NLM: The Biggest (Medical) Library in the World!
by Kimberly Tate
The National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world, is located in Bethesda, Maryland and is part of the National Institute of Health. Charged with the dissemination of the most recent health information (both for health professionals and for patients), the library has an extensive collection which is open to the public. I was able to visit the National Library of Medicine this past summer for a scholarship I received and meet with Reference Librarians, the Assistant Director of NLM and a number of other librarians.
During my time there, I was able to learn about the Associate Fellow Program, a 1 year program (with an optional second year) which takes new MLIS graduates and trains them how NLM is run while the fellows complete a series of projects. As I am especially interested in medical reference librarianship, I was thrilled at the opportunity to sit and observe (and answer a few questions) with one of the reference librarians. She explained the necessity of ensuring that all the library’s programs and facilities were ADA compliant as she showed me some of the cool technologies they have to ensure this. Some of these included screen magnification software, speech synthesizers, and adjustable tables. They also have a Kurzwell machine which scans English language text and reads it to the visually impaired researcher.
I found interesting that after 9/11, the increased security and building of a fence around NLM had drastically reduced the number of public visitors. One way that NLM is able to reach the public is through their Regional Libraries. If you weren’t aware, the NLM Regional Medical Library Group is located here on the UW campus!
Charged with carrying out NLM’s mission in the Pacific Northwest, the RML provides outreach and funds for health education to the community and the health professionals. I learned about some of the great initiatives that NLM RML’s are working on in the coming year, specifically increasing health education/outreach in the K-12 and community college setting. Each person that I met had a very unique vision for their position (something which has always drawn me to medical librarianship).
All in all, my trip was a success. I was able to view a beautiful library, meet passionate people in the profession and learn more about why medical librarianship is more important than ever. The way that technologies are changing the way medical professionals interact with and utilize data is a rich and growing field. One that I look forward to working in and growing with.
I would be happy to chat more if anyone wants additional details about NLM, the Associate Fellows Program (the application is now open!), or any other aspects of medical librarianship! Let’s continue to learn together.