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NLM Strategic Planning

A Platform for Biomedical Discovery and Data-Powered Health: National Library of Medicine Strategic Plan 2017–2027

NLM Strategic Planning Activities, 2017

The National Library of Medicine has released A Platform for Biomedical Discovery and Data-Powered Health, Strategic Plan 2017–2027. The information that follows offers context for that publication and describes the 2017 activities that led to its creation.


More than a decade has passed since NLM issued Charting the Course for the 21st Century: NLM's Long Range Plan 2006-2016. Significant advances in biomedical informatics, data science, precision medicine, open access to biomedical information, and changes in our country’s health systems, offer new directions and opportunities for scientific achievement. As the world’s largest biomedical library, the home of significant biomedical data resources and major infrastructure, and the designated NIH lead for data science and open science, the NLM aims to seize the opportunities afforded by these changes to more effectively convey health information and accelerate discovery and progress in biomedical research. NLM is committed to building a data infrastructure that will support the future of biomedical research. The 2017-2027 NLM strategic plan builds on and reshapes the goals and activities in the previous plan.

As defined in the 1956 establishing legislation, the purpose of the NLM is to "assist the advancement of medical and related sciences and to aid the dissemination and exchange of scientific and other information important to the progress of medicine and to the public health," and its basic functions are to acquire, preserve, and make available materials pertinent to medicine (very broadly defined in the Act); to prepare and make available indexes, catalogs, and bibliographies of the materials; and to provide reference and research assistance.

Our commitment to the core mission remains strong. NLM presents a highly visible face of NIH across the United States and around the globe. Through its information systems, biomedical informatics and data science research portfolio, extensive training programs, and many partnerships, NLM plays an essential role in furthering fundamental research; catalyzing and supporting the translation of basic science into new treatments, products, and improved practice; and providing useful decision support for health professionals, the public health and emergency response workforce, and patients.

Our process will build on the report of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) regarding the future of NLM ( that followed the retirement of its long-time director, Dr. Donald Lindberg. With the appointment of Director Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan and the launch of major data science and data intensive NIH initiatives, a strategic plan for NLM is both timely and propitious.

Planning Themes

Four themes were identified as a framework for considering priorities and future directions during the strategic planning process. Panels of outside experts were convened around each of the four planning themes. In addition to the overarching themes, a number of cross-cutting topical threads were considered in the context of the major themes. These included standards, partnerships, user communities, user engagement and education outreach, international engagement, health disparities, computing infrastructure, physical plant infrastructure, research needs and funding, and workforce development. The topics are listed below with a brief description.

1)  Role of NLM in advancing data science, open science, and biomedical informatics

NLM serves as the organizational leader and a major sponsor of research, development, training and workforce development in data science, information science, biomedical informatics, and health sciences librarianship, all of which facilitate open science. Understanding trends in data management, curation, knowledge representation, analysis technologies, communications infrastructure, and the semantics and importance of new classes of health-relevant data will be essential to the institution's success in these areas in the future.

2)  Role of NLM in advancing biomedical discovery and translational science

NLM is a global resource that supports and catalyzes health-related scientific discovery and effective translation of new knowledge into practice.  Integrated retrieval and analysis tools provide linkages that promote discovery across a wide variety of databases containing biomedical literature, genomic information, and other scientific and clinical data. Novel translational resources such as accelerate accrual to clinical research studies and promote scientific integrity via publication of study designs and research results.  Researcher access to new classes of data, such as electronic health records, is supporting nontraditional discovery science.  Both curiosity-driven and translational science are expected to continue to evolve rapidly over the coming decade.

3)  Role of the NLM in supporting the public's health: clinical systems, public health systems and services, and personal health

NLM's mission includes providing information to promote health and reduce the burden of suffering from disease worldwide.  Healthcare organizations are undergoing dramatic changes in response to the need to demonstrate value, safety, and effectiveness. With its initiatives to distribute and promote adoption of health data standards, NLM has been influential in enabling interoperability of clinical systems and meaningful use of electronic health records. Factors such as behavioral and lifestyle characteristics, environmental exposures, and biomarkers of immune status are becoming more important.  New technologies and awareness are enabling individuals to reach goals for health promotion and disease prevention.  Novel validated models for decision support are demanded by the expanded complexity of knowledge in all disciplines of human health and disease.

4)  Role of NLM in building collections to support discovery and health in the 21st century

NLM has the world's largest collection of published biomedical literature, with many items that are literally unavailable anywhere else.  The NLM collections already extend far beyond traditional publications, whether in physical or digital format, to include unpublished manuscripts, images, video, sound recordings, web pages, and, especially, databases containing a wide variety and enormous quantities of digital data. The nature of scholarly publication and scientific discovery continue to evolve rapidly, with implications for what data and information NLM should collect and the methods to be used to acquire, archive, and disseminate new data, information and knowledge relevant to human health and disease.

Additional Topical Threads

In addition to the four main themes, a number of cross-cutting threads were considered in the context of more than one theme.


NLM has long served as an advocate for and developer of data standards that promote interoperability of information systems and comparability of research and clinical findings.  Each planning domain will consider specific roles that NLM might usefully serve in the development and adoption of technical standards in their area of emphasis.


NLM benefits from and contributes to a variety of organizational relationships in developing, maintaining, and promoting access to and use of information resources including publishers; federal, state and local government health agencies; professional societies; other libraries; educational institutions; community based organizations; and a variety of other public and private entities.  Each planning domain included consideration of the partnerships that can contribute to NLM's success in its specific area.

User Communities

NLM has always confronted geography and socioeconomic diversity, including levels of education from grade school through multiple advanced degrees.  The digital age has introduced new dimensions of lifestyle diversity that have implications for current and future NLM resources that will need to accommodate a persistent “digital divide,” meet the needs of advanced data scientists and of the historically underserved, as well as the evolving lifestyles and information technologies used by millennials, Gen-X/Y, Baby Boomers, the elderly who are “aging in place,” and others.  Each planning domain included consideration of the diversity of needs of users in its specific area.

User Engagement and Educational Outreach

Creation of high quality information resources is necessary but not sufficient to ensure that they are adopted by their intended users and thereby help realize the intended beneficial effects.  The need for specific types of user engagement, outreach and training related to current and future NLM resources was addressed by each of the planning groups.

International Engagement

NLM is not just a national library. It has become an essential wellspring of scientific and health-related information for all nations. Each planning group considered the international aspects of its topic area, and any special opportunities the NLM has to engage in international partnerships to advance the creation of resources and effective dissemination of scientific and health knowledge to the global community.

Health Disparities

Persistent, and in some cases increasing, disparities in the burden of disease and suboptimal health outcomes have been an ongoing public health challenge. Differences in lifespan and quality of life for affluent, well-educated Americans versus groups who lack those advantages, as well as considerations regarding those with diminished health literacy, are an important element of the planning charge to each group. Planning groups considered factors within their domains that had applicability for enabling research or promoting initiatives that had potential for addressing health disparities.

Infrastructure: computing

Provisioning the ever-growing Digital Library with sufficient computing resources was a component of the infrastructure planning and recommendations of each topic area.

Infrastructure: physical plant

Improvement and expansion of NLM's aging and space-limited facilities was considered in the context of each of its mission areas and their programmatic requirements.

Research Needs and Funding

NLM has both extramural and intramural research programs, and consideration of the scope of these will be a topic of planning panel discussions.  NLM's research funding portfolio is relatively small compared to most NIH institutes, and mechanisms to enhance and sustain research funding will be a component of the planning process.

Workforce Development

In addition to serving as the primary source of academic research training in biomedical informatics, NLM provides a variety of education and training opportunities for its own staff, for biomedical librarians through the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and in cooperation with professional associations, for health professions students, and for practicing clinicians and researchers.  The needs of all of these groups were considered in the formulation of recommendations related to workforce development.

Community Input

Request for Information

NLM sought input from its broad stakeholder community through a Request for Information [] that runs through January 23, 2017.

We recognize that many of our stakeholders generously replied to the 2015 RFI regarding future directions of NLM. Input provided in 2015 is already under consideration and need not be re-submitted. The 2015 RFI was issued by NIH on behalf of the NLM Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) to obtain input for their June 2015 report ( on a vision for the future of NLM in the context of NLM's leadership transition and emerging NIH data science priorities. The current RFI is issued to obtain public input on goals and priorities for NLM's next strategic plan.

Planning Panel Meetings

Panels of outside experts provided insights and recommendations around each of the four planning themes. A meeting of each panel was held at NLM. The meeting dates follow:

Role of NLM in Advancing Biomedical Discovery and Translational Science
Chair: Arthur Levine, University of Pittsburgh
March 1–2, 2017

Role of NLM in Advancing Data Science, Open Science, and Biomedical Informatics
Chair: Russ Altman, Stanford University
March 14-15, 2017

Role of NLM in Supporting the Public’s Health: Clinical Systems, Public Health Systems and Services, and Personal Health
Chair: Suzanne Bakken, Columbia University
April 4-5, 2017

Role of NLM in Building Collections to Support Discovery and Health in the 21st Century
Chair: Patricia Thibodeau, Duke University
April 19-20, 2017

Planning Committee

Development of the strategic plan was coordinated by a strategic planning subcommittee of the NLM Board of Regents in conjunction with the NLM Office of Health Information Programs Development.  The Board subcommittee members and NLM Staff are listed below:

Masys, Daniel R., M.D. (Co-Chair)
University of Washington School of Medicine

Taylor, Jill, Ph.D. (Co-Chair)
Wadsworth Center
New York State Department of Health

Greenes, Robert A., M.D., Ph.D.
Arizona State University

Horvitz, Eric, M.D., Ph.D.
Microsoft Research

Olds, James, Ph.D.
Directorate For Biological Sciences 
National Science Foundation

Martin, Sandra, M.S.L.S.
Shiffman Medical Library 
Wayne State University

NLM Office of Health Information Programs Development

Huerta, Michael F., Ph.D.
Associate Director for Program Development
National Library of Medicine

Rapp, Barbara A., Ph.D.
Deputy Director, Office of Health Information Programs Development
National Library of Medicine

Last Reviewed: March 14, 2018