Four Years of Conversation with YOU!

Next month, it’ll be four years since I expanded my use of social media by delivering a weekly blog post. What a four years it has been!

During that time, Musings from the Mezzanine has posted every single week – sometimes twice a week – resulting in more than 200 blog posts with over 300,000 views! I owe the deepest of gratitude to staff in NLM’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison who work closely with me in the production of what appears to be effortless, but in fact, represents dozens of hours of staff time every week!

At its inception, I saw the blog as a chance for NLM stakeholders to get to know me as the new NLM director. While my name is familiar in the informatics community, the medical library and data science/computational biology communities were less familiar with me. NLM views each of these communities as important stakeholders, so this blog served as an important calling card.

I saw (and still see) the blog as a way to have a conversation through comments on individual posts, Twitter messages highlighting a new post, or connections stimulated by ideas advanced in the posts. Over the years, guest-authored blog posts became an important part of our approach, and I invited colleagues to use this platform to share important and timely information related to the mission of NLM and NIH. Sometimes we collaborate with leadership across NIH to announce NIH-wide initiatives, such as this summer’s launch of NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative to advance innovative ideas for new COVID-19 testing approaches and strategies, or to comment on the importance of testing and other public health strategies to address the global pandemic.

Musings has shared how academic health sciences libraries are answering the call to provide uninterrupted access to resources and to valuable services and support during the COVID-19 pandemic, and provided information about the role of open access and evidence-based information to improve health for all species.

Over the past 18 months, the blog has become a central channel to communicate the new directions that NLM is moving toward and raise awareness of plans to update and upgrade PubMed, the first major new release of this important NLM service in more than 20 years. We often use the blog to explain how NLM is advancing biomedical informatics research or creating a new, more efficient organizational structure. While not replacing archival manuscripts and official news announcements, the blog stimulates conversations about important NLM investments, priorities, and activities.

The blog also allows me to reflect periodically on the wide range of responsibilities I hold as director of one the 27 Institutes and Centers at NIH.

I have positioned NLM to accelerate data science at NIH, and we have done a great job! Colleagues such as Jon R. Lorsch, PhD, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and Susan Gregurick, PhD, associate director for data science and director of the Office of Data Science Strategy at NIH have contributed guests posts to reach even more readers.

I thank everyone who reads this blog, including my sisters and friends, and those of you who comment and provide particularly helpful or thought-provoking ideas; it means so much to me and my colleagues. Beginning in November, blogs will be published on Wednesday mornings, instead of Tuesday afternoons. If you’d like to get blog updates, sign up below!

Social media provides one opportunity for me, as a public servant, to demonstrate accountability. It helps me reveal what I am thinking, engage the public about the future NLM, and alert you to our accomplishments and initiatives.

Along the way, it also gives you an opportunity to share what’s on your mind, so please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know if you would like to be a guest blog author. All voices and ideas are welcome!

Marking an Anniversary

It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for Musings.

It’s also time to celebrate! Musings from the Mezzanine is now 3 years old, and we’re marking the occasion with a new masthead, and some reflections.

When I began this blog three years ago, I wanted to use it to reach NLM stakeholders and offer them a chance to get to know me better. Over time, it’s evolved into an important vehicle for communicating advances in the NLM portfolio, describing key policy issues, and highlighting events and other perspectives. To my great surprise, Musings has become a powerful tool for advancing the work we do every day at NLM.

Last year, I decided to direct more of my attention in this blog toward the science of NLM — computational biology, biomedical informatics, and data science. I promised more posts about basic biomedical informatics, data science research, and new partnerships with domain scientists who are building tools that are accelerating discovery. In addition, I wanted to discuss in detail some complex policy issues, such as the data life cycle and the Library’s responsibility to support rigor and reproducibility within federally funded research.

Focusing on the science of NLM, we’ve reported on the work of some of our intramural scientists. For example, Teresa Przytycka introduced the Musings audience to network biology, characterizing the complex way that cells interact with each other as a suite of networks and nodes. Utilizing data from high-throughput experiments, Teresa’s research group has shown how those interaction networks can be leveraged to identify disease-associated groups of related genes.

We’ve had many articles featuring data science this year — from David Hale’s discussion of the innovative NLM Data Discovery portal to Jim Ostell’s announcement of the launch of NLM’s Sequence Read Archive (SRA) in the cloud, making SRA the largest database of publicly available high-throughput accessible via the cloud. We also addressed whether our data are ready and fit for artificial intelligence, and Susan Gregurick described how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) enhances data sharing through NIH-supported repositories, PubMed Central’s data deposit, the Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative, and a pilot with the generalist repository Figshare.

I’m proud of how we expanded the focus on public policy germane to NLM. Earlier this year, Dina Paltoo, along with Jerry Sheehan and Rebecca Goodwin, updated us on public policy initiatives affecting NLM, including data sustainability, net neutrality, and open science. They reported on the work of an NLM policy team that brings experts together to deliberate on how NLM should address such issues. And, just last month, I shared the congressional testimony that I submitted to the U.S. House Congressional Subcommittee on Appropriations for NIH Investments in Medical Research.

My blog has also become a place to showcase important events and a variety of perspectives. In February, we celebrated the contributions of African American scientists at NIH. Guest bloggers have periodically provided insights into new developments, such as the introduction to authority-based security by Kurt Rodarmer and the overview of NLM’s new Office of Engagement and Training by Amanda Wilson, and shared their thoughts on important issues, such as the discussion of data reuse by Melissa Haendel of the Oregon Health & Science University.

And, true to the blog’s name, I’ve continued to share my own musings as I’ve matured as an NIH director, including on communicating and leading in a time of change and on my role as a nurse who directs a national library, in response to the oft-asked question, “Didn’t you used to be a nurse?” I was delighted to highlight the 10 women who lead institutes and centers at NIH, which has become my most popular post. I also made a plea for the appropriate use of sick leave — please stay home when you’re sick, if you can.

It’s a privilege and a pleasure to develop this blog and to work with NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison staff to bring these posts to you. Please let me know your thoughts and ideas — and maybe consider contributing something yourself!

Two Years and Running Strong

Celebrating another blog birthday

A little over two years ago, I wrote my first post for NLM Musings from the Mezzanine. Since then, we have not missed a single week! (And a couple of weeks we published twice.) I attribute the streak in no small part to my muse and master, Mary Ann Leonard, who ardently translates my drafts into powerful prose and keeps me motivated with content maps, publication calendars, and the occasional inspirational push.

While I’ve authored 70 blog posts in that time, we’ve supplemented that with 37 guest posts from an array of colleagues, from NLM staff to hospital librarians to patient advocates. It’s a privilege to share their perspectives and expertise on topics ranging from biomedical informatics to basketball, with fair use, disaster preparedness, metagenomics and a host of others in between. And I’m happy to open this platform to them to highlight their ideas and expose their accomplishments, issues, challenges, or initiatives to a larger audience.

Out of the 107 posts published so far, I can’t help but have my favorites.  Walk with Me While I Walk with Those who Walked for Freedom allowed me to reflect on how different populations experience health and access to health care.  Vint Cerf inspired me to think about how NLM could deliver its services in outer space, an initiative that could help us better support communities here on Earth that lack electricity or stable internet. And the contributions from hospital librarians highlight the important roles libraries serve in clinical settings.

I regularly monitor how posts are received, whether through comments or social media. Some posts can garner almost one thousand “shares,” while others struggle to get ten. What does that tell me? That perhaps I did not make my point clearly or strongly enough or that the content did not resonate with my readers. But when I hit the mark and my share count goes up, I feel thrilled to have connected with readers and to have conveyed messages they want to share with others.

I like hearing from people who’ve read the blog, and I appreciate the ideas and perspectives I gain from that exchange. Sometimes people post comments on the blog post itself—and I wholeheartedly encourage and welcome your input—but people also approach me at meetings or conferences to mention something they’ve read. My sisters are avid readers, and occasionally a brother or two will join the mix, so family visits can even prompt some discussion of what I’ve written or what’s going on here at the Library.

Regardless of whom I writing to, I’ve learned to consider how readers might perceive what I am saying and to use those insights to clarify my point, reframe the situation, or refine my argument. That process not only improves my writing; it also hones my thinking and helps me see more fully the topic, the situation, or the path ahead, all good things when you’re leading a large, complex institution.

In that way, the blog helps me work through ideas I’m wrestling with, but it also serves as a means of voicing concerns, announcing new initiatives or program changes, or sharing a bit about myself and how I approach my job as library director. But more than anything else, I appreciate the blog’s role as a weekly reminder to step back and contemplate the work we do here and our services to science and society.

In the coming year, I’m going to turn my attention more toward the science side of that equation. You can expect more posts about our expanded investments in basic biomedical informatics and data science research. I’ll keep you informed about new partnerships with domain scientists to build tools that will accelerate discovery. And we’ll be tackling some complex policy issues as well, such as the data life cycle and the Library’s responsibility to support rigor and reproducibility within federally funded research.

Through it all, week in and week out, I’ll continue to use this blog to open a window into the Library, its operations, and its commitment to biomedical discovery and the health of society. See you next Tuesday!

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Today marks one year since we launched Musings on the Mezzanine.

Surprisingly, I’ve found that writing for it has often been the high point of my week.

I like having a way to communicate important happenings here at NLM. I also like using the blog as a way to wrestle with ideas. Many times I have been puzzling about how to approach a managerial challenge or make some headway with a project only to find that writing a blog post reveals a fresh perspective or new direction. Sometimes I write directly about what I’m mulling over; other times it’s as if my brain is working in parallel, focused in part on the story I am telling and in part elsewhere, sifting and winnowing through that vexing work issue.

Do you have a favorite post? I have many. Indeed, I probably like all of them, but sometimes one or another holds special meaning. We announced the re-design of the BD2K data science program through this blog back in January. In June, I shared reminiscences of my good friend, Judith Caruthers, and for a bit, this long-gone friend came back to life for me. I  introduced you to the great civil rights leaders during Black History Month, and later took you on my vacation pilgrimage through some of the civil rights shrines in the South. We said goodbye to Betsy Humphreys and honored the great Joe Leiter through this blog. And I introduced you to my family, my colleagues, and the important work here at the National Library of Medicine.

I have been delighted to offer the “bully pulpit” of Musings, as we call it, to others who have something important to say to our community. Whether it is about the journey through the Associates Fellowship program, the significant role of hospital libraries, the next generation of clinical decision support, or confirming the Internet in space, these guest bloggers have brought their unique voices and perspectives, and for this I am grateful. Insights about our NLM resources are best conveyed by those closest to them, and I am immensely thankful to NLM colleagues Joyce Backus, Dina Demner-Fushman, Kathel Dunn, Ashley Hintz, Jeff Reznick, Fred Wood, and others who took the time to tell our story.

Sometimes I re-read old blog posts. They’ve helped me track the trajectory of my first year, and I love looking at the pictures and reading the comments. I sometimes wonder what prompted me to delve in to a particular theme, often reminiscing on the spark—a conversation with a staff member, a painting at an exhibition—that led to a specific post.

This blog would not be possible without the energy, vision, and skills of my colleague Mary Ann Leonard. Mary Ann, a librarian-turned-communications specialist, encourages me, cajoles me, and even inspires me to use this blog to increase your engagement with NLM. She helps me find my voice, and, many times, translates that voice into understandable prose, accompanied by informative and interesting pictures. Thanks, Mary Ann!

At one point over the summer we considered changing the pace of the blog, maybe posting only every other week, but the urge to connect, to persuade, to tell our story, runs too strong, so every Tuesday morning at 9 AM I hold fast to my sacred time and write the next blog post.

So next Tuesday, or the Tuesday after that, what would you like to see me address in this blog? Or just as importantly, who out there needs a “bully pulpit” to share your ideas or concerns about medical libraries, health information, open access, health disparities, or anything else of interest to the NLM community? I invite you to propose an idea, draft a post, and tell the world.

I get to do this every week, and it’s wonderful, so join the party! I can’t promise cake, but the conversations are excellent.



Who’s Out There?

I write this blog for a number of reasons.

Sharing my ideas helps me clarify my thoughts. It helps me plant a seed to advance an idea or enlist your support. It also gives me the opportunity to introduce different aspects of the National Library of Medicine and its vast array of services.

And obviously, I write each post intending it to be read, but who exactly are my readers?

A coach once told me that, before I start any writing project, I must envision my readers. Here are the readers I envision right now:

Some of you are stakeholders of the Library and its products and services—researchers, clinicians, librarians, patrons, policy makers, and NLM staff members. Many of you have already shared your ideas, stimulated by some of my writings; I encourage more of you to do so!

Other readers are my loyal friends and professional colleagues who want to know what I’m up to in this phase of my life. These folks are more likely to tell me privately they’ve read the blog or they look forward to the next installment.

Still others find their way here through the power of connections and the exhortation to “read this.” That is, they might get a link to the blog post from someone who found an idea to be interesting, provocative, or maybe even wrong.

Wrong? Could there be someone who takes issue with or maybe even disagrees with a perspective I have advanced?

Of course. Probably a few someones.

I recognize that people may (and likely do) hold different perspectives on some of the ideas I’ve already advanced, such as providing information to people on the move or the sly bemusement I expressed regarding the Cold-War origins of the building. Sometimes I even hear from them. That’s why there’s space here for readers to talk back.

Bring it on, I say!

Because ultimately, the reason I write this blog is to engage with you.

What’s on your mind? You have the floor.