“What 2019 NLM Accomplishment Makes You Most Proud?”

I was asked this question during a recent “brown bag” conversation with NLM staff. While it’s tempting to launch into my list of accomplishments, I turned the question back to those present. I was surprised, proud and intrigued by what they had to say.

First, let me tell you a little bit about our lunchtime brown bag conversations. We have a large staff (almost 1,700 women and men) and use a variety of formal and informal approaches to foster discussion: Town Hall meetings held twice a year; regular email messages to share timely information; our NLM In Focus blog, which provides a look inside NLM; and supervisor-led meetings. I host brown bag conversations about once a month and am usually joined by 2-3 members of the NLM leadership team. Almost always, staff from various parts of the Library attend – mingling together our scientists, librarians, administrators and communications staff. Conversations are lively, and I get to learn a lot about what is on the minds of our staff.

So, it was instructive, and enjoyable, to hear different views about NLM accomplishments. Some people talked about greater engagement with and accountability by NLM leadership, while others focused on specific scientific advances. Still, others noted our many advances with data science, particularly in upskilling our workforce.

I want to point out a few of these accomplishments.

Teresa Przytcka, PhD, senior investigator in NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, shared her team’s accomplishment with the creation of a new algorithm called scPopCorn (acronym for single-cell sub-Populations Comparison) to understand the differences between populations of cells from single-cell experiments. This approach helps researchers identify different cell types and helps to differentiate between sexes, disease status, animal type, and more.

Olivier Bodenreider, MD, PhD, senior scientist and chief of the Cognitive Science Branch of NLM’s Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) described how he is leading the re-envisioning of the research and research and development efforts within his center. One LHNCBC staff scientist, Vojtech Huser, MD, PhD, described the success his team has had in generating new publications this year.

Several people talked about the journey to prepare NLM and its staff for data science. Our Data Science @NLM Training Program team set up a year-long process of preparing our workforce for the future. Over 750 people completed a data science skills assessment and developed individual learning plans. Over the summer, NLM staff participated in an intensive 120-hour data science fundamentals course, culminating in a wide variety of projects that were showcased during our Data Science Open House. Over 300 people attend this exciting and energizing showcase of our talents!

Several people talked about accomplishments that made our entire NLM operations work better, such as greater engagement with staff, better use of project management strategies to improve efficiencies, and smooth integration of staff into new work teams.

Taking the writer’s privilege of identifying more accomplishments, I am exceptionally proud of the efforts of staff across the NLM who designed or participated in the Data Science initiatives. I am honored to work with a great leadership team who are making bold and sometimes difficult decisions to prepare the NLM for its future. We made a huge advancement in open science by moving our entire Sequence Read Archive public data to the cloud, completing the first phase of an ongoing effort to better position these data for large-scale computing. This work represents both a technological feat as well as a major contribution to biological discovery.

As I reflect on our discussion about 2019 accomplishments, I learned that every person across the NLM has something that he or she is proud of. I also learned that some of us experience NLM as a tight-knit research team, while others take a more-broad-brush view of activities and events. Most importantly, I learned that there are many things to celebrate in this wonderful institution we call the National Library of Medicine! 

6 thoughts on ““What 2019 NLM Accomplishment Makes You Most Proud?”

  1. reading this post, one would hardly guess that the institution being described is a Library, and that it continues its amazing work in the traditional library realm of sharing knowledge through its collected and subscribed materials.

    1. Response on behalf of Dr. Brennan:

      Thanks, el! As the world’s largest biomedical library, my goal is to ensure that NLM continues to enable researchers, clinicians, and the public to use the vast wealth of biomedical data to advance research and public health.

      Happy New Year!

  2. While I know that NLM has great work (I’ve been in this profession since the time of Index Medicus and Medlars) I think they have abandoned the increasing number of health care professionals who are without access to most medical literature. As hospital libraries close (7 out of 8 in my region), academic libraries retrench, and library students consider big data implications, who is going to provide basic medical library services to the majority of health care professionals who are not affiliated with universities? We used to be concerned about the unaffiliated public health professional. That group has expanded to most health care professionals, many with hospital affiliations but no library access. I do not see our medical library leaders considering that new reality.

    1. Response on behalf of Dr. Brennan:

      Dear 13353samuel,

      The NLM recognizes that many health care professionals lack access to full-text articles. Our PubMed Central (PMC) electronic archive of peer-reviewed biomedical and life sciences literature provides researchers, health care professionals, and the public with free access to the full text of more than 5.5 million articles. PMC serves as the repository for NIH’s Public Access Policy, which ensures access to articles summarizing the results of NIH-funded research. It’s also possible to ask a librarian for an article through an interlibrary loan for a nominal fee.

      Our National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) has a detailed Document Delivery and Interlibrary Loan Plan, whose first objective is to, “Provide access to biomedical and health information to affiliated and unaffiliated health professionals, researchers, clinicians, librarians, and the public.” At over 7,000 sites strong, the NNLM engages academic health science libraries, hospital and public libraries, and community organizations across the US to improve access to health information for everyone, from citizens to clinicians, research investigators, and data scientists, and it ensures equal access for all health professionals.


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