I Still Walk in Wonder

view of the main NLM building with

Each morning, I still walk in wonder across the NIH campus to Buildings 38 and 38A, the home of the National Library of Medicine.

A few weeks ago I arrived on campus as a glorious sunrise greeted me, passing the Natcher Center (Building 45), where our NCBI team occupies three floors, and our parking lot, already full of cars from the employees who come in early or work overnight to ensure our resources are available 24/7.

We have some 1,700 women and men working here, so even 16 months in to my time as director, I’m still meeting staff members for the first time. Last month, besides that glorious sunrise, I encountered Tory Detweiler on my way in to work and learned a bit about her.

Her story is worth sharing.

Two women sitting and smiling
Dr. Brennan and Tory Detweiler

Tory has worked in the NLM History of Medicine Division for the last four years, but, as she explained to me, she has been at NLM for 29 years, 8 months and 18 days. (Yes, she knows the precise count!) She actually began at the Library in 1978, working part-time while a student at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, and then later, while she was in college.

Tory works with content in NLM’s archives, ensuring everyone has access to these treasures. Presently, she’s photographing 500 public service posters developed during the AIDS epidemic so they can be cataloged and added to NLM Digital Collections, but she has also honed her scanning, cataloging, and Photoshop skills.

Making material accessible has special meaning to Tory. As a person who is deaf, she understands just how important it is to make information available to as many people as possible.

The unit where she works, the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection, handles the personal papers and organizational records from predominantly American medical practitioners, biomedical scientists, health policy planners, and medical societies from about 1850 to the present.

Tory marvels at how medicine has evolved over the years from herbals to synthetic drugs, for example, and takes inspiration from physicians whose careers challenged the norm. (“Leonidas Berry should not be forgotten,” Tory said. “I’m impressed by how he fought for civil rights in the medical field.”)

When not at work, Tory is a travel photographer and a passionate genealogist. She is writing a book about her great-great-great grandmother’s family based largely on letters they exchanged with Tory’s great-great uncle, who joined the California Gold Rush in 1852, moving to San Francisco from Baltimore in hopes of striking it rich. (He didn’t.)

Tory’s story, of course, is just one of 1,700 here at NLM. Each of the women and men who works here brings to the job talents, skills, and a backstory, applying them to NLM’s mission, the work of their teams, and our overall success.

I enjoy meeting our staff, whether via formal or impromptu meetings.  So, to my NLM colleagues, the next time you see me in the hallway or on campus, please introduce yourself. Together we will be moving this great Library forward.

The more people I meet, the more I know I have a lot of company walking in wonder.

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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