and the Value Set Authority Center that supports quality care monitoring, and the engagement between Specialized Information Services and the Lister Hill Center to build PubChem and Toxnet services.
We are poised to address the challenges laid out for us in 1956 not by building a single service to address each one, but to knit together the best of several services to efficiently and effectively advance health and biomedical discovery through information.
The ideas of Nina Matheson have helped shape my entire career. As Director of NLM, her words have taken on increased importance to me. In 1982, she talked about librarians as tool builders and system developers and solvers of information problems.
Inspired by these words through my first year, I embrace the idea—and, indeed, the ideal—that the library is the solution engine that will accelerate discovery in support of health for everyone.
Like the Constitution says, it all starts with “We the people.”