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NLM Legislative Chronology

National Library of Medicine Act of 1956

Senators Lister Hill (D-AL) and John F. Kennedy (D-MA) introduced an amendment to Title III of the Public Health Service Act, the National Library of Medicine Act, that created the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Congress passed the amendment and President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law on August 3, 1956. The National Library of Medicine Act established the NLM and created a Board of Regents to advise it.

The NLM authorizing language mandated that the NLM:

  • acquire and preserve books, periodicals, prints, films, recordings, and other library materials pertinent to medicine;
  • organize materials by appropriate cataloging, indexing, and bibliographical listing;
  • publish and disseminate catalogs, indexes, and bibliographies;
  • ensure library materials are available through loans, photographic, or other copying procedures;
  • provide reference and research assistance; and
  • engage in such other activities as deemed appropriate and the NLM's resources permit.

The Board of Regents advises the HHS Secretary on matters of policy affecting NLM. The Secretary of the Board appoints ten regents, who serve four-year terms. The regents come from academia, the health sciences, librarianship, public life, and industry. In addition to the appointed members, nine high-ranking federal officials in related fields are ex-officio members. They are from the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Public Health Service. Pioneering heart surgeon Michael E. DeBakey, MD, instrumental in the passage of the National Library of Medicine Act, chaired the first Board. 

The original legislation has been amended several times. The six functions listed above have been expanded with a seventh: "publicize the availability from the Library of the [above] products and services” and an eighth: "promote the use of computers and telecommunications by health professionals" to improve “access to biomedical information for health care delivery and medical research.”

Legislative Timeline

In addition to the National Library of Medicine Act of 1956 (Public Law 84-941), other congressional actions have had a profound effect on the Library.



Last Reviewed: March 18, 2024