Endings and Beginnings

two figures building a snow person made from the letters N, L, and M

I LOVE this time of year…. I love the cold weather (I am a snow baby at heart!); I love the holiday season and the connections with my past and present; I love the sense that as one year ends, a new one comes along—and we don’t have to do anything to make this happen!

Here at NLM, the end of the calendar year, oddly enough, has very little significance—it’s the end of the federal fiscal year in September that we pay a lot more attention to. But for our staff and their families, the end of the calendar year holds many moments of significance! We celebrate Hanukkah, the season of Advent, Christmas, the start of Kwanzaa, and of course, the winter solstice! So, what we “do” for work and what we “are” come into an exceptional intersection—and that makes this time of year special.

At this time, we are attending with special interest to the future of work through our Future of Work group, which will bring forward recommendations for how NLM can create a future that mobilizes our work efforts toward accomplishing our mission. I am waiting with excitement for the group’s final report, but I will give you an idea of what I hope work at NLM will be like in the future.

I want the future of work to help us achieve three important aspects:

  1. A sense of joy about working.
  2. A persistent sense of mindfulness and situation awareness about NLM and our mission.
  3. A commitment of uniting each of our efforts with those of others who work toward our mission as One NLM.

Remember the joy of work? Remember when ideas came so fast and furious in a group meeting that we tripped over each other’s comments? Remember when we were willing to forgo meals, time with friends, even reruns of favorite shows to write an article, develop a protocol, or just lay out a new research study? I want to find ways to evoke, in every NLM staff member, that sense of joy and enjoyment in the basic essence of work. Yes, in fact, we’ve been able to maintain much of the operational aspects of our work—but how do we persist with joy in a hybrid work environment? I don’t really know—but maybe you can help me (and us!) figure out how to accomplish this.

Situation awareness is really aided through hallway conversations and eyes on those with whom we share a common mission. Situation awareness reflects that characteristic that every one of our NLM divisions is deeply aware of the priorities, events, and accomplishments of other divisions, and that each division leverages the knowledge of others in a way that advances the entire NLM mission. I don’t know how to maintain situation awareness across NLM under a hybrid work environment, but I am privileged to have Jerry Sheehan, NLM Deputy Director for Policy and External Affairs, paying personal attention to this issue. He’s launched a virtual + in-person meeting once a month to make sure that NLM senior staff are aware of the accomplishments, concerns, and solutions of all NLM divisions—this is a great start!

Advancing NLM’s mission will require unifying the commitment of one’s own efforts with that of others; it’s clear to me that not one of our great contributions to the health of society and biomedical discoveries will occur in a vacuum. Yet moving beyond slogans like “One NLM” to making real alliances that leverage the work of one staff member with the work of another requires intentionality, explicit awareness, and a sense of humility that recognizes that one’s own efforts are only part of the story of who we are as “One NLM.” The success of our MEDLINE 2022 effort demonstrates that unifying efforts across NLM leads to solving problems and creating new resources in ways never before envisioned.

So, as we make this passage from the year that is to the year that is coming, please join us as we craft the future of work that will continue to meet our mission and serve our public!

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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