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National Library of Medicine (NLM)
The National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest biomedical library and a leader in research in computational health informatics. NLM plays a pivotal role in translating biomedical research into practice. NLM’s research and information services support scientific discovery, health care, and public health. NLM pioneers new ways to make biomedical data and information more accessible; builds tools for better data management and personal health; and helps create a more diverse and data-skilled workforce. NLM enables researchers, clinicians, and the public to use the vast wealth of biomedical data to improve health.
NLM’s cutting-edge research and training programs—with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, computational biology, and biomedical informatics and health data standards—help catalyze basic biomedical science, data-driven discovery, and health care delivery.
Every day, millions of scientists, health professionals, and members of the public from around the world use NLM’s online information resources to translate research results into new treatments, develop new products, inform clinical decision making, and improve public health. In addition, NLM leads research and research training in biomedical informatics, information science, and data science. Its vibrant intramural and extramural research programs conduct and support research and training in institutions across the United States.
NLM is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and located in Bethesda, Maryland. NLM started in 1836 as a small collection of medical books and journals in the office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
Leveraging its 184-history, NLM develops and applies innovative approaches to acquire, organize, curate, and deliver biomedical information across the United States and the world. NLM’s advanced biomedical information services are among the most visited websites in the Federal Government.
NLM carries out its mission of enabling biomedical research, supporting health care and public health, and promoting healthy behavior by:
- Acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing free online access to scholarly biomedical literature from around the world.
- Providing access to biomedical and health information across the country in partnership with the over 8,100 members of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM).
- Serving as a leading global resource for building, curating, and providing sophisticated access to molecular biology and genomic, clinical trial, environmental health and other types of biomedical data, including those from high-profile, trans-NIH initiatives.
- Conducting research and development on biomedical communications systems, methods, technologies, and networks and information dissemination and utilization among health professionals, patients, and the public.
- Funding advanced biomedical informatics and data science research and serving as the primary supporter of pre- and post-doctoral research training in biomedical informatics and data science at 16 U.S. universities.
1836—Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army (the present National Library of Medicine) established.
1865—John Shaw Billings, MD, appointed to supervise Surgeon General's Library, which he developed into a national resource of biomedical literature. He served as director until 1895.
1879—First volume of Index Medicus, the first attempt to identify and code the medical literature, published.
1880—First volume of Index-Catalogue, a multi-part printed bibliography, published.
1922—Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) renamed Army Medical Library.
1952—Army Medical Library renamed Armed Forces Medical Library.
1956—Act of Congress moved Armed Forces Medical Library to U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and renamed it the National Library of Medicine.
1961—New National Library of Medicine building, #38 (8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland, on the NIH campus), dedicated.
1964—Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS), a computer-based system for medical professionals to retrieve biomedical information, became operational at NLM.
1965—Medical Library Assistance Act gave NLM responsibility of helping the nation's medical libraries through a grant program and created the Regional Medical Library Network (now the National Network of Libraries of Medicine).
1968—NLM became a component of NIH. The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, NLM's research and development component, created by Congress.
1971—MEDLINE ("MEDLARS Online") initiated to provide online access to a subset of references in the MEDLARS database.
1972—TOXLINE, an online bibliographic service covering pharmacology and toxicology, became operational.
1980—NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, building #38A, dedicated. Adjacent to the Library, it houses NLM's research and development components.
1986—Grateful Med, user-friendly software for accessing MEDLARS, introduced to the health community.
1988—The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) established at NLM by Congress as a national resource for molecular biology information.
1992—NCBI assumed responsibility for GenBank and US participation in the International Nucleotide Sequence Consortium.
1993—National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology established at NLM by Congress as a national resource for health services research and evidence-based practice guidelines.
1993—NLM's website (www.nlm.nih.gov) appeared.
1997—Access to NLM's MEDLINE/PubMed database became free via the World Wide Web.
1998—MedlinePlus released, providing access to consumer health information.
2000—ClinicalTrials.gov, an online resource to give the public easy access to information about research studies, launched.
2000—PubMed Central (PMC), a free archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature, launched.
2002—NLM launched traveling historical exhibition program with release of Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature.
2003—NLM released standard format for electronic archiving and publishing of journal articles—the journal article tagging suite or JATS, which later became a national standard.
2004—The Secretary of HHS designated NLM as the HHS Coordinating Body for Clinical Terminology Standards.
2006—NIH MedlinePlus magazine launched to provide Americans with reliable, current health information in a consumer-friendly format. The Spanish-English version, Salud, followed two years later.
2006—dbGaP, the database of genomes and phenomes, launched to provide access genome-wide association studies.
2006—DailyMed made FDA-approved electronic structured product labels (drug package inserts) available to the public and system developers.
2008—NIH public access policy, requiring deposit in PMC of peer-reviewed articles resulting from NIH-funded research became mandatory, as specified in 2008 appropriations law.
2008—Deposit of summary results data in ClinicalTrials.gov became mandatory for selected clinical trials of FDA-regulated drugs and devices, as specified in the FDA Amendments Act of 2007.
2010—MedlinePlus Connect, a service linking patients or providers in electronic health record (EHR) systems to related MedlinePlus information on conditions or medications, released.
2010—Vocabulary standards supported or developed by NLM (LOINC, RxNorm, SNOMED CT) included in rule specifying U.S. certification criteria for electronic health record systems.
2015—AccessGUDID made medical device information submitted to the FDA available to the public.
2015—Other HHS agencies and other Federal Departments elected to require deposit of publications resulting from their funded research into PMC.
2016—Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, became the first woman and first nurse appointed to head the Library.
2017—HHS issued final rule for registration and reporting of summary results of clinical trials at ClinicalTrials.gov. NIH issued policy extending the requirements to all NIH-funded clinical trials.
2017—NLM launched its Strategic Plan 2017-2027: A Platform for Biomedical Discovery and Data-Powered Health
2019—NIH MedlinePlus magazine became available in both English and Spanish online.
2019—NLM’s Sequence Read Archive (SRA) public data moved to the cloud, completing the first phase of an ongoing effort to better position these data for large-scale computing.
2020—NLM launched an updated version of PubMed, providing an enhanced design and technology to improve the user experience.
August 3, 1956—An amendment to Title III of the Public Health Service Act, the National Library of Medicine Act, placed the Armed Forces Medical Library under the PHS, and renamed it the National Library of Medicine (Public Law 84-941).
October 22, 1965—The Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-291) authorized NLM's extramural programs of grant assistance to help expand and improve the nation's medical library and health communications resources, technology, and professional staff 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—Health Omnibus Programs Extension Act (Public Law 100-607) authorized establishment of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at NLM.
June 10, 1993—National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act (Public Law 103-43) authorized establishment of the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology at NLM.
November 21, 1997—The Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (Public Law 105-115) called for the creation of a centralized, consumer-friendly online listing of clinical trials, which became ClinicalTrials.gov.
September 27, 2007—The Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (Public Law 111-85) extended the scope of clinical trials to be registered at ClinicalTrials.gov and expanded the data bank to include summary results of completed clinical trials.
Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, is the Director of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest biomedical library.
Since becoming director in August 2016, Dr. Brennan has positioned the Library to be the hub of biomedical data science at NIH and across the biomedical research enterprise globally. She spearheaded the development of a strategic plan that enhances NLM’s research, development, training and information systems.
By leveraging NLM’s data and information resources, intramural research, and extramural research and training programs, Dr. Brennan is strengthening and advancing NLM’s data infrastructure to accelerate data-driven discovery and health, engage with new users in new ways, and develop the workforce for a data-driven future.
Dr. Brennan is a pioneer in the development of innovative information systems and services. Her professional accomplishments reflect her background, which unites engineering, information technology, and clinical care to improve public health and ensure the best possible experience in patient care. Dr. Brennan holds an appointment as associate investigator in the National Institute of Nursing Research Division of Intramural Research, where she directs the Advanced Visualization Laboratory.
Dr. Brennan came to NIH from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the Lillian L. Moehlman Bascom Professor at the School of Nursing and College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also led the Living Environments Laboratory (now the Virtual Environments Group) at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
She received a Master of Science in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following clinical practice in critical care nursing and psychiatric nursing, Dr. Brennan held academic positions at Marquette University, Milwaukee; Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A past president of the American Medical Informatics Association, Dr. Brennan was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2001. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the American College of Medical Informatics and the New York Academy of Medicine.
In 2020, Dr. Brennan was inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). The AIMBE College of Fellows is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to a medical and biological engineer.
In Office from
Leon Lloyd Gardner
Joseph Hamilton McNinch
Frank Bradway Rogers
Martin Marc Cummings
Donald A.B. Lindberg
Betsy L. Humphreys (Acting)
Patricia Flatley Brennan
NLM’s Extramural Programs Division offers grant support for research projects and research training in biomedical informatics and data science. Biomedical informatics and data science research develop methods and approaches to improve the capture, integration, management, analysis, visualization, retrieval, and use of biomedical and behavioral information and data relating to human health. The Extramural Programs Division provides research support for both basic and applied research in these and related areas.
To expand the biomedical workforce in the area of biomedical informatics and data science, NLM supports training in biomedical informatics at educational institutions throughout the U.S. These programs offer pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training for research careers in health care informatics, biomedical data science, translational informatics, clinical research informatics, public health informatics, and related areas. In addition, individual pre-doctoral fellowships in biomedical informatics or data science are offered, as are career transition awards.
Grants are also made to U.S. small businesses that seek to undertake informatics research and development leading to commercialization. Critical research areas include helping consumers visualize health data, data integration of large disparate data resources, artificial intelligence techniques for biomedical data resources, and the enhancement of biomedical data, including personal health data, to allow access to data for more than one user at the same time. NLM also participates in NIH initiatives for small businesses relating to the adoption of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard for exchanging electronic health information, and seeking improved therapies and techniques to enhance pain measurement and treatment in support of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative.
The Extramural Programs Division has two unique programs to support developing information resources to help reduce health disparities and developing resources related to the history and philosophy of medicine and public health.
NLM is a leader in research training in biomedical informatics, computational biology, and data science. NLM supports 200 pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees per year in biomedical informatics and data science in 16 university-based programs across the country. These programs encourage applications from people traditionally underrepresented in biomedical informatics and research; eleven of the programs offer special short-term summer training to enhance recruitment. In FY 2019, NLM partnered with the National Science Foundation to engage data science research experts with biomedical researchers studying and developing advanced analytical methods applied to health.
All active grant programs of NLM, lists of recent awardees, and contact information for grant staff are provided at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/ep/.
Division of Library Operations (LO)
The Division of Library Operations acquires, organizes, preserves, and provides access to the NLM Collection, which represents the intellectual content and diversity of the world’s biomedical literature, data, and other research objects and information. These activities are guided by the NLM Collection and Preservation Policy approved by the NLM Board of Regents in 2019. LO also creates and disseminates controlled vocabularies including MeSH, UMLS, and RxNorm, and a library classification scheme. LO is home to the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology, which provides resources such as HSRProj, a database of health services research projects.
LO produces authoritative indexing and cataloging records and builds and distributes bibliographic, directory, and full-text databases including MEDLINE through PubMed and DailyMed.
NLM uses multiple channels to reach the public, including consumer-friendly websites, direct contact, and community networks. Trusted and authoritative consumer health information is available through MedlinePlus, MedlinePlus en español, and MedlinePlus Connect, a free service that links patient portals and electronic health records to consumer health information.
LO is also home to the NIH Common Data Element Repository, part of an NIH-wide initiative to encourage health data standards in clinical research and patient registries. LO provides document delivery, primarily through the NLM system DOCLINE, and customer service that helps people effectively use NLM collections and resources.
The History of Medicine Division collects, preserves, makes available, and interprets the world’s richest collection of historical materials, spanning the 11th to 21st centuries in both physical and digital formats, including a historical exhibitions program and a blog called Circulating Now.
NLM’s Office of Engagement and Training (OET), home of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), engages more than 8,100 academic health science libraries, hospital and public libraries, and community organizations across the United States to improve access to health information. In partnership with NIH’s All of Us Research Program, NNLM engages communities that are underrepresented in biomedical research to provide information about precision medicine. NNLM also increases the data science capacity of research libraries and librarians to manage and analyze biomedical data. OET coordinates training, engagement, and capacity-building on NLM offerings for priority stakeholders and the public.
Intramural Research Program
NLM conducts pioneering research to advance knowledge in biomedical informatics, computational biology, and data science. The NLM Intramural Research Program brings together the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications and the National Center for Biotechnology Information's (NCBI) Computational Biology Branch.
NLM’s research portfolio includes artificial intelligence, computational biology, clinical decision support, and public health surveillance. NLM’s research produces novel analytical approaches and visualization tools that help scientists accelerate discovery from data and translate findings to clinical solutions. This research contributes to a deeper understanding of the effects of medications, procedures, and other factors that influence human health and the prevention and treatment of disease. NLM produces tools that make discoveries and health data more understandable to patients and helps people access, store, use, and understand their own health data.
NLM supports research in medical language processing, high-speed access to biomedical information, analysis and use of high-quality biomedical imaging data, and large-scale analysis of clinical and administrative data to predict patient outcomes. Its work has validated findings from clinical research, helped locate and identify viruses that pose a threat to public health, and enhanced machine learning and image processing to screen for cervical cancer and assist in early treatment. NLM’s computational biology research creates new ways to represent and connect genomic and biological data with the biomedical literature and advance the understanding of evolutionary genomics. NLM produces analytic software tools for gaining insights about genetic mutational patterns and factors in disease, molecular binding, and protein structure and function.
NLM also hosts postdoctoral research fellows who apply informatics science to research, education, and clinical care.
Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC)
Congress established the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications in 1968 to improve communication about health education, research, and practice. Today, LHNCBC focuses on improving health through methodological advances in Health Data Science and Informatics. LHNCBC activities are centered on clinical data and aim to produce interoperable data, scalable methods, and translation of research discoveries into operations.
In addition to contributing to the NLM Intramural Research Program, LHNCBC staff translate research insights into products and services offered to the public (e.g., Open-i®, an open access biomedical image search engine) and to the research community (e.g., the NLM Scrubber, a software package for de-identifying clinical text) or for use in NLM operations (e.g., the Medical Text Indexer, a tool that produces indexing recommendations for MEDLINE citations). LHNCBC has a long tradition of applying artificial intelligence techniques to clinical images for diagnostic or prognostic purposes. Examples include identification of malaria parasites in blood smears, classification of chest X-rays for tuberculosis, and detection and staging of cervical cancer from uterine cervix photographs and histology images. LHNCBC staff also lead the development, enhancement, and adoption of clinical vocabulary (e.g., SNOMED CT, LOINC and RxNorm) and information model standards, with focus on the HL7 FHIR standard (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) for exchanging clinical information.
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
Congress established the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 1988 as a division of NLM and as a national resource for molecular biology information. Since then, NCBI has been a leading source for public biomedical databases, software tools for analyzing molecular and genomic data, and research in computational biology
NCBI creates and maintains over 40 databases for the medical and scientific communities as well as the general public; these include literature, molecular, and genomic databases. NCBI’s core literature database is PubMed, which provides abstracts and citations for millions of articles from thousands of biomedical journals. PubMed records include links to full-text versions of the articles (when available) from NCBI’s PubMed Central (PMC) electronic archive and from journal websites, as well as links to related information from other NCBI sites, such as the genomic and molecular databases.
Some of NCBI’s core genomic and genetic resources include GenBank, an annotated collection of all publicly available DNA sequences; RefSeq, a curated collection of DNA, RNA, and protein sequences; the Sequence Read Archive (SRA), which houses high-throughput sequencing data; dbSNP, a database of short genetic variations (areas of the genome that have been found to vary among humans); dbGaP, a database that connects genotype and phenotype data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and other studies; ClinVar, a collection of reported relationships between genetic variations and observed health status; the Genetic Testing registry, a database of genetic tests; and the Pathogen Detection resource, which integrates sequence data for bacterial pathogens obtained from food, the environment, and human patients to facilitate active, real-time surveillance of pathogens and foodborne disease. NCBI also produces ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world. Additional databases include information on chemical structures and their biological activities, protein sequences, protein structure, chromosomal aberrations in cancer, genes and gene expression, taxonomy, and more.
Office of Computer and Communications Systems (OCCS)
The Office of Computer and Communications Systems provides information technology services and technical advice to support the research and management programs offered through NLM. OCCS manages and operates the NLM network backbone, connections to the Internet and Internet2 networks, internal computer networks within NLM, NLM’s onsite and offsite data center facilities, platforms for enterprise compute and storage, platforms for end-user computation, and mobile user and remote access technologies.
OCCS develops and operates IT services and software applications that support the Library’s mission. OCCS develops applications both for internal and public use—with specific expertise in developing software applications that use standardized medical terminology.
OCCS provides customer support, training, and documentation for computer and network users. In addition, OCCS develops standards and guidance for managing and using information technology at NLM in accordance with industry best practices and applicable federal government mandates. OCCS provides oversight of all information security programs at NLM and ensures that NLM information systems comply with federal information security standards.
As the chief information officer of NLM, the director of OCCS approves acquisitions related to information technology, oversees the governance process for NLM investments in information technology and ensures NLM complies with relevant federal laws, directives and standards.
This page last reviewed on April 6, 2020