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NIH Almanac - Organization

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NLM logo   National Library of Medicine
Mission | Important Events | Legislative Chronology | Director | Programs


The National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world's largest research library of the health sciences, serves scientists, health professionals, and the public.

The Library has a statutory mandate from Congress to apply its resources broadly to the advancement of medical and health-related sciences. It collects, organizes, and makes available biomedical information to investigators, educators, and practitioners, and carries out programs designed to strengthen existing and develop new medical library services in the United States. It conducts research in health communications, supports medical informatics, and provides information services and sophisticated tools in the area of molecular biology and genetics.

Important Events in NLM History

1836 - The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army was established (the present NLM).

1865 - John Shaw Billings, M.D., was assigned to supervise the Surgeon General's Library, which he developed into a national resource of biomedical literature.

1879 - The first volume of Index Medicus was published.

January 1922 - The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) was renamed Army Medical Library.

April 1952 - The Army Medical Library was renamed the Armed Forces Medical Library.

October 1, 1956 - The Armed Forces Medical Library was designated the National Library of Medicine and placed under PHS.

December 1961 - The new building at 8600 Rockville Pike was dedicated.

January 1964 - The Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) became operational at NLM.

October 22, 1965 - The Medical Library Assistance Act gave NLM the responsibility of helping the Nation's medical libraries through a grant program and created a Regional Medical Library Network.

January 1, 1967 - A Toxicology Information Program was established at NLM in response to recommendations of the President's science advisory committee.

1968 - NLM became a component of NIH. The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, NLM's R&D component, was created by Congress.

October 1971 - MEDLINE (MEDLARS Online) was initiated to provide online access to a major portion of the MEDLARS database.

September 1972 - TOXLINE, an online bibliographic service covering pharmacology and toxicology, became operational.

May 22, 1980 - NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications building was dedicated. The new building, adjacent to the Library, houses NLM's research and development components, as well as its toxicology and biotechnology programs.

February 5, 1986 - Grateful Med, a PC-based user-friendly software for accessing MEDLARS, was introduced to the health community.

October 1993 - NLM's Internet WWW site appeared (

November 25, 1994 - The "Visible Human Male," a large computer dataset of images based on a cadaver, was introduced. The "Visible Human Female" appeared 1 year later.

June 26, 1997 - All web-based access to NLM's MEDLINE was made free.

October 1998 - Medlineplus created to provide access to consumer health information.

NLM Legislative Chronology

August 3, 1956 - An amendment to Title III of the PHS act, the National Library of Medicine Act, placed the Armed Forces Medical Library under the PHS, and renamed it the National Library of Medicine (P.L. 84-941).

October 22, 1965 - The Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-291) was signed into law, authorizing NLM's extramural programs of grant assistance to help expand and improve the Nation's medical library and health communications resources, technology, and manpower for service to the health community.

August 3, 1968 - Public Law 90-456 authorized the designation of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.

November 4, 1988 - Public Law 100-607 authorized the establishment of a National Center for Biotechnology Information at the NLM.

June 10, 1993 - Public Law 103-43 authorized the establishment of the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology at NLM.

Biographical Sketch of NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D.

Dr. Lindberg assumed the directorship of NLM in August 1984. He received his A.B. degree (magna cum laude) from Amherst College and his M.D. degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. He received his specialty training in anatomic and clinical pathology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. He also holds honorary degrees from Amherst College, State University of New York, and the University of Missouri.

Following early research in experimental pathology, he later began a long-term investigation of the use of computers in medicine, founding in 1963 one of the Nation's first medical computer centers at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Prior to joining the Library, Dr. Lindberg was director of the Information Science Group at Missouri and he taught pathology there from 1962 until his present appointment. He also served as chairman of the department of information science at the university's School of Library and Information Science.

Dr. Lindberg has published extensively in the fields of pathology and medical information. He is the author of two books - The Computer and Medical Care (1968) and The Growth of Medical Information Systems in the United States.

From 1992 to 1995 he served in the concurrent position of director of the National Coordination Office for High Performance Computing and Communications, Executive Office of the President. In 1996 he was appointed by the HHS Secretary as the U.S. national coordinator for global health care applications (G-7).

Directors of NLM

In Office From
Frank B. Rogers
1956 1963
Martin M. Cummings
1964 August 1984
Donald A.B. Lindberg
August 1984  

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, other health professionals, and the public. Today this is accomplished through the web: provision of online search services through MEDLINE/PubMed, NLM Gateway, MedlinePlus, and other databases and services. Agreements with foreign institutions provide MEDLARS services to an international community of health scientists.

Web-based Services

MEDLINE was put on the Web free using the PubMed system in 1997. Heavy use by the public led to the development in 1998 of an extensive consumer health information service called MedlinePlus. NLM's catalogs are available on the Web through Locatorplus. Databases of gene sequence and other molecular information, and toxicology and environmental health, are also on the Web. The NLM Web site is at

National Network of Libraries of Medicine

To provide more efficient dissemination of biomedical information, NLM has developed a network arrangement through which interlibrary loan and other information services can be shared efficiently by medical libraries. The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) consists of eight Regional Medical Libraries and more than 4,000 hospital and other medical libraries. Although NLM remains the heart of the network, more and more services are being provided directly through the network. The NNLM toll-free number is 1-800-338-7657.

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 and Environmental Health 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 and the public.

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.

This page was last reviewed on June 21, 2005 .

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