Musings on the Mezzanine

The history of this soaring space

A couple of you have asked about the title of my blog. A mezzanine? Am I working in a restored theater or something?

Since I’m new to the place myself, I thought a bit of research might be in order. As the minutes of a 1958 NLM Board of Regents meeting reveal, “mezzanine” is the term that has always been used for the second floor of the main National Library of Medicine, Building 38, where the Office of the Director and NLM administrative offices are located.

The history of the Mezzanine is interesting.

“Characteristic of the age we live in, particular consideration had to be given to bomb blast effect where it might influence structural design.”
Walter Kilham, Jr. | 1961, Bull Med Libr Assoc

When the Philadelphia firm of O’Connor and Kilham was drawing up the blueprints, they had serious concerns. The late 1950s were marked by Cold War tensions, and our beautiful geometric roof was put in place so that, in the event of an attack, it would collapse, creating a seal over our vast collection, housed on three underground levels. This fear is also the reason for our foot-thick Indiana limestone walls and other fortifications.

It might not be common to build a library that can withstand a bomb blast, but the architects pulled it off with style.

With a big open space called the Rotunda forming its core, the Mezzanine is graced by a large ring of windows under the roof. At times, geese fly by, their loud honking distracting us momentarily from our computers. I’m told that during winter storms, it feels like we’re inside a snow globe. We also have a 15-foot model of the DNA double helix, suspended from the ceiling, which is simply beautiful.

The library space below, housing casual seating and small exhbitions, opens above to the soaring expanse of the rotunda, featuring a large ring of lights and a model DNA strand hanging in the center.
The view from the Rotunda looking up toward the Mezzanine highlights the double-stranded model of DNA which hangs in the center. (Credit: Stephen Greenberg / NLM)

I invite any of you who are in the DC metropolitan area to come and see the Mezzanine. (You can even take a tour of the Library.)

This building opened its doors to the public in 1962. We remain open to the public today. And now we are building an open-access library, where PubMed Central‘s 4.1 million articles are used by over one million people every day.

I’m honored to be one of the more recent occupants of an office on the storied Mezzanine.

As we work on strategic planning for the next decade and beyond, all of us on the Mezzanine and beyond want to make sure you get the medical information you need, when and how you need it.

And we invite your thoughts on how we can best provide that service. Please share your comments and your audacious goals for NLM’s future.

Welcome to My New Blog!

NLM is an amazing place.

I invite you to join me as I share my impressions as the new Director of the world’s largest biomedical library, the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

NLM is an amazing place. We have technology covered, with electronic resources that deliver trillions of bytes of data to millions of users around the globe each day, but we also have a vast and varied collection, with items dating back to the 11th century. Many of our historical holdings have been digitized for public use.

We also have a remarkable staff. Not only am I busy learning the names and roles of many new colleagues at the Library and all of the National Institutes of Health, but I have submerged myself in learning about the Library’s long and deep roots (back to 1836), eyeing our impressive arc of information innovation, and considering the threshold we’re standing on, as we prepare to invite the world at large to help us anticipate our third century. What will that look like? What resources will we need? How will we meet the information needs of the public, where they are, as quickly as possible, and in the desired format? Because our public includes scientists to school teachers, parents to physicians, the answers to these questions will be different depending on one’s perspective. It will be our challenge to knit them together into a coherent, exciting, and achievable vision.

I hope you’ll join me for these fascinating times, and that you’ll consider this blog the perfect space for some two-way dialogue. Along the way, as I acquire new information about NLM programs, services, people, and places, I promise to share them all with you. (Remind me to tell you about the time I actually got locked inside the Library, after official hours. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something.)

To your good health,
Patti

Share your thoughts

Dr. Brennan has her left hand on a large book and her right hand raised while looking at Dr. Collins to her right. Her sister holds the book.
My swearing-in ceremony at the library on Monday, September 12, 2016. Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, administers the oath of office, and my sister, Dr. Jean F. McGuire, holds the commemorative copy of the US Constitution used for the event. (Photo: Ernie Branson/NIH)