The NLM Mezzanine . . . A Space and a Place

When we launched this blog over six years ago, we selected the title NLM Musings from the Mezzanine to reflect that the thoughts and ideas originated in this beautiful place, situated on the upper story of the National Library of Medicine building on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. I reflected on this inspirational place in an early blog post in Musings on the Mezzanine by reassuring wondering readers that rather than working in an old theater, I had the privilege of working in one of the most beautiful and unusual structures in the federal government. The lucky ones of you who have visited our building have gotten to experience the soaring majesty of an office space crowned by a very fancy glass-walled enclosure, capped by a roof designed as a hyperbolic paraboloid. Very futuristic and very 1960s all at once!

The Mezzanine has a storied reputation, housing the administrative offices of the NLM and our beautiful Lindberg conference room. The Board of Regents and many of our other advisory groups met here three times a year for almost 60 years. It was the site of ceremonial welcoming of important visitors, heated but excited strategic planning efforts, and the hallway consultations needed to make a half-a-billion-dollar enterprise work. Legions of librarians, computational biology researchers, and medical informatics specialists reflect on fond memories of colleagueship and vision arising from meetings held in this space, and the phrase “the Mezzanine” is still recognized as synonymous with “NLM” across the medical library community.

NLM has had a global digital presence since the late 20th century, and even today, many of our users have no idea where the NLM actually is beyond the pathway of electrons over a high-speed network connection. Frankly, that is fine with me because it is the responsibility of a library to reach out to where its patrons are and to bring to them the vast resources in our holdings and offerings. Digital access to NLM resources remains persistent even when the official workday is over, on weekends and holidays, and when it is not possible to be in our building. In fact, at this very moment, there is no one on the Mezzanine! The launch of our major building restoration and renovation coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, and all of the people housed in the main NLM building are either now working remotely or have offices elsewhere at NIH.

A global digital presence is inherently relevant to blogs, too—for us, since 2016, Musings has served as another resource to access what makes the Mezzanine and NLM as a whole “tick.” This is where we focus on our users, their experience, and how we serve them: We spotlight the work we do; the resources we now make accessible both in person and online; and the ways our work impacts the science, research, and information that innovates how our specialists deliver health care and improve the quality of life for the people they serve every day.

When we started renovating our physical spaces, we knew we also needed to update our online places because if these changes to our information sharing practices have proved anything, it’s that communication is a verbal and visual act. For us to best deliver all we have to offer in this digital corner of the internet, we had to renovate it, too—and so you may have noticed that we’ve updated our look and feel! We encourage you to explore our new blog design and let us know what you think.

Geographers distinguish “space” from “place” noting that space is an abstraction that describes a specific set of location coordinates, but place is the cultural, behavioral, and visual characteristics that bring meaning to a space. Essentially, space is a concept and place is an experience. The Mezzanine is both space and place: Its role as an anchor and an inspiration remains with us even if we are not physically located within it.

So when you open this weekly blog and see the title NLM Musings from the Mezzanine, don’t think of me sitting in that soaring space; rather, think of me drawing from and upon all of the riches and wisdom NLM has, from PubMed to the Sequence Read Archive to the Network of the National Library of Medicine, and realize that this blog space—and place—opens the entirety of NLM to 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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