The World is Waking Up

One of my favorite books is the first of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This book talks about the forest re-awakening to greet a new world, and names are returned to all creatures of the forest.

This is particularly relevant to NLM, where we employ health data standards to ensure that experiences related to health and illness have trustable and commonly used terms that allow health information in one context to be easily communicated in another… think of helping the clinicians at a receiving hospital understand the health concerns of a patient that is being transferred from a different facility.

But that’s not what this story is about – it’s about bringing the people who create these health data standards, and those who use them, back to work! Really, we’ve never been away from work. I am incredibly proud of the fact that NLM staff have continued to bring our valuable services and offerings to all those who need them despite being on a maximum telework status. Each month when we meet for our all-staff virtual NLM Town Hall meetings, I start by thanking our staff for their efforts to make sure that our valuable NLM resources remain available to the public.

Now, following the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are getting ready to return to the physical workspace. Between now and early May, we will be returning most of our NLM staff to the physical workspace.  

What does this mean? Well, I will give you a sneak peek… since last December, five members of our NLM leadership team have been going into the physical workspace. I asked these colleagues to commit to coming into the office for 5 hours every Tuesday. So, around 9:30 am every Tuesday, we (me, our Deputy Director, Executive Officer, Acting Scientific Director, and Operations Coordinator), properly masked and distanced, meet in the Executive Conference Room. I have to say that there is a peculiar delight in us all being together! For the remainder of the day, we all work safely in our offices, gathering as appropriate for meetings among the five of us or across our entire leadership team using virtual platforms!

Over the next few weeks, we will be inviting the rest of NLM staff back to the physical workspace, but it won’t be to the way it used to be. We will be learning together about the future of work.

Our leadership team has been hard at work examining the functional statements of each division and evaluating how each division meets it mission to contribute to NLM’s greater mission and vision. Our leadership team is working to decide how every position contributes to the NLM vision, and to determine how much flexibility, in location and working hours, may be afforded to each position and to the working groups in which those positions are situated. Following this, our directors will work with their supervisors and managers to engage with each staff member to create the best arrangement that advances the NLM mission in a manner that is fair to everyone and affords the maximum feasible workplace flexibilities for all. 

Come along with us as we define the new normal – the NLM of the future! I have commissioned the NLM Future of Work Working Group to help us envision what the professional world will become to ensure that NLM continues to serve scientists and society. How can we serve you?

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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