Charting a Course for the 21st Century – NLM's Long Range Plan 2006-2016
NLM has bridged the gap from the muskets and square rigged ships of its origins to the growing understanding of the innards of human heredity today. For this transition, gratitude is due to steady and generous support by the Congress - throughout all the ups and downs of our country since 1836 when NLM began. NLM has had the help and advice of countless physicians, scientists, medical librarians, and public persons over all these years. For all this, I am grateful. Special thanks to all who contributed ideas, hopes, and criticisms to this latest NLM Long Range Plan.
A word about dates. The Long Range Plan of 1985 was a 20 year plan (supplemented by five important addenda). It helped us immensely over these years in many many ways. The current plan has a slightly more modest planning time frame: namely, ten years from 2006 to 2016. The diminution may be interpreted as the onset in the Director of age, caution, or wisdom. In any case, few will fail to see the rapidity with which our local science world and our larger geo-political world is changing. Hence the ten year planning goal.
In contrast, NLMs advisers felt strongly that our planning should begin with a longer, broader, quite unconstrained view of all these matters. A Strategic Vision, in other words. This effort was chaired by the Hon. Newt Gingrich and Dr. Bill Stead and had many distinguished collaborators. It examined the broader time range: 2005 to 2025, and thus set each planning panel into high gear immediately.
For my part, I offer my sincere admiration of our institution and my confidence it will continue in this new century to serve with distinction. I offer also my personal assessment of NLMs strengths and potential problem areas - without any blame falling on our Board or our advisers.
NLMs major strengths are in its understandable mission, its excellent staff, its historically generous funding, and its fast friends.
Mission: To acquire, organize, disseminate, and preserve the biomedical knowledge of the world for the benefit of the public health.
Staff: NLM has a highly educated multidisciplinary staff of more than 1300 employees and contractors who are innovative, productive, and dedicated to the Librarys mission.
Funding: NLMs funding increases have freq-uently been even better than the NIHs. Like the US in 1941 we have been building a two ocean Navy. The added efforts focused both on the rapidly growing corpus of genomic measure-ments and data, and at the same time, on the fast growing appetite of patients, families, and the public for access to improved understanding of information relevant to personal health and health care. Unfortunately the needs for extra budgetary growth are still present.
Friends: NLM has retained strong, stable, and long lasting connections with many relevant professional constituencies and organizations. These include the Medical Library Association, the American Association of Medical Colleges, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, the Institute of Medicine, the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the National Science Foundation, the American Medical Informatics Association, the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, and others.
Two dangers are impossible to miss: lack of proper space, and major external factors outside NLMs control.
A great strength and advantage for NLM has been the collegial working relationships that have been maintained between its several operating divisions. There are numerous examples, but all have been facilitated and enhanced by physical facilities that provided close housing.
Similar happy working relationships have been maintained between NLM and numerous NIH research groups and a great number of outside professionals and organizations who have been hosted by NLM for conferences and collaborations.
NIH has been very helpful and supportive by reassigning new space to NLM, especially to help accommodate the growing duties and services from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and all NLM Divisions have made every effort to maintain close working relationships. Yet we currently rent 92,000 square feet of space outside the two NLM buildings. The Congress approved a new building in appropriation language on many occasions, and Congress provided funds for complete architectural plans for the new building. In fact, these full architectural plans were completed in 2003. What remains - and it is increasingly critical - is an appropriation of funds to get on with the building itself.
External Threats to Be Considered
Without descending to the nightmare scenario so popular with our film makers, I believe that NLMs Long Range Plan must acknowledge some external factors that are beyond our control. For example,
- If the threat of terrorist attacks on the US increases so as to become normal, and perhaps ultimately once again successful? The Plan urges we establish research work in Disaster Management Information. NLM has already been in the vanguard of working from home, and we keep a very capable remote computing facility. But in spite of threats,?we operate an open shop and deliver uncensored information. Will we need to do differently in the future?
- If the US were no longer to remain the worlds superpower and richest nation? Might our range of users, sources of information, sources of innovation, and languages also change? Might free information services for the world cease to be a popular plan?
- If the US population were to become divided in its trust of government services, including the provision of scientific information, especially the great changes in medicine that are already presaged by the Human Genome Programs successes, can NLM remain a trusted source? How?
The Board might consider at its meetings during 2006 and 2007 if supplementary planning meetings could be organized to work out an informed view of some of the major external influences upon the NLMs work. We must wonder, what will be the best course of action for NLM under adverse circumstances.
A Good Prognosis
I am confident that given well meaning, reasonable management, and given encouraging Congressional support, that NLM will continue into the distant future to perform well for medical professionals, scientists, and the public. Its a grand institution. It deserves all the help and support it has gotten over 170 years, and it deserves and will justify all our help for yet another ten years and more!
Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D