One Library, Many Worlds

NLM's impact extends throughout the world

Back in January, I wrote about One NLM, an idea that acknowledges the particular contributions of each division within the Library while supporting greater engagement across our programs, all aligned toward a common vision.

I wrote that post primarily for NLM staff, but in the intervening nine months, I’ve discovered I need to take the message of One NLM to those outside the Library as much as to those within it.

As I attend conferences and meet members of the many groups NLM serves, I’ve learned the role of the Library is in the eye of the beholder. Librarians see bibliographic resources. Scientists see tools for discovery, clinicians tools for diagnosis and care. Potential post-docs see opportunities for training, and teachers see resources for learning. Even though we are one NLM, we are viewed from those various perspectives more as parts than a whole.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I am working to make our stakeholders aware of both the parts they don’t naturally see and the single purpose that unites those parts.

Our core services are undeniably diverse. We acquire and preserve health and biomedical knowledge across disciplines and across the ages, and then devise platforms and processes to make this knowledge available to clinicians, researchers, and patients. We conduct research to develop more efficient ways to search the literature and to apply computational approaches, such as machine learning and natural language processing, to clinical data and published works to extract specific information. We also take advantage of our own genomic and other sequence data bases to discover the structure and functions of various genes and to create models of functional domains in proteins.

Given that diversity, it makes sense that those who use the Library might focus on one or a few of those services more than others, but for me and for the 1,700 women and men who work here, these services all contribute to one single vision: NLM as a platform for discovery.

Sometimes discovery comes by exploring PubMed’s literature citations to ground a new research program, other times by extracting gene sequences and their respective phenotypes from dbGaP, and yet other times by finding the perfect exercise to supplement a lesson plan.

In the end perhaps the lesson for all of us is that NLM is ultimately both its parts and its whole.

And my role is to help our many audiences better understand their favorite parts while learning more about the totality of who we are and how we serve society.

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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