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.

Learning from my Irish Heritage

Today is the Christian Feast of Saint Patrick, one of Ireland’s patron saints who lived during the fifth century. Celebrated today around the world as St. Patrick’s Day, this observance has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture and is a day of fun and family for those who are Irish or wish they were! As one of the 70 to 80 million people around the world who claim Irish roots, this celebration offers a chance for me to reflect on my own Irish heritage and what I have learned from it. And as those who have read this blog before know, family is of preeminent importance to me as a source of joy, strength, and comfort — all of which I have drawn on throughout my life.

Ireland is best known for its music and mythology, sports, scholars, and, most relevant to me, deep allegiance to kin groups. I can’t claim any skill on the feadan (tin whistle) or the cláirseach (the 30 string harp), although I enjoy a céilí (a celebration), and I do have some familiarity with the mythology, particularly the Morrígan, the Celtic triple war goddess of old, Queen Maeve, the strong-willed, ambitious, and fearless legend, and the warrior queens of the North. In terms of sports, I’ve learned enough to enjoy a hurling match and can follow Gaelic football. Ireland is known as ‘the land of saints and scholars,’ and my Irish heritage has provided me with a genuine and deep-seated love of learning that has been integral in my life.

Valuing my Irish heritage means also looking clearly at what makes Ireland what it is today.

The response to oppression gave rise to nationalism and a drive to be an independent sovereign state, leading to independence in 1921 (only 100 years ago!) and militance with sometimes tragic results advanced in the name of freedom. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought about the end to one kind of violence. The Good Friday Agreement brought a measure of quietude to the challenges of expressing different views, yet more than twenty years later, differences still persist. And the recent investigations into mother and baby homes engendered an awareness of the need for the apologies to survivors of this awful period in Irish history.

Some believe the “Irish temperament” is a mixture of stubbornness, personal warmth, and a wit that shines through adversity. I certainly hope I have all three of these, perhaps a bit more of the latter two than the first. However, having a bit of stubbornness is important, particularly as the director of NLM, which serves as NIH’s center for biomedical informatics research and the world’s largest biomedical library. Being stubborn, coupled with warmth and wit, has helped me guide the NLM as it approaches its 3rd century in existence. It has helped me serve as an advocate for the technical infrastructure necessary to secure our resources and to make them permanently available around the world. It has provided me with the tenacity needed to hold firm to the values of what libraries mean to society – institutions rooted in collecting and disseminating the literature of the world with integrity and without censorship.

What this means to NLM is that we must continue to hold to our enabling legislation of 1956, to acquire, preserve … materials pertinent to medicine and … make available… materials in the library. As Joyce Backus, our former Associate Director of Library Operations, was fond of saying, “science is self-correcting,” meaning that we don’t need to exclude materials that are no longer aligned with our global perspectives, but we do need to continue to gather and make available the full range of information.  

So, I hope you join in the celebration of all that is Irish on this St Patrick’s Day and remember that history is complex — and the purpose of libraries, including the National Library of Medicine, is to reflect the progress and perspectives across time, rather than a snapshot of a particular point in time.

How can we help you in this celebration?

Vaccines, Vaccinations, and NLM

As I write this message, I am one of the more than 25 million people in the U.S. who have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on February 4, and my second dose on February 25. NIH is distributing vaccines to employees based on priority group following general guidance from the CDC, but I became eligible first through my health plan. I’m sharing my story with you today and highlighting how the NLM has and still plays a role in vaccines and vaccinations during this time of the COVID pandemic.

Getting a spot in the COVID vaccine line will become one of the shared stories of this pandemic. As story tellers, we will likely exchange tales of how each of us got that prized place, particularly for those of us who received the vaccine in the first few weeks of distribution.

Here’s my story: As a resident of Washington, DC, and someone who is over 65 years of age, I became eligible pretty early – January 11. At the time, DC released appointment slots through its public web site. What if you don’t have a computer, typing skills, or access to the internet? Can the public library help here? Of course! In addition to providing internet access and coaching support from library staff, some public libraries are becoming sites for the distribution of the COVID vaccine. Each Monday and every other Thursday, as more appointment slots were released, I dutifully logged into the DC vaccination registration website, entering details and hitting refresh. Unfortunately, the available slots ran out quickly with each attempt. It was indeed frustrating. Through my health plan, I was entered into a vaccine registration list. As an NIH employee, I got my name on a list too. I was probably number 15,543 at NIH since I am healthy and able to work remotely, but I became eligible through my health plan in late January and was spared the déjà vu of type, refresh, repeat!

NLM played a big role in helping get this vaccine to me and people around the world.

We played a key role in making sure the genomic basis for vaccines and therapeutics were freely available to the public. In January 2020, NLM released the first fully annotated SARS-CoV-2 gene sequence to the public through our GenBank database, the world’s largest database of publicly available genetic sequences. Because NLM maintains extensive data repositories of nucleic acid sequences – the building blocks of genes – researchers were able to search NLM’s entire Sequence Read Archive (SRA) to better understand and characterize the biological properties of SARS-CoV-2 in record time. 

NLM created a dedicated website, the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 data hub, for researchers to search, retrieve, and analyze data for more than 150,000 digital genomic sequences of the virus. In addition, we partnered with publishers around the world to make available for computerized data mining the full text of over 100,000 articles related to the coronavirus, helping scientist to identify key biological targets. Our ClinicalTrials.gov repository includes over 400 studies designed to develop, evaluate, and determine the effects of various COVID-19 vaccines.

Screen shot of MedlinePlus COVID-19 webpage

Our MedlinePlus consumer health information site contains specialized information about COVID-19 vaccines, clinical studies, and the vaccine distribution process. MedlinePlus helps people find information (in English and Spanish) about the COVID-19 vaccination program in the United States, and is a resource where people can find reliable, up-to-date information about how to protect themselves and their loved ones against infection while awaiting the vaccine. Linking to health information from the NIH and other federal government agencies such as the FDA and CDC, MedlinePlus provides access to fact sheets, statistics and research, journal articles, and even videos to help people learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

What makes NLM unique is not just that it contributed to the process that helped make vaccines available, it’s that NLM has been helping scientists, clinicians and the public understand, prevent, manage, and cope with infectious diseases and health problems for nearly 200 years.

To Prevent Influenza!, 1918
National Library of Medicine #101580385

NLM identifies, selects, and archives a remarkable volume of content documenting these pandemics, from the scientific journals to the public health announcements. We were here 100 years ago, preserving information about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and we’re on track to be here in 100 years when future scholars and members of the public want to peruse the records of the COVID-19 pandemic and other health challenges faced by society.

The NLM serves scientists and society by providing trusted health information to understand, prevent and treat illness in support of public health. How can we help you?