The astute among you (or the inveterate blog watchers) caught me blogging on a new outlet last week: DataScience@NIH. You’re not seeing double, and I haven’t abandoned NLM Musings from the Mezzanine.
In January, 2017 I assumed the role of the NIH Interim Associate Director for Data Science (iADDS), as Dr. Phil Bourne stepped down from his position as the inaugural Associate Director for Data Science.
I now have two distinct but related roles: iADDS and the Director of NLM. As the iADDS, I have responsibilities to the whole of NIH to work with my fellow institute and center directors to guide NIH’s future investments in data science. As the NLM Director I must lead the Library in its day-to-day operations and the creation of its new strategic plan.
The two jobs are a natural pairing.
The challenges of big data—its size, variability, and accessibility—align with the strengths of the library. In fact, recognizing how big data’s technical complexity leveraged NLM’s core strengths, the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director recommended making NLM the intellectual hub for data science in June 2015. They wrote, “NLM is now poised to build on its activities in computational-based research, data dissemination, and training to assume the NIH leadership role in data science.”
My taking on the iADDS role is one step toward making that recommendation a reality. Fortunately I am guided by an outstanding NLM leadership team (I’ll introduce you to them later), and terrific colleagues across the NIH, particularly those in the Scientific Data Council.
It’s an exciting time and having a view from above (iADDS) and a view from within (Director, NLM) helps me see both the challenges and the pathways to resolution. I’ll keep these two blogs going but sometimes point back and forth, so that you can see where my thoughts are going.
I welcome your thoughts. How should the NLM help NIH meet the challenges of data science? What is the role of the NLM in ensuring that data are FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable)? And most importantly, how do we accelerate discovery through data? The NLM needs your questions and your ideas!
Photo credit: Doug Racine, US Fish & Wildlife Service [Flickr]
Guest post by Kathel Dunn, PhD, NLM Associate Fellowship Coordinator
We’ve nearly reached the halfway point in the NLM Associate Fellowship Program year. The Fellows, recent library science graduates in residence at NLM for a year, are in the midst of selecting the projects they will work on this spring. Each year staff propose projects from which the Associate Fellows choose two to lead. The proposed projects encompass the full range of work at NLM.
The opportunity to choose their own project work—to choose their own problem, rather than a problem handed to them—is a rare experience for an early career or even mid-career professional. The Associate Fellows make a choice based on their interests, their skills and abilities, and their assessment of the impact of the project, both for them and for NLM and the profession.
Three years ago one of the Associate Fellows, Kevin Read, now the Knowledge Management Librarian at NYU Health Sciences Library, took on the task of building a web portal to NIH data-sharing repositories and data-sharing policies. He followed that with a second project that involved estimating the number and type of datasets generated annually by NIH-funded research, work that led to presentations and a publication in PLoS One. Two years later two of the Associate Fellows worked on data science projects. Ariel Deardorff, now the Assessment and Data Librarian at UCSF, tackled a project on data visualization, while Erin Foster, currently the Data Services Librarian at Indiana University School of Medicine, dove into a project on common data elements. Since then, Erin and Ariel have co-founded a Data Interest Group within the Medical Library Association, bringing together other talented librarians in data science to advance the field and make a difference.
Six months ago I introduced them at various welcome events at NLM; six months from now I will watch them present the results of their work to NLM staff. There is something about the alchemy of smart people—both staff and Associate Fellows—and mentoring, high expectations, and support that yields accomplishments that often move NLM, information science, and library science forward.
To many people that can appear a magical process of transformation or creation, but for those in the know it’s simply what librarians do. As NLM Deputy Director Betsy Humphreys wisely observed when asked about the future of librarians in our ever-shifting information landscape, “Librarians are problem-solvers. And one thing you wouldn’t do is get rid of the problem-solvers.”
It seems a quasi-tradition of this blog to ask a question of its readers. So I ask you now, what are the problems NLM should solve? To what tasks should we apply our unique alchemy of smarts, hard work, and high expectations?
Your answers might give current and future Associate Fellows, librarians, and library leaders the opportunity to work their magic and improve the information ecology in libraries, healthcare, science, and technology.
Those bold enough to confront challenges bring change.
Throughout February, in commemoration of Black History Month, the National Library of Medicine and the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) join together to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement with a poster exhibition in the lobby of the Lister Hill Center.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of touring this exhibition with Ms. Debra Chew, Director of NIH EDI, and Mr. Danny Dickerson, Director of EDI’s Diversity and Inclusion Division. We talked about the power of citizens to affect change and observed how far we have come—and how far we have yet to go—toward true equality. But we also took time to quietly take in the exhibit.
I was struck immediately by how young everyone looked in the photos—and in fact, they were. Julian Bond was only in his mid-20s but already a skilled activist, and Shirley Chisholm was not quite 40, still a few years shy of being the first African-American woman elected to Congress. The images of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. were the most striking to me—odd because his face is so familiar. But in these images I particularly noticed his eyes. At one and the same time they were lighthearted and welcoming, fierce and wise.
As a teenager in the 1960s and as the NLM Director today, I felt Dr. King’s call to act and to serve, with the slight warning that, while both could be fulfilling, both would be fraught with challenge.
But history has shown that those bold enough to confront challenges bring change.
The inspiration and hard work of the civil rights movement shaped health care in so many ways. We recognized that separate care is not equal care, and that those who experience the chronic stress of poor housing, limited schooling, and societal bias (increasingly subtle but sadly still present) have special needs. The medical literature is more complete now than it was 50 years ago, with greater attention to the experience of health by those whose race and ethnicity differ from what we once called “the majority.” NLM’s Specialized Information Services Division uses in-person and web-based strategies to make health information not simply available, but also accessible to those who hold different cultural values and have different life experiences. And our History of Medicine Division guides us to preserve not only typical images of health, such as anatomy drawings, but also the unexpected—images like the one above showing members of the Medical Committee for Civil Rights as they participate in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
And if you’re nearby, I encourage you to come to the National Library of Medicine, NIH Building 38a (Lister Hill Center), to walk through our brief history of the civil rights movement and to consider the brave men and women who stepped forward to ensure that all people share equal rights.
The exhibition is open through February 28 from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm weekdays, except federal holidays.
For more information about the exhibition, please contact Melanie Modlin, Deputy Director, Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Library of Medicine at 301.496.7771.
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?
How can the world’s largest medical library harness data to improve public health?
Guest post by Dana Casciotti, PhD, Public Health Policy Analyst
You don’t have to be a scientist or health professional to know that information is at the heart of every biomedical advancement and clinical decision. And it’s equally obvious that authoritative health information does not appear out of the blue. Medical knowledge emerges from a process that begins with basic research into how organisms work and ends with carefully tested determinations of what treatments work best for the symptoms, disorders, and diseases humans face.
Along this bench-to-bedside continuum from discovery to practice is the work of the National Library of Medicine. Since its creation, NLM has been committed to making its vast store of information available to the public, including lay individuals, communities, medical and public health professionals, and researchers. Our simple but important mission is to acquire, organize, disseminate, and preserve the biomedical knowledge of the world for the benefit of public health.
Let’s face it, though—there are challenges. Information access may be the first step to improving health outcomes, but we know that having access to information alone is not sufficient. Think of all those who continue to smoke cigarettes despite the Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers plainly stated on the package. Or story after story in the news about the benefits of exercise, passively taken in—and ignored—by the couch potato. Certainly other factors—social, behavioral, economic, and environmental—influence whether and to what extent individuals use health information.
Additionally, although the internet and social media have expanded access to health information and built meaningful communities around medical topics, those tools have also spread a disturbing amount of inaccurate information.
So, we have our work cut out.
From a public health perspective, I am interested in how NLM can foster new approaches to interpreting and using information so individuals can have more productive health care interactions and improved health decision-making. Along that bench-to-bedside continuum, I’m focused on the end, on what happens bedside, in the doctor’s office, or at the kitchen table as patients decide what to do.
Thanks to new apps and wearable devices, people can be more aware than ever about their own health data especially related to behaviors like diet, exercise, and sleep. In addition to personally collected information, there is a vast array of health data generated from various sources—Electronic Health Records, research studies, and insurance claims data, just to name a few, along with the newest kid on the block, the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative. Its All of Us program aims to build a national, large-scale research enterprise with one million or more volunteers to extend precision medicine to all diseases. Imagine the size and promise of that data!
So how can the Library capitalize on this data explosion? Can we facilitate data collection and use at the point-of-care in a way that is manageable—and actionable—for busy clinicians and often overwhelmed patients? How can we use health information technology to create links between health data and consumer health information? Can we guide people effectively to sources of actionable information tailored to them? Can we help individuals take greater ownership of and be more active in health decision-making?
These are the questions my colleagues and I are wrestling with now, and the answers will certainly build upon the promise of recent advancements in information science and data science, along with cultural shifts brought about through the open science and citizen science movements. If we can effectively channel the tsunami of personal data being generated by each of us every day, then maybe we can employ new strategies to engage the couch potato and continued smoker. NLM can continue to be the gold standard for information about health and medicine, and make sure the public can find and use us.
If so, we can positively impact health, both for the individual and for society at large.
Guest blogger Dana Casciotti, PhD, is a Public Health Policy Analyst at the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Casciotti has over 10 years of experience in the public health field working in academic, government, and nonprofit sectors. Her training has focused on behavioral and social factors related to health, especially cancer prevention and control, and health communication. Dr. Casciotti holds an MPH from the University of Pittsburgh and a PhD from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.