Leadership of the National Library of Medicine has changed significantly since its founding in 1836. Traditionally, the directorship of the library’s antecedents had been a rotational assignment for Army physicians. After the 1956 law that established the institution as the National Library of Medicine, the first permanent appointment (1949-1963) went to Colonel Frank Bradway Rogers who, though a physician selected from the Army Medical Corps, was sent to Columbia University to obtain a library degree. He oversaw the transition of the library from the military to the civilian sphere, the construction of a new building, and the tremendous task of moving the collection from Washington to Bethesda. It was Rogers who laid much of the groundwork for the present-day National Library of Medicine, including the planning and early development of MEDLARS® (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) and the creation of the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®) vocabulary, both of which figure prominently in the library's reputation as a leader in scientific communication.
Succeeding Dr. Rogers was Martin M. Cummings, MD, a scientist, educator and administrator, appointed in 1963. In the two decades under his guidance, the library assumed new responsibilities in a number of areas: a grants program; audiovisual facilities; research and development; specialized toxicology information services; and the introduction of a national online information retrieval network (MEDLINE). Dr. Cummings retired in 1983, and in 1984, Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, was named to succeed him.
Dr. Lindberg was at the time of his appointment director of the Information Science Group and professor of pathology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia. An expert in the field of medical informatics, Dr. Lindberg ushered NLM into the flowering of the digital era, with its many benefits and opportunities for online users. His tenure was marked by extensive long-range planning processes and reports, the establishment at NLM of the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology, the creation of popular consumer resources such as ClinicalTrials.gov and MedlinePlus, the launch of the library’s website, free searching of PubMed and other resources via the Internet, and the addition of High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) to the library's programs. Several groundbreaking R&D projects such as the Visible Human Project were carried out during his tenure. Dr. Lindberg retired in 2015.
Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD is the current director of the National Library of Medicine. She assumed the directorship in August 2016 and was the first woman and first nurse appointed to the position.
Dr. Brennan came to the library from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was the Lillian L. Moehlman Bascom Professor at the School of Nursing and College of Engineering. She also led the Living Environments Laboratory at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, which develops new ways for effective visualization of high dimensional data.
Dr. Brennan is a pioneer in the development of information systems for patients. She developed ComputerLink, an electronic network designed to reduce isolation and improve self-care among home care patients. She directed HeartCare, a web-based information and communication service that helps home-dwelling cardiac patients recover faster, and with fewer symptoms. She also directed Project HealthDesign, an initiative designed to stimulate the next generation of personal health records. Dr. Brennan has also conducted external evaluations of health information technology architectures and worked to repurpose engineering methods for health care.
Dr. Brennan is spearheading a new strategic planning effort, actively engaging with the public for guidance, vision, and audacious goals addressing the role of NLM in: advancing data science, open science, and biomedical informatics; advancing biomedical discovery and translational science; supporting the public’s health: clinical systems, public health systems and services, and personal health; and building collections to support discovery and health in the 21st century.
The NLM organizational structure consists of an office of the director and six major operating components. The office of the director includes all the centralized management functions: planning, personnel, budget, contracting, purchasing, public communications and equal employment opportunity. The director is assisted by a deputy director, a deputy director for research and education, an associate director for health information programs development, an assistant director for policy and legislation, and an executive officer. There are three assistant directors in the specialized areas of health services research information, high performance computing and communications and applied informatics.
The major components of the National Library of Medicine are:
- Extramural Programs (grant administration);
- Library Operations (acquisition, cataloging, indexing, reference services, preservation, interlibrary loan, online database management, health services research information, the Network of the National Library of Medicine, and History of Medicine);
- Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (research and development);
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (programs in molecular biology information and sequence databases);
- Office of Computer and Communications Systems;
The Library publishes National Library of Medicine Programs and Services, an annual compilation of information about the NLM.
Much of this material is taken from: Miles, W.D. A History of the National Library of Medicine; The Library: Bethesda, MD, 1982.
Last Reviewed: August 17, 2020