New NLM Director Sees the Future in Data

Libraries, once a static archive of global knowledge, long ago evolved beyond dusty stacks into the digital age. But the newly appointed Director of the National Library of Medicine sees a more engaged and maybe even, to borrow a buzzword, disruptive future for libraries as epicenters for scientific discovery driven by data.

Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD, the inaugural guest of the Dean’s Speaker Series at Yale School of Nursing opened her remarks with a very simple idea, that the NLM is, “not your mother’s library anymore.”

During her presentation at Yale’s West Campus on Tuesday, Brennan emphasized that clinicians should think about medicine broadly as “the care and the creation of health across populations and across the world.” The library then, she said, represents “the dynamic interplay between the information needed to do that and the act of doing that.”

She focused her remarks on the evolution of the National Library of Medicine, the function of data science in healthcare and strategies for nurses and other clinicians to leverage both.

“Nurses know about the tenor of a family conversation as anxiety is rising or the cry of a baby that’s starting to show some signs of croup,” she said.  “We know something about how the footfall of someone walking might be an indicator that they’re starting to get confused or the motion that’s needed to start walking after a major accident requires engagement of a lot of different muscles. So the data flows that we are interested in are visual, are anatomic, are sound-focused and the NLM needs to be there to make this data available as a platform of discovery.”

To that end, the NLM is embracing the concept of “open science” and will be making data discoverable in future initiatives.

But amidst all the data-sets, Brennan did not leave out the most essential part of the healthcare equation, the patient. “The patient is a partner in the data science of the future. In part, because they contribute some of the data but also because they have to benefit from it. As clinicians we have to figure out how this person intersects with all of that data.”