What Did You Do with Your Summer Vacation?

Well, if you are spending the summer at the NIH, you’ve likely been engaged in one of our many activities designed to access critical data and advance our understanding of the human experience by linking data sets together. Today, we are inviting you to engage in some additional best practices in accessing controlled data in ways that support science and preserve privacy.

In 2020, the NIH Scientific Data Council charged its Working Group for Streamlining Access to Controlled Data to spend a year engaging in dialogue within the NIH and with our extramural colleagues to better understand the experiences of scientists and the strategies that both facilitate and impede access to data. The group also considered where in the research process NIH should inform, engage, and gain consent of participants sufficiently to support science driven by access to controlled datasets.

NIH stores and facilitates access to many datasets, both open and controlled, with the goal of accelerating new discoveries and thereby maximizing taxpayer return on investment in the collection of these datasets. Data derived from humans that are shared through controlled-access mechanisms reflect NIH’s commitment to protect sensitive data and honor the informed consent provided by research participants in NIH-supported studies.

NIH has supported multiple controlled-access data repositories that uphold appropriate data protections for both human data and other sensitive data, while meeting the needs of various researcher communities. However, as data access requests increase, new repositories are established, and new mechanisms of providing access to data are developed, it is apparent that opportunities remain to improve efficiency and harmonization among repositories to make NIH-supported controlled-access data more FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable and to ensure appropriate oversight when data from different resources are combined. While these trends are enabling datasets and datatypes to be combined in new ways that advance the science, datasets, and datatypes that may or may not be controlled may, when combined, create inadvertent re-identification risks.

To help the agency address these issues in a way that is responsive to community needs, we are hosting a series of webinars through the end of July. We call these “breakout sessions” because they follow an outstanding webinar presented on July 9 available here. Richard Hodes, MD, director of the National Institute on Aging, launched the 3-hour seminar with a talk titled Opportunities for Advancing Research Through Better Access to Controlled Data. Ana Navas-Acien, MD, PhD, brought the perspective of indigenous and communities of people traditionally underrepresented in research, and she emphasized themes of community engagement and broadening the consent framework to consider community-level accountabilities as well as individual assent. Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, MBA, PhD, addressed privacy preserving distributed analytics as a strategy to promote science while preserving privacy of data. Hoon Cho, PhD, described privacy-enhancing computational approaches to privacy preservation.

You can find the schedule for the breakout sessions below. These sessions are specifically designed to listen to the expectations, hopes, and concerns from researchers and participants. These webinars are free and open to the public; registration is required.

Breakout Session on “Making Controlled-Access Data Readily Findable and Accessible” on July 22 from 3 pm to 5:30 pm EST

Breakout Session on “General Opportunities for Streamlining Access to Controlled Data” on July 26 from 12:30 pm to 2 pm EST

Breakout Session on “Addressing Oversight, Governance, and Privacy Issues in Linking Controlled Access Data from Different Resources” on July 28 from 3 pm to 5:30 pm EST

To generate interest and hear from the broadest possible group of stakeholders, NIH has released a Request for Information on Streamlining Access to Controlled Data from NIH Data Repositories. Please note the closing date is August 9. We look forward to hearing from you! Please visit Streamlining Access to Controlled Data at the NIH for all of the information described in this post.

Finally, we would like to personally thank the many NIH staff members who serve on the working group:

  • Shu Hui Chen
  • Alicia Chou
  • Valentina Di Francesco
  • Greg Farber
  • Jamie Guidry Auvil
  • Nicole Garbarini
  • Lyric Jorgenson
  • Punam Mathur
  • Vivian Ota Wang
  • Jonathan Pollock
  • Rebecca Rodriguez
  • Alex Rosenthal
  • Steve Sherry
  • Julia Slutsman
  • Erin Walker
  • Alison Yao

I hope your summer vacation was as productive as ours!

(left to right)
Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, NLM Director
Susan Gregurick, PhD, Associate Director for Data Science at NIH
Hilary S. Leeds, JD, Senior Health Science Policy Analyst for the Office of Science Policy at NIH

(Re)Engineering the National Library of Medicine Building

Guest post by Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations and Patrick Casey, NLM Building Engineer

NLM, the largest biomedical library in the world, is housed in Buildings 38 and 38A on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. As we head into our third century of existence, we are guided by our ten year NLM Strategic Plan, which outlines a vision for NLM as a platform for biomedical discovery and data-powered health, integrating streams of complex and interconnected research outputs that can be readily translated into scientific insights, clinical care, public health practices, and personal wellness.

An important step in realizing this future is to create a physical environment to better position NLM to fulfill the goals of its strategic plan. In Fall 2017, we engaged with NIH facilities management, architects, and historic preservation specialists to explore ways to better utilize our space, support research, and provide a progressive and collaborative work environment. Through an iterative and cooperative process, including engagement with and feedback from our many stakeholders, the needs expressed became the drivers for the recommendations and plans made for the proposed future of NLM.

Little did we know when we embarked on this extensive renovation that the project would take a twist – a global pandemic. In some ways, the pandemic provided an opportunity to recognize the extent of work that could still continue with many staff working remotely.

As we enter the first phase of the renovation project, that involves the Mezzanine level and 1st floor in Building 38, I thought it would be helpful to learn more about the project from the perspective of the person overseeing it – Patrick Casey, NLM’s building engineer. I had an opportunity to sit down with Patrick to ask some questions and get his thoughts on the project.


What have you found most interesting about the NLM renovation compared to other projects you’ve worked on?

Figure 1: The exterior view of the National Library of Medicine and Lister Hill Center.

NLM has a lot more people and building space than I would have assumed. The main building space (Building 38) is unique given its historical context and details. It was built in a very different era, and this renovation project is attempting to reutilize the space in a more modern way.

The main building was built in the 1950s in a construction fashion that is not done anymore, and it’s a building constructed using a lot of concrete. I’ve heard many stories about the construction of the building, one of which is that it was built as a bomb shelter to enable it to withstand a bomb attack to protect the collections.

What makes the NLM building renovation necessary and distinctive?

Figure 2: NLM’s Main Reading Room (before renovations).

This renovation is necessary to make better use of existing space, create new space for growing research programs, ensure the integrity of NLM’s collections, and support the future work of NLM. The breadth of the project is a treat to work on because there is never a shortage of things to do.

All of the various projects at NLM have unique characteristics. NLM facilities house the historical collections, a 24-hour data center, and a 10-story administrative facility supported by several stories below ground.

While the main building was built in the 1950s, Building 38A was added in the 1970s. While newer than the original Library building, Building 38A is also showing its age and “time stamp” from that era of building design.

What have you had to learn as part of this project?

Figure 3: NLM’s Main Reading Room (during renovations).

This is NLM’s first major renovation in 50 years, and we’ve had to learn a lot about some of the interesting challenges that exist with the building, including unique climate control concerns that need to be considered and addressed—especially on levels where historical collections are stored.

The project management process is constantly keeping us on our toes because there are a lot of things to plan. We do not typically have much down time.

What are you most excited to see at the end of the renovation?

I look forward to seeing how the new renovation does the building justice in terms of maintaining its unique qualities while providing staff with a modernized, 21st century work environment to facilitate collaboration, and creating a welcoming environment for visitors and patrons. I am excited to see the spaces open and ready for people to use and move into. That said, work will continue after this major renovation project is complete. Building system upgrades needed to improve environmental conditions will continue to be addressed. Tackling these improvements will introduce its own set of challenges, and I look forward to it.


We are very lucky to have an engineer on staff to help NLM oversee these major renovations, keep us informed of what’s going on, and help us continue to modernize and improve our work areas as we build for the vision of our future!

We would love to hear your tips or lessons learned if you went through renovations!

Ms. Babski is responsible for overall management of one of NLM’s largest divisions with more than 450 staff who provide health information services to a global audience of health care professionals, researchers, administrators, students, historians, patients, and the public

Mr. Casey is the NLM Building Engineer. He has worked for the federal government for nearly 19 years. Prior to working at NLM, he worked in various capacities at the Navy and Marine Corps working in facilities renovation and construction programs

Friends of the National Library of Medicine: A Convening, Educating, and Empowering Force Supporting the Mission of NLM

Guest post by Glen P. Campbell, Chair of the Board of Directors, Friends of the National Library of Medicine

Since our founding in 1986 as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the Friends of the National Library of Medicine (FNLM), have been honored to promote and support the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Our members, a coalition of individuals representing medical associations and societies, hospitals, health science libraries, corporations, and foundations, are dedicated to helping us accomplish our mission.

FNLM Mission and Goals

To promote and enhance the mission of the NLM, the FNLM convenes and celebrates thought leadership in data science, informatics, and health care communications to:

  • Advance trusted resources for data-driven research and health information
  • Promote meaningful engagement across health communities and biomedical communications enterprises
  • Build the workforce of tomorrow

In partnership with NLM, we work to achieve mutual goals that accelerate discovery, advance health in the U.S. and globally, and empower individuals with trusted health information.

Increasing public awareness and use of NLM, and supporting its many programs in research, education, and public service is our top priority. Members of the FNLM Board represent constituencies across the country and, more recently, globally. They serve without compensation—giving freely of their time and expertise.

Taking a Fresh Look

With the fifth anniversary of the appointment of Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, as director of NLM, our Board thought it a good idea to take a fresh look at our strategic plan to ensure that we remain fully aligned with the 2017-2027 NLM Strategic Plan implemented under Dr. Brennan’s dynamic leadership. Dr. Brennan, along with the NLM Leadership team, are meeting the extraordinary challenges of the 21st century with an ambitious plan to accelerate discovery through data-driven research, expand and reach NLM constituents in new ways, and ensure that NLM’s workforce is equipped with the tools and skills required to thrive in a data-powered world.

The FNLM Strategic Task Force, under the direction of Douglas Fridsma, MD, PhD, and John Glaser, PhD, consulted with our FNLM Board, many of whom are Library users, and colleagues at NLM, and the FNLM Board approved a set of initiatives that will continue to support NLM’s Strategic Plan through two categories of initiatives: programs and events and stakeholder forums. A reorganization of our committee structure will support their successful implementation.

Expanding Education

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FNLM’s Conference Committee, chaired by Andrew Balas, MD, PhD, Vice President, FNLM, took our conference program virtual with a series of workshops aligned with the NLM Strategic Plan. Workshops included Changing Publication Practices in the COVID-19 Era, Real World Data and Electronic Health Records in Clinical Research, and Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Discovery. The FNLM Board approved an expansion of these workshops under a revised Education Committee to enhance the workshops with an even sharper focus on the Library’s leadership in data-powered health.  

The FNLM regularly convenes a group of publisher representatives responsible for publishing biomedical content. This Publisher’s Forum represents organizations that use a variety of publishing models including open access, subscription access, for profit and non-profit and are international, regional, or U.S. based. The group meets with the NLM leadership team and colleagues to discuss issues and concerns of common interest. The goal is to increase the understanding of how to work together as effectively as possible to bring quality health and scientific information to scientists, researchers, clinicians, and patients.

Our Board also approved new forums for medical librarians, biotechnology organizations, and NLM Fellows. The increasing interactions between NLM and among these constituencies call for even closer engagement, and the FNLM is uniquely positioned to facilitate this. 

I have only touched briefly on the significant work done by the FNLM Strategic Task Force and Board to ensure that our plan is well aligned with that of NLM. Personally, supporting the transformation of the NLM from a passive to active player in the global health care enterprise is thrilling. Our work continues, but we will be hard pressed to keep pace with Dr. Brennan and her leadership team, whose fast pace is transforming the Library day by day.

What’s Next

One final note: the FNLM’s annual Awards Gala, which celebrates and honors individuals whose contributions advanced public health, medicine, and health communications, was postponed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you will join our next event when we bring together those involved in biomedical research and health care to recognize their support for the extraordinary work of the NLM.

Interested in learning more about our work to enhance the Library’s profile? We encourage you to visit us at FNLM.org.

Glen P. Campbell is the Chair of the Friends of the National Library of Medicine Board of Directors. He has served in this capacity for more than 10 years.

Reflect, Reimagine, Reenergize TOGETHER

Guest post by Patricia Flatley Brennan, Director, NLM; Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations, NLM; and Amanda J. Wilson, Chief of the Office of Engagement and Training, NLM.

Welcome to NLM @ MLA ’21 vConference! This year, for the Medical Library Association (MLA) virtual meeting, we organized NLM’s activities around three themes:

  1. Reflect on the impact of the past year,
  2. Reimagine our work to make what we do better, and
  3. Reenergize by reconnecting with NLM colleagues and embracing the new normal! 

This year offered many opportunities to pause and reflect. We were struck by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global response of lockdowns, personal adoption of public health measures, and more than 1.7 billion vaccine doses already administered worldwide. Our reflections led us to a reaffirmation of the importance of medical libraries as a source of trusted health information and the critical need for work-life balance in everyone’s lives. Like others around the world, we looked on in horror and dismay at repeated episodes of violence and injustice inflicted upon communities of color. We hope that our partners around the country will join the momentum surrounding the NIH UNITE initiative to end structural racism and racial inequalities in the health research enterprise.

The maximum telework posture of NLM and many other industries prompted reimagining our work life now and in the future. We structured many of our NLM @ MLA ’21 presentations to share our experiences of working at a distance, video conferencing, and providing library services during a time when the physical doors of libraries are closed.

We hope that the opportunity to gather in spirit, rather than in person, brings the reenergizing atmosphere that often comes with greeting old friends and meeting new colleagues. We hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunities to gather around professional conversations and social engagement.

NLM at the Medical Library Association 2021 vConference

NLM’s participation at the MLA ’21 vConference began on May 17th and will continue through May 27th. One of the advantages of a virtual symposium is that you’re not restricted to viewing a session once – all NLM sessions will be available online after May 27th.

NLM began this year’s conference with a full day symposium introducing the 2021-2026 Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM). The day started with a celebration of NNLM accomplishments to date, particularly over the last 5 years. This session attracted more than 250 attendees who reflected on where NLM has been. For example, do you know the highest number of regions that the NNLM ever had? Was it 9, 11, or 50? Or, how much outreach funding NNLM awarded to communities in the last year? Over or under $1 million? This session also provided an overview of how the Network has been reimagined for the 2021-2026 cooperative agreement, and is being reenergized though exciting and innovative programming and projects. Find these answers and what else is in store for the Network on the NNLM @ MLA day page!

During last week’s dedicated exhibit time, we hosted 33 one-hour Meet the Experts sessions, involving over 50 speakers covering a wide range of topics including data science practice, PubMed and PubMed Central, tools for scholarly publishing, the 2020-2021 Associate Fellows cohort and projects, intramural training at NLM, consumer health resources, health data standards, and many more – whew! The “NNLM Reading Club: A Vehicle for Starting Health Conversations” took top marks for being the most popular session.

We also provided special highlights of NLM’s response to COVID-19 in the Exhibitor Solution Showcase. NLM’s Dina Demner-Fushman, MD, PhD, Valerie Florance, PhD, Yanli Wang, MD, PhD, Amanda Wilson, MSLS, and Robin Taylor, MLIS, presented on topics such as TREC-COVID, a competition applying national language processing to resolve challenges related to COVID-19; the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics projects designed to speed COVID-19 testing, and to identify new ways of detecting COVID-19 in people and in the environment (think of an electronic nose or waste water sampling); the Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Initiative, now known as ReCOVer; and how common data elements are making the data acquired through COVID-19 studies harmonized and available for researchers in the future. 

Teresa Zayas Cabán, PhD, NLM’s Assistant Director for Policy Development, presented updates and priorities from NLM and NIH at the Legislative Update session, and, not-for-profit Stop Foodborne Illness executive, Mitzi D. Baum, MS, delivered remarks on the topic of public health and food safety as the keynote speaker for this year’s Joseph Leiter NLM/MLA Lectureship. You can take a deep dive into the NLM@MLA’21 website where you can find links to the 2021 Leiter Lecture recording; NLM and NNLM On-Demand Presentations, Lightning Talks; Immersion Sessions; biographies for NLM and NNLM staff participating in the Meet the Experts sessions; and more!

As we close out our participation in the MLA ’21 vConference, our last don’t miss events are:

  • Take a Break with Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan on May 26 at 6 pm (CT). Join Dr. Brennan for a signature trivia evening break. Join Us!
  • The ever-popular, annual NLM Update, May 27 at 10:15 am (CT), this year featuring NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD; Associate Director for Library Operations Dianne Babski; and Acting Director, Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, Olivier Bodenreider, MD, PhD.

Reflect. Reimagine. Reenergize.

As we reflect on our experience at the MLA ’21 vConference, our interactions with colleagues has provided even more insight to reimagine our work to make what we do better, and reenergize as we embrace the new normal!

Which element of this year’s theme do you relate to most? Why?

(left to right)
Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations at NLM
Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, NLM Director
Amanda J. Wilson, Chief, Office of Engagement and Training at NLM

Diversity Catalysts: Attracting Talent to NLM and NIH

Guest post by David Landsman, PhD, Senior Investigator, Computational Biology Branch in NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information and Kathel Dunn, PhD, Associate Fellowship Coordinator, NLM

NLM is committed to attracting, developing, and retaining diverse library and scientific talent. Professional development at NLM yields completed research, publications, and entrée to a network that extends to NIH, the academic community, and industry at large. In the collective management of NLM training programs, we are aware of the ability of an NLM fellowship or residency to advance a person’s career. Our challenge is recruiting diverse talent to NLM and ensuring that our training environments contribute to their success. We’re also keenly aware of the power of being selected by NLM, and we take our role in exercising that power seriously by developing recruitment strategies that extend beyond our own networks, tapping into the networks of our trainees, and in pipeline programs.

In 2014, NLM joined an NIH-wide initiative within the Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) to enhance the scientific workforce. One of its programs, Diversity Catalysts, engages NIH Institutes and Centers to develop and pilot new, evidence-based approaches to enhancing diversity throughout NIH.

Through the Diversity Catalysts program, NLM has participated in shaping an implicit-bias education module that has been rolled out to all staff across NIH. We’ve integrated portions of the SWD-developed recruitment search protocol into our own recruitment strategies. We’ve put this training to good use in the hiring mechanisms and practices within the training programs at NLM, as well as mechanisms to hire highly qualified principal investigators and training staff.

Recruiting for the future is now.

The trainees, who will join us in 2036 for the 200th anniversary of the founding of NLM, are currently 10 years old. They were born on the cusp of the United States becoming a majority-minority country. They spent their tenth year at home, living through a pandemic. Furthermore, our future trainees will come to us stamped by the technology of online education and a freedom gained through science and technology development. We’re engaging in discussions about how to welcome them at NLM. We’re looking for ways to capture and engage around the unique and differing experiences of the pandemic: some of our future trainees may have been at home participating in online learning; others may have lost a year of education completely.

What we’re doing now is keeping track of our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts by reviewing our recruiting and interview practices to ensure that they are free of bias, promoting trainee attendance at diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings offered by NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education, and continuing our practice of conducting regular individual and cohort debriefs to learn how we can improve our programs.   

NLM stands with NIH to end structural racism in biomedical research.

Through the NIH’s UNITE initiative, we are working together to establish new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identify and dismantle any policies that may harm our workforce and our science. We actively support trainees’ participation in the UNITE initiative and have noticed genuine interest among our trainees in wanting to engage and be a part of the institutional change.

NLM offers scientific training programs for high school students, bachelor’s students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and fellowships for librarians, historians, and history-minded researchers from a range of disciplines, from the fields of medicine, anthropology, and literature, to philosophy, law, and the arts, and many more. We promote the opportunity to study at NLM, as well as share the successes of our trainees. We use the visibility afforded to NLM to highlight trainees and believe that the power of attraction plays an undeniable role in bringing talent to NLM. However, that’s not enough. We know we must do the intentional work of making connections, extending invitations, and following up with potential candidates. We must let them know what we see in them: future scientists, librarians, historical thinkers, and leaders.

Throughout the next 15 years, as 2036 grows near, we will continue to build on our ability to attract and retain diverse candidates.

Our challenge remains to advance a strong institutional commitment to attract a diverse workforce to the NLM administrative, librarian, and scientific programs with increased outreach and, by example, extending our experience to the education of NLM staff in making best practice hiring decisions.

David Landsman, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. He is also a senior investigator at NLM with a special interest in the merging of results obtained in computational biology analyses with those derived from experiments in biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics

Kathel Dunn, PhD serves as one of NLM’s representative to the NIH Diversity Catalysts. She is also NLM’s Associate Fellowship Coordinator where she is responsible for oversight of the Associate Fellowship Program curriculum, recruiting for the Program, and providing mentorship and guidance for the Associate Fellows.