Essential and Invisible

On the importance of being recognized

microscopic view of mitochondria

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of the South Central Chapter of the Medical Library Association. There I met librarians and other information management professionals who serve the South Central Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, many of whom have been quite busy lately ensuring continuity of library operations through Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.

impromptu group photo
Dr. Brennan visits with staff from the NNLM/South Central Region in Albuquerque, October 15, 2017.

I attended the meeting to give an update of how things are going back here in Bethesda, describe my vision for NLM’s role in data-powered health, and listen to attendees’ issues and questions.

As usual, when I get out and about, I learn so much, particularly how front-line librarians in hospitals and academic health science centers are increasingly becoming embedded in complex care processes and sophisticated biomedical research. I’m also hearing how often they feel simultaneously essential and invisible.

The librarians I met told stories of team members, months into a collaboration, finally recognizing the person retrieving key literature or managing data was in fact the university’s librarian; or young faculty members who didn’t realize the health science librarian could help locate funding opportunities; or physicians sharing patient-education materials without knowing the hospital library staff developed them.

“Essential and invisible” sums up the state of modern libraries and contemporary librarians—and, to some extent, the state of the National Library of Medicine itself.

As libraries becomes less of a place to go to, librarians are bringing biomedical information to the people they serve, through pop-up libraries, health literacy classes, or targeted emails that deliver expert, preformed searches to the inboxes of busy clinicians.

Similarly, NLM’s resources are becoming untethered from the Library and our website. The entire ClinicalTrials.gov database is embedded in a patient advocacy search engine. MedlinePlus Connect integrates NLM’s patient education materials into electronic health records across the country. And nearly 60 APIs give seamless access to NLM’s carefully curated content, whether that’s peer-reviewed literature, clinical value sets, or standardized drug names.

These shared assets enrich users’ experiences, but do those users know who’s doing the enriching? Probably not.

Essential and invisible.

Of course, it’s great that federal investments into high-quality health information are put to good use—it’s why we exist—but it’s also important that users recognize in the resources they use the high-quality, trusted brand that is NLM. Brand recognition—and the professional expertise behind that brand—contribute to the credibility of the information provided.

So the next time you encounter something helpful for health or biomedical research, take a moment to find out—is it NLM inside?

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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