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 librarian's 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 late 1983, and in May 1984, Donald A. B. Lindberg, MD, was named by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to succeed him.
Dr. Lindberg, who at the time of his appointment was director of the Information Science Group and professor of pathology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, is an expert in the field of medical informatics—the use of computers and communications technology in medicine. The first decade of Dr. Lindberg's tenure was marked by several major activities: an extensive long-range planning process and publication of a detailed Long Range Plan for the library, a practical means of end- user searching of the NLM databases, the establishment at NLM of the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology, and the addition of High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) to the library's programs.
The NLM's 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 NLM components include:
- Library Operations (acquisition, cataloging, indexing, reference services, preservation, interlibrary loan, online database management, health services research information, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and History of Medicine);
- Extramural Programs (grant administration);
- Specialized Information Services (toxicology and environmental health information);
- Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC—research and development);
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI—programs in molecular biology information and sequence databases); and the
- 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.