The Role of a Library in a World of Unstructured Data

Throughout its nearly 200-year existence, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has advanced biomedicine and the health of the public by acquiring, organizing, preserving, and disseminating knowledge essential to health and medicine. NLM devised many innovations, including standard terminologies and messaging formats such as the Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS), to organize and manage the biomedical literature. While scientific communication largely relied on books and journals throughout these 200 years, data is quickly forming the substrate of scientific communications. Data come in formats with much less structure than that afforded by publications, and it can vary from observations made during carefully controlled clinical trials to streams of genomic sequences to the counts of footfalls captured by personal devices.  Coincidently, an increasing diverse set of users—from clinicians to lay people to public health to big pharma to scientists—bring unique perspectives as they draw meaning from this burgeoning cadre of scientific output.  How does a modern library meet its mission to acquire, organize, preserve, and disseminate the many outputs of contemporary science? What role do standards play? How does NLM help this diverse set of stakeholders make meaning from our resources? This 2022 Miles Conrad Lecture will describe NLM’s history, detail current strategies, and describe the future where partnerships form the key to advancing NLM’s mission.