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Our Milestones
175th Video


In 1836, the library of the US Army Surgeon General was a small collection of medical books on a single shelf. Today, the National Library of Medicine is the world's largest biomedical library, with over 17 million items in more than 150 languages. But this unique institution is about much more than books.

NLM's information services and research programs serve the world by supporting scientific discovery, clinical research, education, health care delivery, public health response and the empowerment of people to improve their personal health. Discover the milestones leading from that modest shelf of books to a 21st century facility committed to the innovative use of computing and communications, to enhance effective public access to understanding and discovery in human health.

 

United States National Library of Medicine
1836-2011

 

1836 - 1956

Date Details
1836 The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army (the present National Library of Medicine) established in Washington, DC.
1865 John Shaw Billings, MD, 27-year-old lieutenant colonel, pathologist and bibliophile, assigned to supervise the Surgeon General's Library, which he developed into a national resource of biomedical literature. He would remain in that post until 1895.
1866 The Library occupied space in the Riggs Bank building and in the former Ford's Theatre, site of President Lincoln's assassination and newly named the Army Medical Museum.
1870 Loan service established to make volumes from the Library's collections available to distant libraries and physicians.
1876 Billings’ Specimen Fasciculus of a Catalogue of the National Medical Library is published, receiving an enthusiastic reception by the medical profession of the nation. Although this is mainly a “spec” publication, to secure funding for a catalogue from Congress, the author already envisions a “National Medical Library” for the United States, and the warm reception of this work spurs him to create the Index Catalogue.
1879 First volume of the Index Medicus is published, establishing the Library's groundbreaking role in systematic indexing of medical journal articles. The print Index Medicus would cease 125 years later in 2004, long after the indexed citations were also available for online searching and in electronic forms.
1880 First volume of the Index-Catalogue published. Discontinued in 1961 after 61 volumes, this publication had listed 3,674,111 citations to medical books and articles, Noted physician, pathologist and medical administrator William H. Welch would in 1913 proclaim the creation of a National Library of Medicine, the Index-Catalogue and Index Medicus, all credited to Billings "probably the most original and distinctive contribution of America to the medicine of the world."
1887 The Library and the Army Medical Museum moved to a new building constructed for them on the National Mall, next to the Smithsonian "Castle."
1895 John Shaw Billings retired from the Army. By 1895, the Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), in keeping with Billings' vision, was the world's largest medical library. The following year, Billings became director of the New York City public library system.
1922 (January) The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) renamed the Army Medical Library.
1942 The Library moved its rare books to leased space in a library in Cleveland, Ohio for safekeeping during World War II. The "Cleveland Branch" became the History of Medicine Division in 1945.
1944 The National Medical Library: Report of a Survey of the Army Medical Library published by the American Library Association, following a study by a team of eminent librarians funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The report, which criticized the Library strongly and made many recommendations for improving its facilities, products, services and staffing, provided support for increased funding and for major changes in operations.
1948 Colonel Frank Bradway Rogers, M.D., an Army surgeon, recruited to direct the Library, but first sent to Columbia University School of Library Service. After receiving an MLS degree in 1949, he assumed the directorship, not for a typical Army rotational assignment, but on a long term appointment, as recommended in the Report of a Survey (1944).
1951 First edition of the Army Medical Library Classification, a scheme for arrangement of books on medicine and pre-clinical sciences, designed for use in conjunction with the Library of Congress Classification, also as recommended by the Report of a Survey (1944).
1952 (April) The Army Medical Library renamed the Armed Forces Medical Library.
1956 (August 3) The National Library of Medicine Act, an amendment to Title III of the Public Health Service Act, placed the Armed Forces Medical Library under the PHS, and renamed it the National Library of Medicine (Public Law 84-941). US Senators Lister Hill (AL) and John F. Kennedy (MA) were among the primary sponsors of the legislation. Its champions included world-famous heart surgeon, Michael E. DeBakey, M.D. and leaders of the Medical Library Association.

 

(October 1) The Armed Forces Medical Library designated the National Library of Medicine and placed under the Public Health Service within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

1957 - 1979

Date Details
1957 NLM library internship program established for post-graduate training in biomedical information services. Now called the NLM Associate Fellowship program, it is the longest running such program for librarians. Its graduates include many leaders in library management, innovative service delivery, outreach to underserved populations, education, and research.
1960 1st edition of the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) released for use in both indexing and cataloging. Likely the first major thesaurus developed for use in an automated bibliographic system, MeSH is still used in data creation and information retrieval in PubMed, the NLM Catalog, and other NLM databases.
1962 NLM moves into its new building at 8600 Rockville Pike, on the National Institutes of Health campus, Bethesda, Maryland (dedicated in December 1961). The History of Medicine Division collections return from Cleveland, accompanied by Pinkerton guards and insured by Lloyd's of London, to be reunited with the rest of the Library at the new location.

 

Custom mobile cameras installed in library stacks so that articles can be copied for document delivery without moving journal issues away from the shelves. The cameras would be retired in 1980 when truly mobile photocopiers became available.
1963 NLM acquires a Minneapolis-Honeywell 800 computer to support automation of indexing, cataloging, production of printed indexes and catalogs, and information retrieval.
1964 (January) The Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS), developed under contract by the General Electric Company, became operational at NLM. Over time, this pioneering computerized bibliographic system would produce many printed indexes, catalogs, and subject bibliographies for NLM and partner organizations, including the American Dental Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, and the World Health Organization. It also provided the first large-scale, computer-based retrospective search service available to the public. NLM quickly made data from the system available on magnetic tapes to selected institutions to establish decentralized search services across the country.

 

(January) Martin M. Cummings, M.D., Chief, Office of International Research and Associate Director for Research Grants, NIH, appointed NLM Director.

 

 

 

 

(August) GRACE (Graphic Arts Composing Equipment), a computerized phototype-setting machine developed by the Photon Company for NLM, first used to produce the printed Index Medicus. Then the fastest computer-driven photocomposer in the US, GRACE was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
1965 (October 22) The Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-291) signed into law, authorizing NLM's extramural programs of grant assistance to improve that nation's medical library and health communication resources, including the establishment of the Regional Medical Library Network (now called the National Network of Libraries of Medicine).
1966 1st International MEDLARS Center managed by the British Library implemented batch bibliographic retrieval services in the United Kingdom using NLM data. Before the Internet eliminated the need for decentralized installations of copies of NLM databases, there would be MEDLARS Centers in more than 20 countries around the world.
1967 (January 1) Toxicology Information Program established at NLM in response to recommendations of the President's science advisory committee, expanding the Library's mission to encompass improving access toxicological, chemical, and environmental data, as well as the published literature and prompting collaborations with other federal agencies and additional information providers.�� NLM established a new Specialized Information Division to manage both its toxicology and drug information programs.

 

The National Medical Audiovisual Center was transferred from the Communicable Disease Center to NLM, but remained located in Atlanta.

 




The Francis A. Countway Library, which combined the collections of the Boston Medical Library and the Harvard Medical School Library, was selected as the first of 11 Regional Medical Libraries to improve access to biomedical literature across the US.
1968 NLM was transferred from the Office of the Surgeon General, US Public Health Service to the National Institutes of Health.

 





(February) Williams & Wilkins sued NLM for copyright infringement based on its practice of providing interlibrary loans of single photocopies of journal articles to medical libraries for use by health professionals and researchers and students in biomedical fields. This landmark copyright case, prompted by advances in information technology, would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

 

(August 3) Public Law 90-456 authorized the designation of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.as NLM's first intramural research division.
1970 Lister Hill Center begins range of networking experiments: remote online retrieval via commercial telecommunications network; use of satellite communications (in cooperation with NASA) for medical consultation between remote Alaskan areas and academic medical centers; video networking for medical education in rural areas.
1971 (October) MEDLINE (MEDLARS Online) began national operation, following an R & D project directed by NLM's Lister Hill Center. MEDLINE, which evolved from the MEDLARS system which had been installed in 1964, was the first successful marriage of a large reference database with a nationwide commercial telecommunications network. Special training in subject headings, search commands, and Boolean logic was required to search the original MEDLINE effectively. In general, librarians and information specialists searched the database on behalf of researchers and clinicians. Tapes of MEDLINE data became available on subscription to universities and international MEDLARS centers.
1972 The Library joins with the Bureau of Health Manpower Education to support training of physicians and other health scientists in the use of computer technology for medical education and the provision of health care. This was the beginning of NLM-funded informatics training, which now includes 18 informatics research training programs in academic centers, fellowships at NLM, and highly regarded short courses at Woods Hole.
1973 NLM institutes modest charges for searching MEDLINE and its growing suite of online databases to cover commercial telecommunications charges. The charging method and algorithm results in an equal fee for an equal amount of use for all US users, irrespective of the geographic variations in prices charged by telecommunications companies.
1974 - 1977 Literature acquisitions and serials management functions automated in a then novel application of a commercial database management system.
1975 The Supreme Court rendered a split decision on Williams & Wilkins vs the National Library of Medicine and NIH thereby upholding the Court of Claims ruling that NLM's photocopying of journal articles for interlibrary loan did not violate copyright.
1978 Hazardous Substances DataBank released, with extensive data about the properties, toxic, and environmental effects of hazardous substances.

 

1980 - 1999

Date Details
1980 (May 22) The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications building dedicated. The new building, connected to the Library building via an underground tunnel, houses research and network programs. The National Medical Audiovisual Center moves from Atlanta to Bethesda and is integrated into the Lister Hill Center division of NLM.
1983 Custom online cataloging system implemented, replacing use of paper forms and subsequent keyboarding and integrated with innovative online Name Authority file.
1984 (August) Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, Professor of Information Science and Professor of Pathology, University of Missouri, Columbia, appointed Director of NLM. A scientist and pioneer in the application of computers to medicine, Dr. Lindberg had previously served NLM on its grant review committee and as a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Lister Hill Center. He also directed an NLM-funded informatics research training program at the University of Missouri.
1985 The DOCLINE document request system implemented for free use by health sciences libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Key features included the ability to import journal article reference data from MEDLINE so it did not have to be rekeyed and automatic routing of requests to appropriate libraries, based on an algorithm that consulted a large database of summary holdings data for US health sciences libraries and tables of information about preferred borrowing patterns.
1986 NLM celebrated its 150th anniversary. Activities included lecture series, celebratory banquets and concerts, film festivals and barbeques. President Ronald Reagan and the Congress sent their congratulations.


 

(February 5) Grateful Med software package introduced. Innovative interface software was installed on desktop computers to allow searching of the millions of journal article references in MEDLINE by individual health professionals and others without specialized search training.

 


Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) R & D project initiated, with the ambitious goal of helping computers to understanding biomedical meaning, irrespective of the different terminologies and classifications used in medical information sources, including the biomedical literature and patient records.


The 1986 Long Range Plan was designed to strategically guide the Library in using its human, physical, and financial resources to fulfill its mission in a time of great change in science and widespread access to online information. Sixteen goals were identified for addressing priorities in five domains: the Library's collection, access to the scientific literature, obtaining factual information from databases, research and training in medical informatics, and advanced educational technology. The plan was updated in specific areas over time, with supplemental planning reports on outreach to health professionals (1989), electronic imaging (1990), information services for toxicology and environmental health (1992), the education and training of health science librarians (1995), and international programs (1998).
1987 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database released by NLM, providing first public online access to data submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
1988 (November 4) Congress established the National Center for Biotechnology Information (Public Law 100-607). Congressman (former Senator) Claude Pepper led the effort to establish the Center at NLM to develop new information technologies to aid in the understanding of the molecular processes that control health and disease. NCBI would soon become a key participant in organizing and providing access to the results of the Human Genome Project.
1989 Congress established the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) and instructed NLM to work with the new agency to improve access to health services research and health care technology assessment information.
1990 First version of the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) Knowledge Sources released. The regularly updated and expanded UMLS resources subsequently became integral to biomedical natural language processing and concept-based retrieval applications around the world.
1992 NLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg named first head of multi-agency High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) initiative within the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position held concurrently with that of directing the Library. His performance as director of the HPCC office was widely praised, and resulted in securing an important place for biomedicine and health in the rapidly emerging National Information Infrastructure and the Next Generation Internet initiative.

 

Responsibility for the GenBank database transferred from National Institute of General Medical Services to NLM's National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is now responsible for US participation in the International Nucleotide Sequence Consortium.
1993 (June 10) National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR) established at NLM. (Public Law 103-43) to improve "the collection, storage, analysis, retrieval, and dissemination of information on health services research, clinical practice guidelines, and on health care technology, including the assessment of such technology.

 

(October) The Library launched its Web site, one of the first in the Federal government. The Web rapidly became an important method of providing access to NLM's extensive databases and multimedia resources.
1993 - 1994 NLM awards a number of contracts and cooperative agreements for R & D related to health related applications of High Performance Computing and Communications, including telemedicine, health information exchange and related vocabulary standards, multimedia patient records, and related privacy and security issues. Some projects are co-funded by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
1994-1995 The "Visible Human Male" (1994) and "Visible Human Female" (1995) are released. Another outcome of the NLM Long Range Plan, each Visible Human is a series of datasets consisting of MRI, CT and photographic cryosection images of a human cadaver, produced by the University of Colorado under contract to the Lister Hill Center. The datasets are huge, totaling some 50 gigabytes, and are being used (without charge) by several thousand licensees worldwide for a wide range of educational, diagnostic, treatment planning, virtual reality, artistic, mathematical and industrial uses.
1996 (April 16) Internet Grateful Med (IGM) debuted, providing search assistance on NLM's site and eliminating the need to load Grateful Med software packages on desktop machines. United States Senator Bill Frist (TN), a surgeon, introduced Internet Grateful Med at a Washington, DC conference.

 


NLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg named by US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to be the US Coordinator for the G-7 Global Health Applications Project.

 




A new era of major NLM exhibitions began with “Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature,” organized by the History of Medicine Division. The following years saw major exhibitions on asthma (“Breath of Life”), the telegraph and the Internet (“The Once and Future Web”), images of human anatomy in the NLM collection (“Dream Anatomy”), forensic medicine (“Visible Proofs”) and America’s women physicians (“Changing the Face of Medicine”). The Library is arranging for these exhibits to have a life after they are dismantled; many tour the nation with support from outside organizations.
1997 (June 26) MEDLINE became available free of charge on the World Wide Web. With support from US Senators Arlen Specter (PA) and Harkin (IA), the Library inaugurated free worldwide access to MEDLINE via PubMed, a new access system created by NLM's NCBI. Broad availability of the Internet made free access possible, since previous charges covered commercial telecommunications costs. Vice President Gore, who participated in the announcement, said that this advance "may do more to reform and improve the quality of health care in the United States than anything else we have done in a long time." Use increased exponentially.
1998 NLM began a telecommunications program for the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM), heading an international effort to provide malaria researchers in Africa with full access to the Internet and the resources of the World Wide Web.

 



(October) NLM introduced MedlinePlus and a new era of information services for the general public began. The public's enthusiastic response to free MEDLINE on the Web prompted NLM to introduce more information services created expressly for them.

 



Profiles in Science, a Web site that makes available photographs, laboratory notebooks, audiovisuals, papers and other items from the archives of important figures of 20th century biology, medicine and public health, in context with biographical information and an explanation of the impact of their work, is released. It was an outgrowth of the Lister Hill Center's digital library research initiative produced in collaboration with the History of Medicine Division. Those featured include Virginia Apgar, Francis Crick, C. Everett Koop and Harold Varmus.

2000 - 2011

Date Details
2000 (February) PubMed Central premiered. This free digital archive for life sciences and biomedical literature expanded steadily to include more than two million full-text articles, including digitized backfiles of journals, some dating back to the early 1800s.

 



(February 29) ClinicalTrials.gov launched to implement provisions of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (Public Law 105-115), that required creation of a centralized, consumer-friendly online listing of clinical trials of drugs for serious and life-threatening conditions. In an effort spearheaded by NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed this site in collaboration with all NIH Institutes and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
2001 (March 16) "Turning the Pages" launched. The first medically relevant work in this digital interface that allows users to "turn the pages" of rare books was Elizabeth Blackwell's A Curious Herbal. NLM, the first US site for this technology pioneered by the British Library, later implemented a web version and the ability to link to related resources.
2002 Tox Town launched. This consumer-friendly resource highlights sources of pollution and environmental hazards in a typical town. Later, a city, farm, port and the US-Mexico border region were added, as well as a Spanish-language version.

 



(September) MedlinePlus en español (in Spanish) released, with nearly 500 topics, an illustrated medical encyclopedia and interactive health tutorials.
2003 Household Products Database released. This consumer-friendly site provides comprehensive information about the potentially hazardous ingredients in thousands of common household products.

 




(May) Genetics Home Reference (GHR) launched. GHR is NLM's Web site for consumer information about genetic conditions and the genes or chromosomes associated with those conditions.

 




(July) HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced that NLM had successfully negotiated a license to support free US-wide use of SNOMED CT to as a key component of NLM's Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) Metathesaurus. The Metathesaurus includes vocabularies and coding systems designated as standards for the electronic exchange of administrative and clinical data in the United States, including not only SNOMED CT but also LOINC and RxNorm.

 

(October 23) NIHSeniorHealth officially launched by NLM and the National Institute on Aging. This new Web site has special features that make it easily accessible to older citizens. One innovation is having the site read aloud to the user as he or she moves the cursor over a page. Fonts can also be enlarged and the background color changed to accommodate aging eyes.

 

(November) Offsite back-up computer center, on a different power grid and with different connections to the Internet, established to provide hot backup and load-balancing to ensure uninterrupted access to NLM information services in the event of emergencies affecting the onsite computer center.
2004 PubChem database of small molecules and corresponding bioassay released as a key component of the NIH Molecular Libraries initiative, providing access to data from commercial companies and university-based researchers as an aid to identification of potential research probes and new drug development.

 


(March) ClinicalTrials.gov received the Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.




 

(April 22) NLM partnered with the American College of Physicians Foundation to launch the Information Rx program, at a New Orleans, Louisiana press event. With this campaign, physicians can write "prescriptions" that direct their patients to the resources of MedlinePlus. The program would later expand to include several other prominent physician groups.

 

Tox Map introduced. This geographic information system uses maps of the United States to help users visually explore data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Toxics Release Inventory and Superfund Program. Tox Map pinpoints the location of harmful chemicals, in air, soil and water.

 


(December) The last issue of the printed Index Medicus was published. John Shaw Billings produced the first issue in 1879.
2005 (March) NLM launched WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders), designed specifically for handheld devices. WISER provides emergency responders with information about the area they are entering, including a list of hazardous substances, physical characteristics of chemicals and possible human health concerns.

 

(May) The PubMed Central archive for the full text of biomedical journal articles became the official repository for NIH's "Public Access" initiative. Scientists publishing peer-reviewed articles, whose work was supported by NIH grants, were encouraged to send their papers to PubMed Central for inclusion in a permanent electronic archive.
2006 (September 20) NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, officially launched at a Capitol Hill event. This free quarterly magazinefeatures health news you can use from the National Institutes of Health. The magazine is a joint project with the Friends of the National Library of Medicine. It is distributed nationwide through doctors' offices, health and community centers, clinics and hospitals, and medical libraries.

 

(October) ToxMystery debuted. This interactive learning site was designed to help children age seven to 10 find clues about toxic substances that can lurk in the home. A Spanish language version was released in October 2007.

 



(December 12) dbGaP, the database of Genotype and Phenotype, introduced. The resource was designed to archive and distribute data from genome wide association studies, which explore the association between specific genes (genotype information) and observable traits, such as blood pressure and weight, or the presence of absence of a disease or condition (phenotype information). dbGaP is a central location for interested parties to see all study documentation and to view summaries of the measured variables in an organized and searchable Web format.

The 2006-2016 Long Range Plan strategically sets the goals and priorities for NLM programs and services as they continue to become even more central to scientific discovery, treatment, and prevention. The plan is organized around four overall goals related to: 1) Access to and expansion of the collection and biomedical databases; 2) Information services to promote health literacy and reduction of health disparities worldwide; 3) Integrated information systems to promote scientific discovery and translation of research into practice; and 4) Developing a strong and diverse workforce for biomedical informatics and information services.
2007 (March) REMM (Radiation Event Medical Management) released. A joint venture with the HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and medical experts from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, REMM is a downloadable online diagnostic and treatment system designed to provide medical information that can be used during a mass casualty radiation event.

 

(April) The NIH Public Access Policy made mandatory as required by Congress. NIH-funded investigators must deposit peer-reviewed articles resulting from work supported by NIH in the PubMed Central archive for public release no later than 12 months after publication.


 

(September) The FDA Amendments Act mandates deposit of registration data and deposit of summary results data for an expanded set of trials of FDA regulated drugs, biologics, and devices.
2008 NLM joins the Bethesda Hospital Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP) at the request of the other partners (the NIH Clinical Center, the National Naval Medical Center, and Suburban Hospital ) to conduct informatics R & D related to disaster management and establish advanced network connections among the partners.

 

(April) Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) Web site debuted. The DIMRC site provides access to quality disaster health information at all stages of preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. Initially launched with a focus on NLM and NLM-supported resources and activities, it has expanded to include other sources of authoritative disaster health information, including links to sources of special interest following natural and manmade disasters in the headlines.

 

(September) ClinicalTrials.gov releases novel system for reporting summary results of trials to implement key provision of FDA Amendments Act of 2007.
2009 (January) NLM and the Friends of the National Library of Medicine introduce NIH MedlinePlus Salud, an English-Spanish version of NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine. NIH's first general-interest consumer magazine in Spanish, the magazine is produced in partnership with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. The first issue features journalist Cristina Saralegui on the cover.

 

(August 31) MedlinePlus launched its Twitter feed, medlineplus4you. The popular and respected consumer health Web site led the way as NLM entered the world of social media. Twice-daily tweets inform audiences about the Library's many consumer resources. Since then, NLM has launched several additional Twitter feeds and also Facebook pages.
2010 (January) Mobile MedlinePlus released. The new service provides authoritative health information for the growing audience of mobile Internet users by optimizing MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en español for display on mobile devices.

 



(January) NLM was named a partner in the multi-centered, $1.5 million Medical Heritage Project, sponsored by the Open Knowledge Commons. The project aims to digitize treasures from the world's leading medical libraries. NLM will contribute digital versions of thousands of medical materials, including publications dating back to the 17th century.

 

(February) Emergency Access Initiative (EAI) launched. This collection of over 200 biomedical journals and more than 65 reference books was provided free of charge for persons responding to the January earthquake in Haiti. A partnership of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and members of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers and other publishers. The EAI would be activated again later in the year, in response to severe flooding in Pakistan and the cholera outbreak in Haiti.

 

(July) Vocabulary standards supported or developed by NLM (LOINC, RxNorm, SNOMED CT) included in rule specifying certification criteria for electronic health record systems that Medicare and Medicaid providers must use to be eligible for "meaningful use" incentives included in the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009.
2011 The National Library of Medicine celebrates 175 years of service and information innovation.

Full List: 1836 - 2011

Date Details
1836 The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army (the present National Library of Medicine) established in Washington, DC.
1865 John Shaw Billings, MD, 27-year-old lieutenant colonel, pathologist and bibliophile, assigned to supervise the Surgeon General's Library, which he developed into a national resource of biomedical literature. He would remain in that post until 1895.
1866 The Library occupied space in the Riggs Bank building and in the former Ford's Theatre, site of President Lincoln's assassination and newly named the Army Medical Museum.
1870 Loan service established to make volumes from the Library's collections available to distant libraries and physicians.
1876 Billings’ Specimen Fasciculus of a Catalogue of the National Medical Library is published, receiving an enthusiastic reception by the medical profession of the nation. Although this is mainly a “spec” publication, to secure funding for a catalogue from Congress, the author already envisions a “National Medical Library” for the United States, and the warm reception of this work spurs him to create the Index Catalogue.
1879 First volume of the Index Medicus is published, establishing the Library's groundbreaking role in systematic indexing of medical journal articles. The print Index Medicus would cease 125 years later in 2004, long after the indexed citations were also available for online searching and in electronic forms.
1880 First volume of the Index-Catalogue published. Discontinued in 1961 after 61 volumes, this publication had listed 3,674,111 citations to medical books and articles, Noted physician, pathologist and medical administrator William H. Welch would in 1913 proclaim the creation of a National Library of Medicine, the Index-Catalogue and Index Medicus, all credited to Billings "probably the most original and distinctive contribution of America to the medicine of the world."
1887 The Library and the Army Medical Museum moved to a new building constructed for them on the National Mall, next to the Smithsonian "Castle."
1895 John Shaw Billings retired from the Army. By 1895, the Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), in keeping with Billings' vision, was the world's largest medical library. The following year, Billings became director of the New York City public library system.
1922 (January) The Library of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) renamed the Army Medical Library.
1942 The Library moved its rare books to leased space in a library in Cleveland, Ohio for safekeeping during World War II. The "Cleveland Branch" became the History of Medicine Division in 1945.
1944 The National Medical Library: Report of a Survey of the Army Medical Library published by the American Library Association, following a study by a team of eminent librarians funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The report, which criticized the Library strongly and made many recommendations for improving its facilities, products, services and staffing, provided support for increased funding and for major changes in operations.
1948 Colonel Frank Bradway Rogers, M.D., an Army surgeon, recruited to direct the Library, but first sent to Columbia University School of Library Service. After receiving an MLS degree in 1949, he assumed the directorship, not for a typical Army rotational assignment, but on a long term appointment, as recommended in the Report of a Survey (1944).
1951 First edition of the Army Medical Library Classification, a scheme for arrangement of books on medicine and pre-clinical sciences, designed for use in conjunction with the Library of Congress Classification, also as recommended by the Report of a Survey (1944).
1952 (April) The Army Medical Library renamed the Armed Forces Medical Library.
1956 (August 3) The National Library of Medicine Act, an amendment to Title III of the Public Health Service Act, placed the Armed Forces Medical Library under the PHS, and renamed it the National Library of Medicine (Public Law 84-941). US Senators Lister Hill (AL) and John F. Kennedy (MA) were among the primary sponsors of the legislation. Its champions included world-famous heart surgeon, Michael E. DeBakey, M.D. and leaders of the Medical Library Association.

 

(October 1) The Armed Forces Medical Library designated the National Library of Medicine and placed under the Public Health Service within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
1957 NLM library internship program established for post-graduate training in biomedical information services. Now called the NLM Associate Fellowship program, it is the longest running such program for librarians. Its graduates include many leaders in library management, innovative service delivery, outreach to underserved populations, education, and research.
1960 1st edition of the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) released for use in both indexing and cataloging. Likely the first major thesaurus developed for use in an automated bibliographic system, MeSH is still used in data creation and information retrieval in PubMed, the NLM Catalog, and other NLM databases.
1962 NLM moves into its new building at 8600 Rockville Pike, on the National Institutes of Health campus, Bethesda, Maryland (dedicated in December 1961). The History of Medicine Division collections return from Cleveland, accompanied by Pinkerton guards and insured by Lloyd's of London, to be reunited with the rest of the Library at the new location.

 

Custom mobile cameras installed in library stacks so that articles can be copied for document delivery without moving journal issues away from the shelves. The cameras would be retired in 1980 when truly mobile photocopiers became available.
1963 NLM acquires a Minneapolis-Honeywell 800 computer to support automation of indexing, cataloging, production of printed indexes and catalogs, and information retrieval.
1964 (January) The Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS), developed under contract by the General Electric Company, became operational at NLM. Over time, this pioneering computerized bibliographic system would produce many printed indexes, catalogs, and subject bibliographies for NLM and partner organizations, including the American Dental Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, and the World Health Organization. It also provided the first large-scale, computer-based retrospective search service available to the public. NLM quickly made data from the system available on magnetic tapes to selected institutions to establish decentralized search services across the country.

 

(January) Martin M. Cummings, M.D., Chief, Office of International Research and Associate Director for Research Grants, NIH, appointed NLM Director.

 

 

 

 

(August) GRACE (Graphic Arts Composing Equipment), a computerized phototype-setting machine developed by the Photon Company for NLM, first used to produce the printed Index Medicus. Then the fastest computer-driven photocomposer in the US, GRACE was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
1965 (October 22) The Medical Library Assistance Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-291) signed into law, authorizing NLM's extramural programs of grant assistance to improve that nation's medical library and health communication resources, including the establishment of the Regional Medical Library Network (now called the National Network of Libraries of Medicine).
1966 1st International MEDLARS Center managed by the British Library implemented batch bibliographic retrieval services in the United Kingdom using NLM data. Before the Internet eliminated the need for decentralized installations of copies of NLM databases, there would be MEDLARS Centers in more than 20 countries around the world.
1967 (January 1) Toxicology Information Program established at NLM in response to recommendations of the President's science advisory committee, expanding the Library's mission to encompass improving access toxicological, chemical, and environmental data, as well as the published literature and prompting collaborations with other federal agencies and additional information providers.�� NLM established a new Specialized Information Division to manage both its toxicology and drug information programs.

 

The National Medical Audiovisual Center was transferred from the Communicable Disease Center to NLM, but remained located in Atlanta.

 




The Francis A. Countway Library, which combined the collections of the Boston Medical Library and the Harvard Medical School Library, was selected as the first of 11 Regional Medical Libraries to improve access to biomedical literature across the US.
1968 NLM was transferred from the Office of the Surgeon General, US Public Health Service to the National Institutes of Health.

 





(February) Williams & Wilkins sued NLM for copyright infringement based on its practice of providing interlibrary loans of single photocopies of journal articles to medical libraries for use by health professionals and researchers and students in biomedical fields. This landmark copyright case, prompted by advances in information technology, would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

 

(August 3) Public Law 90-456 authorized the designation of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications.as NLM's first intramural research division.
1970 Lister Hill Center begins range of networking experiments: remote online retrieval via commercial telecommunications network; use of satellite communications (in cooperation with NASA) for medical consultation between remote Alaskan areas and academic medical centers; video networking for medical education in rural areas.
1971 (October) MEDLINE (MEDLARS Online) began national operation, following an R & D project directed by NLM's Lister Hill Center. MEDLINE, which evolved from the MEDLARS system which had been installed in 1964, was the first successful marriage of a large reference database with a nationwide commercial telecommunications network. Special training in subject headings, search commands, and Boolean logic was required to search the original MEDLINE effectively. In general, librarians and information specialists searched the database on behalf of researchers and clinicians. Tapes of MEDLINE data became available on subscription to universities and international MEDLARS centers.
1972 The Library joins with the Bureau of Health Manpower Education to support training of physicians and other health scientists in the use of computer technology for medical education and the provision of health care. This was the beginning of NLM-funded informatics training, which now includes 18 informatics research training programs in academic centers, fellowships at NLM, and highly regarded short courses at Woods Hole.
1973 NLM institutes modest charges for searching MEDLINE and its growing suite of online databases to cover commercial telecommunications charges. The charging method and algorithm results in an equal fee for an equal amount of use for all US users, irrespective of the geographic variations in prices charged by telecommunications companies.
1974 - 1977 Literature acquisitions and serials management functions automated in a then novel application of a commercial database management system.
1975 The Supreme Court rendered a split decision on Williams & Wilkins vs the National Library of Medicine and NIH thereby upholding the Court of Claims ruling that NLM's photocopying of journal articles for interlibrary loan did not violate copyright.
1978 Hazardous Substances DataBank released, with extensive data about the properties, toxic, and environmental effects of hazardous substances.
1980 (May 22) The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications building dedicated. The new building, connected to the Library building via an underground tunnel, houses research and network programs. The National Medical Audiovisual Center moves from Atlanta to Bethesda and is integrated into the Lister Hill Center division of NLM.
1983 Custom online cataloging system implemented, replacing use of paper forms and subsequent keyboarding and integrated with innovative online Name Authority file.
1984 (August) Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, Professor of Information Science and Professor of Pathology, University of Missouri, Columbia, appointed Director of NLM. A scientist and pioneer in the application of computers to medicine, Dr. Lindberg had previously served NLM on its grant review committee and as a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Lister Hill Center. He also directed an NLM-funded informatics research training program at the University of Missouri.
1985 The DOCLINE document request system implemented for free use by health sciences libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Key features included the ability to import journal article reference data from MEDLINE so it did not have to be rekeyed and automatic routing of requests to appropriate libraries, based on an algorithm that consulted a large database of summary holdings data for US health sciences libraries and tables of information about preferred borrowing patterns.
1986 NLM celebrated its 150th anniversary. Activities included lecture series, celebratory banquets and concerts, film festivals and barbeques. President Ronald Reagan and the Congress sent their congratulations.


 

(February 5) Grateful Med software package introduced. Innovative interface software was installed on desktop computers to allow searching of the millions of journal article references in MEDLINE by individual health professionals and others without specialized search training.

 


Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) R & D project initiated, with the ambitious goal of helping computers to understanding biomedical meaning, irrespective of the different terminologies and classifications used in medical information sources, including the biomedical literature and patient records.



The 1986 Long Range Plan was designed to strategically guide the Library in using its human, physical, and financial resources to fulfill its mission in a time of great change in science and widespread access to online information. Sixteen goals were identified for addressing priorities in five domains: the Library's collection, access to the scientific literature, obtaining factual information from databases, research and training in medical informatics, and advanced educational technology. The plan was updated in specific areas over time, with supplemental planning reports on outreach to health professionals (1989), electronic imaging (1990), information services for toxicology and environmental health (1992), the education and training of health science librarians (1995), and international programs (1998).
1987 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database released by NLM, providing first public online access to data submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
1988 (November 4) Congress established the National Center for Biotechnology Information (Public Law 100-607). Congressman (former Senator) Claude Pepper led the effort to establish the Center at NLM to develop new information technologies to aid in the understanding of the molecular processes that control health and disease. NCBI would soon become a key participant in organizing and providing access to the results of the Human Genome Project.
1989 Congress established the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) and instructed NLM to work with the new agency to improve access to health services research and health care technology assessment information.
1990 First version of the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) Knowledge Sources released. The regularly updated and expanded UMLS resources subsequently became integral to biomedical natural language processing and concept-based retrieval applications around the world.
1992 NLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg named first head of multi-agency High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) initiative within the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position held concurrently with that of directing the Library. His performance as director of the HPCC office was widely praised, and resulted in securing an important place for biomedicine and health in the rapidly emerging National Information Infrastructure and the Next Generation Internet initiative.

 

Responsibility for the GenBank database transferred from National Institute of General Medical Services to NLM's National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is now responsible for US participation in the International Nucleotide Sequence Consortium.
1993 (June 10) National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR) established at NLM. (Public Law 103-43) to improve "the collection, storage, analysis, retrieval, and dissemination of information on health services research, clinical practice guidelines, and on health care technology, including the assessment of such technology.

 

(October) The Library launched its Web site, one of the first in the Federal government. The Web rapidly became an important method of providing access to NLM's extensive databases and multimedia resources.
1993 - 1994 NLM awards a number of contracts and cooperative agreements for R & D related to health related applications of High Performance Computing and Communications, including telemedicine, health information exchange and related vocabulary standards, multimedia patient records, and related privacy and security issues. Some projects are co-funded by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.
1994-1995 The "Visible Human Male" (1994) and "Visible Human Female" (1995) are released. Another outcome of the NLM Long Range Plan, each Visible Human is a series of datasets consisting of MRI, CT and photographic cryosection images of a human cadaver, produced by the University of Colorado under contract to the Lister Hill Center. The datasets are huge, totaling some 50 gigabytes, and are being used (without charge) by several thousand licensees worldwide for a wide range of educational, diagnostic, treatment planning, virtual reality, artistic, mathematical and industrial uses.
1996 (April 16) Internet Grateful Med (IGM) debuted, providing search assistance on NLM's site and eliminating the need to load Grateful Med software packages on desktop machines. United States Senator Bill Frist (TN), a surgeon, introduced Internet Grateful Med at a Washington, DC conference.

 


NLM Director Dr. Donald A.B. Lindberg named by US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to be the US Coordinator for the G-7 Global Health Applications Project.

 




A new era of major NLM exhibitions began with “Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature,” organized by the History of Medicine Division. The following years saw major exhibitions on asthma (“Breath of Life”), the telegraph and the Internet (“The Once and Future Web”), images of human anatomy in the NLM collection (“Dream Anatomy”), forensic medicine (“Visible Proofs”) and America’s women physicians (“Changing the Face of Medicine”). The Library is arranging for these exhibits to have a life after they are dismantled; many tour the nation with support from outside organizations.
1997 (June 26) MEDLINE became available free of charge on the World Wide Web. With support from US Senators Arlen Specter (PA) and Harkin (IA), the Library inaugurated free worldwide access to MEDLINE via PubMed, a new access system created by NLM's NCBI. Broad availability of the Internet made free access possible, since previous charges covered commercial telecommunications costs. Vice President Gore, who participated in the announcement, said that this advance "may do more to reform and improve the quality of health care in the United States than anything else we have done in a long time." Use increased exponentially.
1998 NLM began a telecommunications program for the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM), heading an international effort to provide malaria researchers in Africa with full access to the Internet and the resources of the World Wide Web.

 



(October) NLM introduced MedlinePlus and a new era of information services for the general public began. The public's enthusiastic response to free MEDLINE on the Web prompted NLM to introduce more information services created expressly for them.

 



Profiles in Science, a Web site that makes available photographs, laboratory notebooks, audiovisuals, papers and other items from the archives of important figures of 20th century biology, medicine and public health, in context with biographical information and an explanation of the impact of their work, is released. It was an outgrowth of the Lister Hill Center's digital library research initiative produced in collaboration with the History of Medicine Division. Those featured include Virginia Apgar, Francis Crick, C. Everett Koop and Harold Varmus.
2000 (February) PubMed Central premiered. This free digital archive for life sciences and biomedical literature expanded steadily to include more than two million full-text articles, including digitized backfiles of journals, some dating back to the early 1800s.

 



(February 29) ClinicalTrials.gov launched to implement provisions of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (Public Law 105-115), that required creation of a centralized, consumer-friendly online listing of clinical trials of drugs for serious and life-threatening conditions. In an effort spearheaded by NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed this site in collaboration with all NIH Institutes and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
2001 (March 16) "Turning the Pages" launched. The first medically relevant work in this digital interface that allows users to "turn the pages" of rare books was Elizabeth Blackwell's A Curious Herbal. NLM, the first US site for this technology pioneered by the British Library, later implemented a web version and the ability to link to related resources.
2002 Tox Town launched. This consumer-friendly resource highlights sources of pollution and environmental hazards in a typical town. Later, a city, farm, port and the US-Mexico border region were added, as well as a Spanish-language version.

 



(September) MedlinePlus en español (in Spanish) released, with nearly 500 topics, an illustrated medical encyclopedia and interactive health tutorials.
2003 Household Products Database released. This consumer-friendly site provides comprehensive information about the potentially hazardous ingredients in thousands of common household products.

 




(May) Genetics Home Reference (GHR) launched. GHR is NLM's Web site for consumer information about genetic conditions and the genes or chromosomes associated with those conditions.

 




(July) HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced that NLM had successfully negotiated a license to support free US-wide use of SNOMED CT to as a key component of NLM's Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) Metathesaurus. The Metathesaurus includes vocabularies and coding systems designated as standards for the electronic exchange of administrative and clinical data in the United States, including not only SNOMED CT but also LOINC and RxNorm.

 

(October 23) NIHSeniorHealth officially launched by NLM and the National Institute on Aging. This new Web site has special features that make it easily accessible to older citizens. One innovation is having the site read aloud to the user as he or she moves the cursor over a page. Fonts can also be enlarged and the background color changed to accommodate aging eyes.

 

(November) Offsite back-up computer center, on a different power grid and with different connections to the Internet, established to provide hot backup and load-balancing to ensure uninterrupted access to NLM information services in the event of emergencies affecting the onsite computer center.
2004 PubChem database of small molecules and corresponding bioassay released as a key component of the NIH Molecular Libraries initiative, providing access to data from commercial companies and university-based researchers as an aid to identification of potential research probes and new drug development.

 


(March) ClinicalTrials.gov received the Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.




 

(April 22) NLM partnered with the American College of Physicians Foundation to launch the Information Rx program, at a New Orleans, Louisiana press event. With this campaign, physicians can write "prescriptions" that direct their patients to the resources of MedlinePlus. The program would later expand to include several other prominent physician groups.

 

Tox Map introduced. This geographic information system uses maps of the United States to help users visually explore data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Toxics Release Inventory and Superfund Program. Tox Map pinpoints the location of harmful chemicals, in air, soil and water.

 


(December) The last issue of the printed Index Medicus was published. John Shaw Billings produced the first issue in 1879.
2005 (March) NLM launched WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders), designed specifically for handheld devices. WISER provides emergency responders with information about the area they are entering, including a list of hazardous substances, physical characteristics of chemicals and possible human health concerns.

 

(May) The PubMed Central archive for the full text of biomedical journal articles became the official repository for NIH's "Public Access" initiative. Scientists publishing peer-reviewed articles, whose work was supported by NIH grants, were encouraged to send their papers to PubMed Central for inclusion in a permanent electronic archive.
2006 (September 20) NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, officially launched at a Capitol Hill event. This free quarterly magazinefeatures health news you can use from the National Institutes of Health. The magazine is a joint project with the Friends of the National Library of Medicine. It is distributed nationwide through doctors' offices, health and community centers, clinics and hospitals, and medical libraries.

 

(October) ToxMystery debuted. This interactive learning site was designed to help children age seven to 10 find clues about toxic substances that can lurk in the home. A Spanish language version was released in October 2007.

 



(December 12) dbGaP, the database of Genotype and Phenotype, introduced. The resource was designed to archive and distribute data from genome wide association studies, which explore the association between specific genes (genotype information) and observable traits, such as blood pressure and weight, or the presence of absence of a disease or condition (phenotype information). dbGaP is a central location for interested parties to see all study documentation and to view summaries of the measured variables in an organized and searchable Web format.

The 2006-2016 Long Range Plan strategically sets the goals and priorities for NLM programs and services as they continue to become even more central to scientific discovery, treatment, and prevention. The plan is organized around four overall goals related to: 1) Access to and expansion of the collection and biomedical databases; 2) Information services to promote health literacy and reduction of health disparities worldwide; 3) Integrated information systems to promote scientific discovery and translation of research into practice; and 4) Developing a strong and diverse workforce for biomedical informatics and information services.
2007 (March) REMM (Radiation Event Medical Management) released. A joint venture with the HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and medical experts from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, REMM is a downloadable online diagnostic and treatment system designed to provide medical information that can be used during a mass casualty radiation event.

 

(April) The NIH Public Access Policy made mandatory as required by Congress. NIH-funded investigators must deposit peer-reviewed articles resulting from work supported by NIH in the PubMed Central archive for public release no later than 12 months after publication.


 

(September) The FDA Amendments Act mandates deposit of registration data and deposit of summary results data for an expanded set of trials of FDA regulated drugs, biologics, and devices.
2008 NLM joins the Bethesda Hospital Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP) at the request of the other partners (the NIH Clinical Center, the National Naval Medical Center, and Suburban Hospital ) to conduct informatics R & D related to disaster management and establish advanced network connections among the partners.

 

(April) Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) Web site debuted. The DIMRC site provides access to quality disaster health information at all stages of preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. Initially launched with a focus on NLM and NLM-supported resources and activities, it has expanded to include other sources of authoritative disaster health information, including links to sources of special interest following natural and manmade disasters in the headlines.

 

(September) ClinicalTrials.gov releases novel system for reporting summary results of trials to implement key provision of FDA Amendments Act of 2007.
2009 (January) NLM and the Friends of the National Library of Medicine introduce NIH MedlinePlus Salud, an English-Spanish version of NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine. NIH's first general-interest consumer magazine in Spanish, the magazine is produced in partnership with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. The first issue features journalist Cristina Saralegui on the cover.

 

(August 31) MedlinePlus launched its Twitter feed, medlineplus4you. The popular and respected consumer health Web site led the way as NLM entered the world of social media. Twice-daily tweets inform audiences about the Library's many consumer resources. Since then, NLM has launched several additional Twitter feeds and also Facebook pages.
2010 (January) Mobile MedlinePlus released. The new service provides authoritative health information for the growing audience of mobile Internet users by optimizing MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus en español for display on mobile devices.

 



(January) NLM was named a partner in the multi-centered, $1.5 million Medical Heritage Project, sponsored by the Open Knowledge Commons. The project aims to digitize treasures from the world's leading medical libraries. NLM will contribute digital versions of thousands of medical materials, including publications dating back to the 17th century.

 

(February) Emergency Access Initiative (EAI) launched. This collection of over 200 biomedical journals and more than 65 reference books was provided free of charge for persons responding to the January earthquake in Haiti. A partnership of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and members of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers and other publishers. The EAI would be activated again later in the year, in response to severe flooding in Pakistan and the cholera outbreak in Haiti.

 

(July) Vocabulary standards supported or developed by NLM (LOINC, RxNorm, SNOMED CT) included in rule specifying certification criteria for electronic health record systems that Medicare and Medicaid providers must use to be eligible for "meaningful use" incentives included in the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009.
2011 The National Library of Medicine celebrates 175 years of service and information innovation.