One NLM: I Am Thankful for How Far We Have Come!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am excited to share what I am grateful for this year. In years past, I’ve used this space to reflect with gratitude on the efforts of the 1,700 men and women who work at NLM. Other times, I’ve reflected on the impact of individuals who have contributed to my life in a meaningful way over the previous year. This year, I want to use this opportunity to reflect with gratitude on the progress we’ve made as an organization in our journey towards “One NLM.”

On January 3, 2017, only four months into my new role as NLM director, I introduced the concept of One NLM through this blog. At the time, I proposed …

One NLM emphasizes the integration of all our valuable divisions and services under a single mantle, and acknowledges the interdependency and engagement across our programs. Certainly, each of our stellar divisions – for example, the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, Library Operations, or Specialized Information Services – have important, well-refined missions that will continue to serve science and society into the future. The moniker of One NLM weaves the work of each division into a common whole. Our strategic plan will set forth the direction for all of the National Library of Medicine, building on and augmenting the particular contributions of each division.

So why do we need One NLM?

Achieving excellence as a resource for discovery and science demands that we efficiently leverage the work of each division toward common goals. Additionally, One NLM encourages sharing the expertise found in any one division across all our efforts. Finally, the idea of One NLM entreats us to bring together all the Library’s resources to meet the key challenges of the future across biomedical knowledge collection, curation, and dissemination – ensuring a talented workforce, enabling every staff member to work at the top of his or her skill set, creating collections that accelerate discovery and address global health needs, and anticipating (and resolving!) the health information challenges of the future.

Now, 4 YEARS into this role, I look back on these words with gratitude and recognition of the awesome naivety that led me to make the bold statement: One NLM – many parts, many people – but One NLM!

Strategic Report

I  am writing today as part of our efforts to assess the implementation of the NLM Strategic Plan. We’ve received more than 100 responses to a request for information to ensure that implementation of the strategic plan continues to be relevant and resonate with the needs of our stakeholders. We solicited and received input from NLM’s Board of Regents, Board of Scientific Counselors, and the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee. We polled our leadership and our own staff, as well as colleagues across NIH, asking them to respond to three questions:

  1. Major opportunities or challenges that have emerged over the last five years and have implications for the future of NLM in the areas of:
  • Science 
  • Technology 
  • Public health, consumer health, and outreach  
  • Library functions  
  • Modes of scholarly communication  
  • Perspectives, practices, and policies  
  • Workforce needs 
  1. Major opportunities or challenges that have emerged in the last five years and have implications for the future of NLM in other areas or areas not well captured above.
  2. Opportunities or challenges on the horizon over the next five years that fall within the purview of the NLM’s mission.

Not surprisingly, in many cases we received guidance that would be best addressed by one of our many stellar divisions – to increase investments here or to expand efforts there.

The NLM of 2020 shares many features with the NLM of 2017, and yet it is a whole new operation. Our budget has grown by over $50 million and we’ve put it to good use! We released a new version of PubMed, and moved some of our critical molecular resources into commercial cloud services. We expanded both our extramural and our intramural research programs — adding two new investigators, developing new artificial intelligence and machine learning analytics — and pivoted some of our research efforts to the computational biology challenges of COVID-19. We’ve aligned our consumer education efforts into a single platform, streamlined our outreach, education and training initiatives, and this year alone approved 50 new journals for MEDLINE indexing. We’ve also launched major updates to our physical and technical operations. Whew!

We are also recognizing that NLM is more than the sum of its parts – it’s a highly interdependent enterprise, one that now emphasizes mutual learning and cross-division engagement as a key strategy for the future. The NLM leadership team meets twice a month to devise strategies and evaluate alternatives that bring solutions to challenges faced across the entire NLM, including cybersecurity, creating an affirming and welcoming workplace where our team can perform to their maximum potential, and doing our part to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we face rapidly growing data science challenges, we hear the question from across NIH – “What can NLM do?” And the answer is, “A lot!”

One NLM means that we harmonize the expertise from each of our divisions in a way that lets us characterize problems and identify sustainable solutions. We bring together the very best that each of us has to offer – computational skills, large scale data management, indexing and cataloging strategies, application and use of health data standards – and unite them into a cohesive approach. We share the responsibility and the resources to extend the reach of NLM with innovative strategies to meet new challenges. We create pathways for growth and encourage staff to populate those pathways.

Becoming One NLM requires that we identify new ways of engagement to our well-established ways of doing business. Becoming One NLM means that we don’t simply fill jobs, we search for talented people with an eye to how they might contribute to the total enterprise – not just fulfill a set of tasks. Leading One NLM means that each member of our leadership team understands and integrates our goals into the activities of their divisions as they create plans to lead NLM into the future. Being One NLM means that we bring to science and society the talents and offerings of this great, nearly 200-year-old organization.

So, this year, I am thankful for the progress that we’ve made towards One NLM. I know it happened with the support of family and friends, through the efforts of everyone who works at NLM, and it is worthy of our many thanks!

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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