The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., recently approved a federal report that describes the scientific vision for the NIH’s National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest biomedical library. Early in 2015, Dr. Collins tasked a working group of his Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD), to create a strategic vision for the NLM. The ACD is comprised of experts in the fields of biomedical research, bioinformatics, library sciences, publishing, and patient care. The working group assessed the current mission, organization, and programmatic priorities of the NLM.
The report’s executive summary lists six recommendations from the ACD to guide the future of the NLM and notably it does not recommend that anything be cut:
(1) Continually evolve to remain a leader in assimilating and disseminating accessible and authoritative biomedical research findings and trusted health information to the public, healthcare professionals, and researchers worldwide.
(2) Lead efforts to support and catalyze open science, data sharing, and research reproducibility, striving to promote the concept that biomedical information and its transparent analysis are public goods.
(3) Be the intellectual and programmatic epicenter for data science at NIH, including becoming the center of intellectual and programmatic activities in biomedical data science, and stimulate its advancement throughout biomedical research and application.
(4) Strengthen its role in fostering the future generation of professionals in biomedical informatics, data science, library sciences, and related disciplines through sustained and focused training efforts.
(5) Maintain, preserve, and make accessible the nation’s historical efforts in advancing biomedical research and medicine, thereby ensuring that this legacy is both safe and accessible for long-term use.
(6) Have new NLM leadership evaluate what talent, resources, and organizational structures are required to ensure NLM can fully achieve its mission and best allocate its resources.
The report also acknowledges the challenges faced by the NLM. The ACD notes that future of biomedical research will require an expanded role for data science and the expertise of the NLM. This is happening in conjunction with ongoing budget constraints. Short of directly calling for additional funding, the ACD instead believes the NLM will need to maximize efficiency of existing resources, citing “care consideration and strategic planning” as essential for NLM to maintain and likely expand its role.
The ACD concluded its recommendations, writing that it believes the “NLM must evolve to seize this critical moment in biomedical history and be a trustworthy source of biomedical data and information, an advocate for open science, a promoter of the next generation of data scientists, a protector of the legacy of the past, and a vital partner for those who are generating biomedical knowledge for the future.”
Dr. Collins accepted the ACD recommendations in full, but acknowledged that NIH will need to consider the requirements and infrastructure implications for centering NIH’s biomedical data science activities within the NLM. In addition, NIH has launched a nationwide search for the director of the NLM to replace Donald Lindberg, M.D., who served as the NLM director for more than 30 years and retired in March 2015. The next director will need to conduct a thorough review and decide which programs “should be expanded or stopped,” according to the ACD report.