NLM Strategic Opportunities and Challenges: We Want to Hear from You!

Guest post by Mike Huerta, PhD, director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives and associate director of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A Platform for Biomedical Discovery and Data-Powered Health,” NLM’s current 10-year strategic plan, envisions three goals with a 2027 horizon: 

  1. Accelerate discovery and advance health through data-driven research.
  2. Reach more people in more ways through enhanced dissemination and engagement.
  3. Build a workforce for data-driven research and health.

Discussions among panels of experts, conversations with NLM’s diverse stakeholder communities, and feedback from the public informed this ambitious plan. In the years since the plan was issued, in 2017, NLM has conducted more than 100 initiatives, projects, and other activities in pursuit of these goals.

Shaping the continuing implementation of NLM’s strategic plan

To make sure that our strategic plan implementation activities remain relevant and attuned to the needs of the public, NLM released a Request for Information (RFI) to learn from you about any related major opportunities or challenges that have arisen or become significantly more important since the plan was created.

While NLM has been advancing its strategic goals, there have been many changes in science, technology, and society that are relevant to our mission. For example, the use of artificial intelligence in research and health care has greatly increased, biomedical scientists are increasingly using nontraditional channels to share their research results, and, of course, there is an urgent need to understand the novel coronavirus and figure out how to quell the pandemic that has affected so many lives around the world. 

Your feedback will help us ensure that the implementation of NLM’s strategic plan remains current. Responses to the RFI will be accepted through October 19, 2020.

Progress toward the plan’s goals

NLM is leading the way in the use of large data sets to make new discoveries and achieve greater efficiencies in the fields of data science and health care — all in pursuit of our current strategic goals. Recent examples of how we have accelerated discovery and data-driven health research include:

  • Expanding and enhancing data science research in both our extramural and intramural research programs
  • Moving dozens of terabytes of genomic data and associated tools to a secure commercial cloud solution to allow researchers to tackle new questions in new ways
  • Leading the promotion and adoption of health-related data standards, thereby adding value to extramural and intramural research across NIH
  • Stimulating cross-NIH discussions of the ethical and societal implications of computational algorithms and artificial intelligence 

NLM also carried out a broad set of analyses, assessments, and evaluations to improve our products, services, and infrastructure and bolster their sustainability.

Reaching more people in more ways through enhanced dissemination and engagement, raising awareness, and ensuring optimal use of NLM’s many diverse offerings have been supported by a major reorganization of NLM that consolidated many important engagement and training activities in one office while maintaining deep channels of communication with subject matter experts across different parts of the Library. NLM has also advanced this goal through:

  • Public communication initiatives to reinforce the recognition of NLM as a trusted source of information
  • Investments in systems to enhance information delivery, which include user experience and usability studies of ClinicalTrials.gov and the NIH Common Data Elements Repository to ensure that users can find the information they need with ease

NLM has implemented many successful strategic activities to build a workforce for data-driven research and health. These activities include multifaceted approaches to meeting the needs of NLM staff, emerging professionals, researchers, and health care professionals, such as:

  • Conducting a comprehensive analysis of data science training at NIH. This involved working with our extramural communities, in both research labs and libraries, as well as with program and other NIH staff.
  • Convening thought leaders from the library community to produce a road map to identify and develop the skill set that librarians need to advance efforts in data science and open science.
  • Hosting workshops to train intramural scientists across NIH on data science tools and approaches, along with a targeted training program in data science engaging more than a thousand NLM staff members.

These activities have been highly influential in developing a data-savvy biomedical workforce comprising scientists, librarians, and NIH staff. The aforementioned NLM staff training program is now in its second year and serves as a model for developing data science capacity across the federal workforce.

Where you come in

I urge you to respond to the RFI to share your perspective and also to encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same. With your help, NLM can continue to be a leader in data science and open science and continue to innovate as a national library, fueling biomedical research and health care advances as an invaluable asset to the public and professionals everywhere.   

Dr. Huerta directs the Office of Strategic Initiatives to identify, implement, and assess the strategic direction of NLM. In his 30 years at NIH, he has led many trans-NIH research initiatives and helped establish neuroinformatics as a field. Dr. Huerta joined NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health in 1991, before moving to NLM in 2011.

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