At the Intersection of National Library and Public Health Weeks: Celebrating NLM’s Many Roles

Guest post by Robert Pines, MS, Writer/Editor, and Sarah Ashley Jolly, MPH, Writer/Editor and Graphic Designer (Contractor), NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) Office of Communications and Public Liaison.

This week marks both National Library Week (April 3-9) and National Public Health Week (April 4-10) and we are pleased to recognize this intersection of NLM’s work. While the importance of each observance on its own is clear, their connection may not be as obvious. From our vantage point in the NLM communications office, however, we see the many roles in which NLM staff members and contractors are engaged, and how libraries and public health are linked to create a healthier world. As such, we are pleased to share just how NLM embodies this overlap in observances as a center for information innovation that supports and advances public health.

NLM is the world’s largest biomedical library and engaged in activities as diverse as our global community of users. NLM staff members and contractors are motivated by a desire to serve scientists and society, and are involved with training, community engagement, literacy campaigns, information dissemination, and more. Public health is at the core of NLM’s mission, and it drives the work we do as a library that delivers information directly to stakeholders.

“…to assist the advancement of medical and related sciences and to aid the dissemination and exchange of scientific and other information important to the progress of medicine and to the public health.

-NLM Authorizing Language

Inspired by many of the daily themes of National Public Health Week, we spoke with six colleagues representing different parts of NLM to hear — in their own words — how their work in a library contributes to public health.

Racism: A Public Health Crisis

“NLM has been an active participant in the NIH-wide UNITE Initiative, which seeks to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and broader scientific community. We’ve worked to recruit change agents from across NLM to advance racial and ethnic equity through a commitment to reform our own policies, practice, and procedures. This effort is rooted in a recognition that we have a responsibility to serve as exemplars for the change we wish to see.”

Maryam Zaringhalam, PhD
Data Science and Open Science Officer, NLM Office of Strategic Initiatives

Learn about the NIH UNITE Initiative and diversity at NLM.

Public Health Workforce: Essential to our Future

“Trainees who come to NLM have a passion for advancing healthcare, and we provide an environment where they can apply their unique computational skillsets to address public health questions. Among other contributions, their work here has improved our understanding of different diseases and created systems that help other researchers and clinicians better serve their patients.”

Virginia Meyer, PhD
Training Coordinator, NLM Intramural Research Program (Contractor)

View training opportunities at NLM.

Community: Collaboration and Resilience

“NLM cultivates long-term partnerships with communities to help address challenges and opportunities around health equity and information access. For over 30 years, for example, the Environmental Health Information Partnership (EnHIP) has enhanced the capacity of minority-serving academic institutions to engage with environmental health information. EnHIP has had a great impact with almost 150 community-based projects focused on awareness and usage of NLM resources.”

Amanda J. Wilson 
Chief, NLM Office of Engagement and Training

Read about the NLM Office of Engagement and Training and its work with EnHIP.

“The Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) is committed to providing equitable access to high-quality health information. We make NLM tools and resources available to those who need them in order to build a knowledgeable, resilient health care workforce and public. Through NNLM’s work, individuals are able to make informed decisions about their health, research and public health professionals have the resources they need to make change, and the public health of the nation is improved as a result.”

Martha Meacham, MLIS, MA
Project Director, NLM Office of Engagement and Training

Discover the work of NNLM.

World Health Day: Health is a Human Right

“At MedlinePlus en Español, our team of translators facilitates access to content from NLM using thoughtful translations that consider the breadth and variability of Spanish-speaking audiences. We are proud to enable access to high-quality health information by reducing language barriers and bridging cultural gaps so consumers can make informed health decisions.”

Javier Chavez 
Team Lead, MedlinePlus en Español

Explore MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en Español.

Accessibility: Closing the Health Equity Gap

“Accessibility is critical to closing the health equity gap. NLM promotes accessibility by ensuring NLM’s videos include audio description, captions, and proper color contrast so that blind, sight-impaired, or deaf audiences can find and learn about NLM’s various tools and resources.”

Andrew Wiley 
Video Producer, NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison (Contractor)

Photo of Andrew Wiley

Watch our audio described videos and read about accessibility at NLM.

As echoed in the words of our colleagues, NLM staff members and contractors are dedicated to providing stakeholders with the resources and information needed to create a healthier world. Their work at the intersection of these two observances demonstrates the essential nature of libraries to public health.

We hope you will join us in celebrating National Library and Public Health Weeks. Connect with NLM to learn more about the roles that we play.

Robert Pines is a writer/editor in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison who works on web and digital projects. He also co-chairs the NIH Social Media Collaboration group. Robert holds a Graduate Certificate in Front-end Web Development from the Harvard Extension School, a Master of Science in Management: Public Relations from the University of Maryland University College, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Business Administration from American University.

Sarah Ashley Jolly is a full-time contractor and serves as a writer, editor, and graphic designer in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison. She is passionate about creating communications materials to distill important and complex topics that are easy to understand, engaging, and visually appealing. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University with a certificate in maternal and child health, along with two Bachelors of Arts degrees in history and anthropology from Mississippi State University.

NLM . . . Bridging the Gap between COVID-19 Data and Resources

Guest post by Stephen Sherry, PhD, Acting Director of the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), and Bart Trawick, PhD, Director of the NCBI Customer Services Division.

A little over two years ago, America woke to the emerging SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that would alter everyone’s perception of ‘normal’ in the months and years to follow. From the start, NLM’s technological infrastructure quickly bridged the gap between resources and action to support efforts to study, understand, and develop a plan of action to deal with the deadly virus that has claimed the lives of more than 6 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization COVID-19 dashboard. NLM has worked throughout the pandemic to provide timely data and develop digital resources to help combat this global crisis.

NLM’s COVID-19 Resources

To assist in understanding the most fundamental questions surrounding the virus, NLM provides coronavirus-related tools and services centered around genetic information, literature, and clinical research protocols.

SARS-CoV-2 Gene Sequences in GenBank

In January 2020, NLM released the first complete severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) genome to the public through our GenBank database, the world’s largest database of publicly available genetic sequences. It’s a significant scientific community accomplishment to release a fully annotated viral genome within a month of its detection in a human population and NLM is proud to have played a role in this. This information was essential to scientists – because only with the genetic sequence could they begin to determine the specific properties of the virus and its evolutionary relationship to other viruses.

Creating a Lens to Information

An immediate challenge during the early months of the pandemic was the lack of a standardized vocabulary for talking about the virus and the disease it caused, COVID-19. This made searching the biomedical literature for coronavirus information difficult. To address this issue, NLM developed the LitCovid tool, which provided researchers with a current and curated literature hub for coronavirus information. Its handy classification system makes it easy for users to find the type of information they are interested in (e.g., “Mechanism” or “Treatment”). To further expand the application of this tool, NLM incorporated it into the PubMed Clinical Queries search interface.

Bringing COVID-19 Information to Your Fingertips

One of NLM’s biggest challenges amid the demand for COVID-19 information has been organizing all the data, tools, and resources related to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. To date, there are over 3 million SARS-CoV-2–related sequencing experiments in NLM’s Sequence Read Archive (SRA), the world’s largest publicly available repository of high-throughput genetic sequencing data; 4 million SARS-CoV-2 sequences in GenBank; more than 7,500 registered coronavirus clinical trials in NLM’s, the world’s largest clinical trial registry and results database; and 285,000 COVID-19 articles in PubMed Central (PMC), NLM’s digital archive of nearly 8 million freely accessible, full-text biomedical and life sciences journal articles. To organize and make this wealth of information findable, we created the NCBI SARS-CoV-2 resources page and regularly update the NLM homepage with news and information to guide users to relevant information.

Information When You Need It Most

Patients and their families also need access to up-to-date, reliable information, and our MedlinePlus web resource added a COVID-19 page to address this. For people seeking information on clinical studies related to COVID-19, our resource provides this, along with a dedicated page that breaks down all COVID-19 studies by funding source.

NLM Answers the Call for Access to COVID-19 Publications

NLM answered the call from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science policy leaders of other nations by collaborating with publishers and scholarly societies to provide free and immediate public access to all coronavirus-related publications and associated data via PubMed Central (PMC) as part of its Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative.

This initiative also enabled artificial intelligence researchers to contribute to the COVID-19 response effort by making more than 200,000 full-text articles available in formats and under license terms that enabled computational analysis as part of efforts such as the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) Challenge and Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) COVID Challenge.  These global challenges aimed to improve and apply natural language processing and other AI techniques to coronavirus literature in an effort to generate new insights into the disease.

Reaching More People in More Ways

As the Nation’s archive for biotechnology information, we rely upon scientists to freely share data with us so that others may benefit. To assist submitters in getting this data into our sequence archives, we quickly worked to automate and simplify submissions, expedite data analysis, and prioritize data release to within minutes of submission. NLM investments ensured that database management work continues to scale in tandem with increased submission rates.

None of this work would have been possible without the support of NIH leadership and the efforts of NLM staff who accomplished great feats during a time of transition to remote work. We will apply the lessons learned during this period to serve the continuing needs of our community as the biology continues to evolve around us.

As NCBI Acting Director, Dr. Sherry plans, directs, and manages the research, development, and technical operations of the National Center for Biotechnology Information. He has 25 years of experience performing research, education, and data resource management involving human variation, genetics, and genomics. Dr. Sherry is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University.

 As Director of the NCBI Customer Services Division, Dr. Trawick works to connect customers with the vast information resources available from NCBI. Dr. Trawick is a graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Bringing NLM to You

Guest post by Andrew Wiley, Video Producer, NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors from all over the world came to NLM for free, in-person, guided tours to learn about the largest biomedical library in the world. Visitors ranged from members of the public to students, educators, scientists, and nurses. They were introduced to many of NLM’s exciting research and information resources, such as the Visible Human Project — a library of digital images representing the complete anatomy of a man and a woman allowing visitors to discover a new perspective on the human body. Visitors could also explore the NLM Data Center, which houses the vital databases visitors know and love, such as PubMed,, MedlinePlus, and GenBank.

NLM is not your typical library. During tours, visitors could interact with the investigators in our NLM Intramural Research Program who are using computational biology and computational health science approaches to solve biological and clinical problems. Visitors could also descend into the underground stacks to see medical librarians scanning the world’s largest collection of scientific and medical literature. They could also view some of the world’s oldest and rarest medical books in NLM’s extensive historical collections — discovering just a few of the features that makes NLM so unique.

While the pandemic put a temporary stop to our ability to continue with physical tours of NLM, we know that visitors are eager for a virtual alternative. That’s why we created our new NLM Welcome Page.

This is where you can start your virtual tour and explore NLM’s offerings and resources. Here you can embark on a journey to explore some of what NLM has to offer through webpages that guide you from the world’s richest collections of historical material to the most cutting-edge data of the 21st century.

We want you to be able to experience NLM’s past, present, and future, and continue to see how NLM’s research and information services directly support scientific discovery, health care, and public health.

NLM is committed to serving scientists and society. What would you like to explore at NLM?

Photo of Andrew Wiley

Andrew Wiley is a video producer and writer for NLM’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison. Before joining NLM in 2008, Andrew produced local television in Frederick, Maryland and worked as a video journalist for The Frederick News-Post.

Video Transcript (below):

Hello, I’m Dr. Patti Brennan. I’m the Director of the National Library of Medicine.

As a nurse and an industrial engineer, I’ve spent my career making sure that information is available to help people make everyday health choices and to support biological and medical discoveries.

At the National Library of Medicine, we provide trusted information to scientists, to society, and to people living every day with healthcare challenges.

For over 200 years, the National Library of Medicine has been a partner in biological discovery, clinical care decision making, and health care choices in everyday living. We began humbly as a small collection of books in the 1800’s and now have grown to massive genomic databanks accessible worldwide every day by millions of people.

As one of the 27 Institutes and Centers here at the National Institutes of Health, we have three primary missions:

  • First, we have researchers that develop the tools that translate health data into health information and health action.
  • Second, we serve society by collecting the world’s biological and biomedical literature making it useful to scientists through our PubMed resource, and to everyday people through MedlinePlus.
  • Finally, we have a mission for outreach to make the National Library of Medicine’s resources accessible to everyone through our 7,000 points of presence around the United States. We make sure that the resources of the National Library of Medicine are available through public libraries, through hospital libraries, and in schools and clinics.

Making all of the resources of the National Library of Medicine available to the public requires a very large workforce. We have over 1,700 women and men working here. We have librarians, computer scientists, researchers, and biological scientists. We have individuals who understand clinical care, and who understand how to educate the public. We work together to make sure we can deliver—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—trusted health information.

Thank you for visiting us today. We hope you will join with us as we begin our third century bringing health information to scientists and society, accelerating biomedical discovery, improving health care, and ensuring health for all globally.

Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice

A guest post by Amanda J. Wilson, Chief, Office of Engagement and Training; Leigh Samsel, NLM Planning and Evaluation Officer, Office of Strategic Initiatives; and Elizabeth A. Mullen, Manager of Web Development and Social Media, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice. As the world’s largest biomedical library, NLM has a long history of supporting NIH’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic by providing equitable access to trusted biomedical information, supporting biomedical research, and highlighting the historical, social, and cultural context of this research. Expedient, reliable, free public access to NLM’s trusted biomedical information resources and literature collections advances the knowledge and treatment of HIV/AIDS worldwide, helps progress research to end the HIV epidemic and improves the health of people living with HIV.

Improving HIV/AIDS Health Information Access

NLM integrates multiple types of HIV literature, sequence, testing, and clinical trials data into a portfolio of resources that enables researchers to easily find related information and robustly supports global research to end the HIV epidemic. Free public access to citations to the scholarly literature is provided through NLM’s PubMed and Bookshelf, while free access to full-text is provided through PubMed Central and NLM Digital CollectionsGenBank and the Sequence Read Archive allow researchers to deposit and access publicly available DNA sequences, including HIV experimental and clinical genome sequences. NCBI Virus makes HIV and other virus sequences from RefSeq, GenBank, and other NLM repositories available. The HIV-1 Human Interaction Database includes information gleaned from literature about the interaction between human and HIV-1 genes and proteins.

NLM also provides a rich resource of easy-to-understand online health and wellness information available in English and Spanish via MedlinePlus. Among its wealth of content, MedlinePlus contains several HIV/AIDS topical pages. NLM supports an equitable distribution of information by providing resources and support to strengthen skills and literacies needed to access and use biomedical information for those affected by HIV/AIDS. The Network of the National Library of Medicine provides free health information training, from webinars to instructor-led classes to on-demand tutorials. Additional trainings on a variety of topics are added weekly.

A Long History of Support

NLM’s engagement and collections activities strive to capture the many voices in and around the HIV epidemic. A key historical partnership for engagement with the NIH Office of AIDS Research was the HIV/AIDS Community Information Outreach Program; beginning in 1994 as a resource for community-based organizations to improve the knowledge, skills, and technical means to access and provide the latest authoritative prevention, treatment, and research information electronically. The current iteration of the program concludes this month with 200 plus organizations conducting more than 350  projects in 38 states providing training, communications campaigns, and enhanced products and apps to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS information and discoveries over the 40-year history.

NLM has been collecting publications and archival materials related to HIV/AIDS since the first Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on the topic was issued in June 1981. The NLM HIV/AIDS Web Archive offers more than 150 websites documenting the biomedical, clinical, cultural, and social aspects of HIV/AIDS in the early 21st century. This month you can look for new additions and resources.

World AIDS Day 2021

Screen shot of NLM's History of Medicine Division's exhibit entitled "AIDS, Posters and Stories of Public Health"

This month, to help mark World AIDS Day, NLM will launch a new online exhibition—A People’s History of Pandemic: AIDS, Posters, and Stories of Public Health. The NLM exhibition will cover the archive of public health posters about AIDS rooted in the cultural output of artists, activists, and community workers. Their work, specifically the use of personal narrative as a visual-art strategy, along with language and the collective process of creating AIDS posters, continues to broadcast the message that, 40 years after the crisis began, attention to AIDS has not diminished. In mid-December, NLM’s Profiles in Science, will release a curated collection of digitized primary source materials related to the United States National Commission on AIDS, dating from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. Learn more about the diversity of NLM’s historical collections related to HIV/AIDS on Circulating Now.

As we mark this year’s World AIDS Day, NLM is proud to continue its efforts to provide global access to trusted resources; share the voices of those affected by HIV; and provide the foundation for researchers, clinicians, patients, and families to engage and answer the call to end the HIV epidemic.

Photo of Amanda Wilson

Amanda J. Wilson is Chief of the NLM Office of Engagement and Training (OET), bringing together general engagement, training, and outreach staff from across NLM to focus on NLM’s presence across the U.S. and internationally. OET is also home to the Environmental Health Information Partnership for NLM and coordinates the Network of the National Library of Medicine.

Photo of Leigh Samsel

Leigh Samsel, MS, is responsible for formal reporting of NLM activities and for providing staff leadership to strategic planning activities. Leigh is currently serving as NLM’s AIDS Coordinator to the NIH Office of AIDS Research.

Photo of Elizabeth Mullen

Elizabeth A. Mullen, MS, is Manager of Web Development and Social Media for the History of Medicine Division (HMD) and Managing Editor of Circulating Now, a blog featuring new research, curatorial insights, and news about NLM’s historical collections.

Using Comparative Genomics to Advance Scientific Discoveries

Guest post by Valerie Schneider, PhD, staff scientist at the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health.

In a post from earlier this year, A Journey to Spur Innovation and Discovery, I shared news of an exciting NIH-supported NLM initiative, now known as the NIH Comparative Genomics Resource (CGR). CGR, which supports eukaryotic organisms, is modernizing NIH resources and infrastructure to support research involving non-human organisms. This initiative will improve the data foundational to analyses that rely on comparisons of diverse genomes in NLM databases, increase its connectivity to related content, and facilitate the discovery and retrieval of this information. Just as researchers look to the data from these organisms to teach them about a wide range of fundamental biological processes underpinning human health, NLM relies on the research community to help inform the development and delivery of organism-agnostic core tools and interfaces for CGR so that it can best support these analyses.

Stakeholder feedback and engagement is central to the vision and ethos of the NLM Strategic Plan 2017-2027. Since the plan’s inception, NLM enterprises undertaken in support of our three primary goals have placed heavy emphasis on community connections in both their planning and execution. Likewise, understanding stakeholder needs is a fundamental element of CGR. With more than 19,000 genomes from over 8,500 species (excluding bacteria and viruses) found in our Assembly database, it’s clear that CGR’s user base will hail from a large and diverse collection of research organism communities. Within each community, there is diversity in the role CGR will play due to variability in the amount of genomic sequence available, as well as the existence of organism-specific data resources, such as community knowledge bases. Data consumers, themselves, are a heterogeneous population and represent different levels of research interests, education, bioinformatics expertise, and analysis needs.

CGR is using a multi-tiered and multi-faceted approach to ensure stakeholder requirements are understood and appropriately prioritized throughout the project duration. CGR is working to identify community-supplied genome-related data that can be integrated to enhance content supplied by NLM. Two governance bodies are playing important roles in this effort. A trans-NIH CGR steering committee provides strategic oversight by guiding CGR with respect to the priorities of NIH institutional stakeholders, and an NLM Board of Regents CGR working group is charged with helping engage with the scientific community and enlist them as partners in the development effort. Working group members have expertise in topics relevant to the CGR initiative, such as comparative genomic analysis, emerging large-scale genomics approaches, organism-centered research into general biological or disease processes, biological education, and workforce development.

We are developing a presence for CGR at scientific conferences and workshops to encourage partnerships with members of research communities and connect with attendees. A CGR-related talk given at the BioDiversity Genomics 2021 conference in September introduced a new cloud-based tool for improving genomic quality to be released in 2022 and identified researchers to serve as beta testers. Additional targeted outreach will be held independent of conferences to gather feedback and inform development.

The CGR project utilizes an iterative development process in which user testing is an integral element. Feedback gathered through these testing exercises is incorporated into the next development cycle. This approach ensures we remain engaged with the CGR target audience throughout the project by understanding their needs and providing a resource that is valuable to their research pursuits. For example, recent user testing of a prototype Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) database engineered to support sequence queries seeking a broad distribution of organisms in the results taught us about other content that will need to be provided for proper interpretation of results.

NLM is poised to learn great things from our users as part of the CGR project. You can learn more about engagement opportunities by contacting us at We value your input as we continue this journey together.

Valerie Schneider, PhD, is the deputy director of Sequence Offerings and the head of the Sequence Plus program. In these roles, she coordinates efforts associated with the curation, enhancement, and organization of sequence data, as well as oversees tools and resources that enable the public to access, analyze, and visualize biomedical data. She also manages NCBI’s involvement in the Genome Reference Consortium, the international collaboration tasked with maintaining the value of the human reference genome assembly.

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