The National Library of Medicine has a broad mandate not only to collect and organize the literature of the health sciences and to provide information services, but also to "develop an outreach program aimed at... [and to] publicize the availability of [its] products and services...." An advisory panel on outreach, established by the NLM Board of Regents in 1988, recommended that NLM rebuild its partnership with the U.S. medical library Network (the National Network of Libraries of Medicine® (NN/LM®)), redirect its grants program to emphasize outreach, and investigate how best to serve U.S. health information needs. In May 1999, the Library's Board of Regents passed a resolution calling for the NLM to serve the general public as well as the health professions. NLM's key role in health information outreach has been reaffirmed in successive NLM Long Range Plans approved by the Board of Regents. NLM outreach now extends to medical librarians, biomedical and health practitioners, scientists, researchers, and students, and to the general public, with a special emphasis on minority, underserved, and rural communities.
NLM conducts much of its outreach in partnership with other libraries and community organizations across the nation. NLM supports many of its health information outreach projects through the NN/LM program. Working under 5-year contracts with NLM, eight Regional Medical Libraries (RMLs) coordinate NN/LM outreach at local, state and regional levels. Each RML is responsible for identifying and responding to health information needs among the health professionals and general public within its Region. Special attention is given to the needs of minority and other underserved populations as well as health professionals practicing in rural and inner city communities and health professionals unaffiliated with an institution maintaining a health sciences library. The RMLs also focus on outreach to public health and public library personnel. RML staff travel across the regions demonstrating MEDLINE®, MedlinePlus®, PubMed® and other NLM resources for health professionals and the general public. The RMLs fund numerous outreach projects and other awards to Network member libraries and community organizations.
Minority populations, and health professionals serving them, have a special set of problems in accessing information. NLM has geared a variety of outreach initiatives to these communities in the belief that direct access to NLM's information resources can help improve health. Many outreach projects have a minority focus.
The Environmental Health Information Partnership, which started in 1991 as the Toxicology Information Outreach Program, is one such initiative. The goal of the partnership is to enhance the capacity of minority serving academic institutions to reduce health disparities through the access, use, and delivery of environmental health information on their campuses and in their communities. NLM also collaborates with the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation to promote disease prevention and wellness at Historically Black Colleges and Universities through the use of online health resources.
In addition to numerous training programs aimed at improving the ability of minority health professionals and consumers to use NLM's health information resources, the Library has created specialized web sites focused on specific population groups intended to serve as portals into information for and about those population groups. This includes multi-lingual, multicultural information resources for refugees and immigrants.
Over the last decade, NLM has developed a robust program of outreach to Native Americans. This program started with Tribal Connections, and was designed to improve tribal Internet connectivity and access to online health information. Since then, the program has included health information assistance to tribal health centers and tribal colleges, a fellowship program for tribal health and information technology professionals, web sites on American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian health, participation in powwows, and a multi-year consultation with Native leaders and healers. This in turn has evolved to include an NLM exhibition on "Native Concepts of Health and Illness" that is currently in development.
Public Education and Liaison
Each year, NLM participates in a broad range of conferences and meetings held by health and biomedical organizations, public health and medical associations, and minority health provider and consumer groups.
NLM maintains a wide selection of brochures and pamphlets on programs and activities, covering NLM health and scientific information services and research programs. The MedlinePlus Magazine is a major vehicle for public outreach that complements the MedlinePlus web site.
Additionally, varied publicity activities are carried out by NLM, including exhibits and seminars at professional meetings, online demonstrations, tours of NLM's facilities and exhibition spaces, media news releases, and public service announcements.
More information about NLM's outreach program is available from:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Library of Medicine
Bethesda, MD 20894