Celebrating Libraries and Those Who Make Them Run

Libraries lead in providing an array of resources and services

It’s National Library Week in the US, the 60th year of celebrating all things library. This year’s theme is “Libraries Lead,” and Misty Copeland, principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, is the Honorary Chair.

Sponsored by the American Library Association, this national observance celebrates the role of libraries in our communities, with each day set aside to acknowledge different contributions.

Today, the spotlight is on library workers.

We have 1,700 stellar library workers from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom lend their expertise to advancing the mission of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and to supporting the health and well-being of the public at large. I take this opportunity to thank them for their service, their hard work, and their dedication, and to acknowledge the contributions they make every day to the success of this institution. NLM would not be the special place it is without them.

What makes NLM so special?

Let’s take a look.

L | A library is both a place and a space. NLM’s place, a beautiful mid-century, low-rise building on the NIH campus, was built nearly 60 years ago, and then expanded in 1980 by adding a towering research center. Increasingly, however, we are a space, an abstract location, accessed through the internet, where we meet our patrons and they consult our resources.

I | A library provides information. Our literature services, well-known through MEDLINE and PubMed, form the core of the information our library provides, but we also collect, store, and make data and images available to the world through dbGaP (the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes), Genbank, NLM Digital Collections, Open-i, and other archives.

B | Of course, our library holds books. Some of those books come from the 10th century, others just arrived yesterday. The NLM collection development plan guides our staff in selecting books, along with other materials, that reflect the state of health and biomedical knowledge. And we don’t just put books on the shelf. We carefully catalog them, make them findable, and through digitization or other lending processes, make them available.

R | Research! As one of the 27 institutes and centers of the National institutes of Health, we are a research operation. We have two intramural research programs, one in computational biology and one exploring clinical data through natural language processing, machine learning, and deep learning approaches. We also support research training and fund basic and applied research in biomedical informatics at universities and research centers. In addition, given our rich literature and data resources, we help researchers around the world. Indeed, I would posit that no biomedical discovery has occurred in the past 50 years that hasn’t been touched by our research.

A | Answers. Between our online resources and our cracker-jack staff, NLM provides answers, whether to the questions of a young parent worried about a child’s rash, to the high school student exploring genetics, to the physician seeking treatment options for a thorny case. And where we can’t provide the answer, we can still point people in the right direction by recommending websites, materials, or organizations to consult.

R | We reach out to a range of customers and stakeholders in every way we can. We train scientists who must register their studies in ClinicalTrials.gov. We support projects in underserved communities to ensure everyone can access current, quality health information. And we work with our partners in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine to get our resources into every corner of the country, serving industry, local governments, and communities as a whole.

Y | Though this library is almost 200 years old, we must be ready for the youth of today who will become the scientists, clinicians, and patrons of tomorrow. These young people take to Instagram and Snapchat rather than email and expect visual and interactive experiences rather than reading. We are inspired by them to build toward a future where reading our resources is only one of the ways to help foster the public’s health.

One day, some of those young people will become part of the 1,700 strong who make NLM hum, and one of them will be NLM’s director, talking or writing about the many things that continue to make this place special. Like today, I’m sure the staff will be at the top of the list.

Thank you for all you do, colleagues!

Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD

Director, National Library of Medicine

Dr. Brennan is the Director of the NIH National Library of Medicine, a leader in biomedical informatics and computational health data science research and the world’s largest biomedical library. Under her leadership, NLM has grown its intramural and extramural research enterprise, extended stakeholders’ access to credible and reliable health information, and acquired and preserved biomedical literature using cutting-edge digital research and outreach. Read more about Dr. Brennan.

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