Definition

U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Contributor(s): Shaun Sutner

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the largest biomedical library in the world. NLM is located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md., and is under the administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Founded in 1836, the library's electronic archives are searched more than a billion times a year and it houses nearly 22 million print volumes, journals, manuscripts and recordings. Its main mission is to translate biomedical research into practice to improve public health.

Moving in digital direction

NLM, one of the federal government's largest providers of digital content, is a developer of electronic information services used by scientists, health researchers and the public. The library digital collection includes genomic, chemical toxicological and environmental data; drug information; and health data standards.

NLM provides scientific information services that include compilations of more than 18 million journal citations, and access to databases of biomedical literature, toxic chemicals; and public information services that include databases related to clinical trials, consumer and elderly health, and potentially hazardous household products.

As biomedical research increasingly relies on electronic access to information, NLM carries out its missions of enabling biomedical research, supporting healthcare and public health and promoting healthy behavior in several key areas. They include:

  • giving access to biomedical and health information nationwide in concert with the 6,400-member National Network of Libraries of Medicine;
  • building, curating and providing high-level access to molecular biology and genomic information, from, among others, the Human Genome Fund and the NIH Common Fund;
  • applying big data and technology to improve public health by analyzing vast amounts of data from NLM and other sources, including anonymized patient outcome and prescription drug data and applying deep knowledge of clinical terminology and natural language processing; and
  • funding advanced research in biomedical informatics and data science.

NLM organization

NLM is organized around an Office of the Director and major operating divisions:

  • Extramural Programs
  • Library Operations
  • Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications; research and development
  • National Center for Biotechnology Information
  • Office of Computer and Communications Systems
  • Specialized Information Services, including toxicology and environmental health, outreach to special populations, disaster information, and HIV/AIDS

Scientific information services

The NLM offers the following scientific resources:

  • The most frequented online scientific medical service in the world -- MEDLINE/PubMed, a publicly available database of more than 26 million journal citations
  • PubMed Central, a web-based repository of biomedical literature
  • NLM distributes GenBank, a collection of all publicly available DNA sequences
  • The Visible Human Project of male and female data sets
  • Among public health information sources, NLM provides the TOXNET, AIDSinfo and Disaster Lit databases
  • For precision medicine research, the library has the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes, ClinVar database and Genetic Testing Registry

Health IT resources

NLM also serves as the American distributor of SNOMED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine -- Clinical Terms), a set of clinical terminology standards designated by the federal government for the exchange of health information. NLM offers a list of SNOMED CT browsers and problem lists related to the recording and encoding of clinical observations. The NLM was also involved in an effort to map SNOMED CT term lists to the ICD-10-CM standard.

This was last updated in May 2017

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