Power and Finesse: The NLM Board of Regents

Close up on the front end of a red Ferrari

Running an operation as large and complex as the National Library of Medicine is a big job, but I don’t do it alone. In addition to my leadership team, I am privileged to have the NLM Board of Regents to help me.

Established in 1956 by the same Act that created the Library, the Board of Regents advises me on matters ranging from the acquisition of materials for the Library to the scope, content, and organization of NLM’s services to the rules governing access to those materials and services. The Board also makes recommendations for funding research and training in bioinformatics and educational technologies, suggests demonstration projects, and proposes ways to expand or enhance the biomedical communications network of which we are a part.

In short, the Board helps guide the overall work of the Library.

Given the diverse work we do and the breadth of topics we address, the Board’s membership includes leaders from across the library and life sciences, including medicine, public health, and health communications technology. They are joined by nine ex officio members whose positions read like a Who’s Who in health and librarianship, including four Surgeons General (Public Health Service, Army, Navy, and Air Force) and two national library directors (Library of Congress and National Agricultural Library).

Being in the room with them is like driving a Ferrari—things are moving fast but with finesse. And the power under the hood? Phenomenal.

It’s a blast.

With their various areas of expertise and different perspectives, Board members raise questions, highlight issues, or suggest innovations we hadn’t previously considered. Clinicians typically advocate for improvements to information management and delivery. Researchers point us towards important unsolved challenges. Consumer representatives voice the concerns and interests of patients and caregivers. Delegates from business help us leverage cutting-edge solutions coming out of private industry. And our ex officio members, as Federal partners, connect us to other parts of the government whose problems and constraints are similar to our own.

But the value of the Board is more than the individual members’ perspectives.

It’s the synergy that builds by bringing them together three times a year. It’s the lively conversations their close collaboration sparks, as they discuss NLM’s programs, services, and research initiatives. It’s their careful, considered deliberation of our research investments. And, most recently, it’s their collective effort in crafting our strategic plan for the coming decade.

Last week, after 16 months of activities involving over 500 experts and stakeholders, the Board endorsed that plan, positioning NLM for its third century. The plan envisions NLM as a platform for data-driven discovery and data-powered health, built upon three pillars:

  1. Accelerating discovery and advancing health through data-driven research
  2. Reaching more people in more ways through enhanced dissemination and engagement
  3. Building a workforce for data-driven research and health

Now the hard work begins.

Implementing the strategic plan will require fresh perspectives, new talents, and expanded resources. We will need to build a model of trust and accountability among our 1,700 women and men, encouraging them to fully contribute their skills and ideas and to envision their work in novel ways. We will have to make tradeoffs and set priorities. And as we work to make NLM’s bright future a reality, we will need to advocate for and embrace boldness and risk-taking.

Fortunately, we have the NLM Board of Regents to guide the way.

As their work proves, multiple perspectives spur innovation and creative problem-solving; collegiality supports accountability; and respectful advocacy—whether to each other, to the NIH Director, or to the Secretary of Health and Human Services—can lead to tremendous change for the greater good.  What more could we need to accelerate the progress towards our third century?!

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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