NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NLM/      

National Library of Medicine: Major Programs


The Library’s computer-based MEDLARS was established in January 1964 to achieve rapid bibliographic access to NLM’s vast store of biomedical information. The principal objective of MEDLARS is to provide references to the biomedical literature for researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals. This is accomplished through:

1) preparation of citations for publication in Index Medicus, a comprehensive, subject-author index to articles from approximately 3,000 of the world’s biomedical journals; and

2) provision of online search services through MEDLINE, TOXLINE, and other databases.

Agreements with foreign institutions provide MEDLARS services to an international community of health scientists.

Online Databases

In 1971 NLM initiated its MEDLINE service to provide an online bibliographic searching capability through terminals in libraries at medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country. By typing simple instructions on a personal computer connected by communications networks to the central computer, a physician or other health professional can retrieve almost instantaneously references to the most current indexed journal articles in this area of interest. In addition to MEDLINE, other online databases deal with toxicology information, cataloging information, audiovisual materials, history of medicine, cancer literature, hospital and health care literature, medical ethics, and reproductive biology. In 1997 MEDLINE was made available over the Internet via the World Wide Web. The URL is

Regional Medical Library Services

To provide more efficient dissemination of biomedical information, NLM has been developing a network arrangement through which MEDLARS and interlibrary loan services can be shared efficiently by medical libraries. The network consists of eight Regional Medical Libraries. Although NLM remains the heart of the network, more and more services are being provided directly by regional libraries.

Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications

The center explores the use of computer, communication, and audiovisual technologies to improve the organization, dissemination, and utilization of biomedical information, and is the focus of the Library’s high performance computing and communications initiatives.

Toxicology Information Program

The general objectives of the program are to create computer-based toxicology and environmental health data banks from scientific literature and from files of collaborating industrial, academic, and governmental agencies, and to establish toxicology information services for scientists.

National Center for Biotechnology Information

The NCBI, created in 1988, builds databases and information analysis/retrieval systems for genomic information and does research into advanced information-handling methods for biotechnology and related information.

National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology

The goal of this program is to create information services that make the results of health services research readily available--including clinical guidelines, technology assessments, and health care technology.

Extramural Programs

The extramural grant and contract programs of NLM were originally authorized by the Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-291) to provide better health information services through grant support to the Nation's medical libraries. The act, since extended by Congress, offers assistance for library resources, research in biomedical communications, biomedical publications, training for research careers in medical informatics, and Regional Medical Libraries. Research project grants in medical informatics are awarded under authority of title III, part A, sec. 301, of the PHS act.


National Institutes of Health