Leading into the Future: Library Operations at the National Library of Medicine

Article excerpt

In 2005, Donald A. B. Lindberg and Betsy L. Humphreys, AHIP, presented their vision of medical libraries in 2015 to the health professional community [1]. In 2006, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) completed a long-range slan to guide the library to 2016 2]. It is now incumbent on the Lijrary Operations Division of NLM to ensure that it is guided by that vision and helps to achieve the goals of the long-range plan. To this end, Library Operations has embarked on its own strategic planning process.

Library Operations is the heart of NLM's essential services to health care professionals and the general public. Products and services such as DOCLINE, PubMed, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), MedlinePlus, and LocatorPlus are the backbone of medical library services and information management in the United States and abroad. While this editorial focuses on challenges and opportunities Library Operations faces, we do not work in a vacuum. All our services have benefited from synergy with other NLM components. The library's multidisciplinary workforce has been critical to NLM's previous successes and continues to be its greatest asset.

We are delighted by the magnitude of worldwide use of NLM products and services, but we will not go forward resting on our accomplishments. We would like to share with you our priorities for 2008 to 2010. While our plans include optimizing technology, evaluating our existing services, and nurturing younger talent, our immediate priorities have a decidedly practical bent, and the first three are more significant than others.

In real estate, the expression is "location, location, location." For NLM's Library Operations, it is "space, space, space." Space, or the lack thereof, affects nearly every decision we make. NLM's urgent need for a third building is widely known, and its delay impacts all programs, but space for staff and collections will be problematic for years to come unless change comes swiftly.

NLM has an archival responsibility to retain older copies. This responsibility has become increasingly important as network libraries cancel their print subscriptions in favor of electronic access and remove older print runs to free up space for collaboration and other uses by faculty, staff, and students. Because we have not cancelled any print subscriptions to journals, without major renovation to enable the installation of additional compact shelving, we will outgrow space for our collections by 2010. We do have a plan in place to strengthen the floor in our second stack level so that compact shelving can be installed. This will provide shelving for several years of collection growth, but it will be expensive and disruptive to staff who have their work areas in the stacks. Some collection areas are already out of space. Although one might question why NLM continues to acquire print copies of journals when we have access to electronic versions of their content, a major reason is that the artifact-with its advertisements, news features, tables of content, and other non-article features-can be of great historical value.

A second essential priority for Library Operations is to preserve information in a usable form. This includes material born digital and those items that need to be preserved in digital form so they are much more accessible. In a series of decisions over the past two years, we have stopped microfilming as a preservation method and developed a policy for determining priorities for digitizing deteriorating or unique items in the collection. Working groups have created a management plan for our digitization efforts (complementary to PubMed Central) and a process for evaluating and selecting software to be used for NLM's digital repository. Library Operations will lead these complementary digitization efforts, and our decisions, made in consultation with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), may well impact the activities of other health sciences libraries. …