National Library of Medicine Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD will retire at the end of March 2015, after more than 30 years leading the world’s largest medical library.
“I thought the National Library of Medicine was wonderful when I arrived in 1984, and my admiration for the institution, its mission, and all who work here has only grown with each passing year,” Dr. Lindberg wrote in the announcement to the staff. “The past three decades have seen tremendous advances in computing and communications, significant expansion in the scope and size of NLM programs, and corresponding huge increases in the direct use of NLM services by scientists, health professionals, and the public worldwide.”
National Institutes of Health Director, Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, issued a statement, noting that Dr. Lindberg is one of the longest-serving leaders at NIH and a pioneer in “applying computer and communications technology to biomedical research, health care, and the delivery of health information wherever it is needed.”
“Don has created programs that changed fundamentally the way biomedical information is collected, shared, and analyzed,” Dr. Collins wrote. “Think about it—when Don began, NLM had no electronic journals in its collection, few people owned personal computers, and even fewer had access to the Internet. He introduced numerous landmark projects such as free Internet access to MEDLINE via PubMed, MedlinePlus for the general public, the Visible Human Project, ClinicalTrials.gov, the Unified Medical Language System, and more. Don also created the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). NCBI has been a focal point for ‘Big Data’ in biomedicine for decades, providing rapid access to the data generated by the Human Genome Project and now to massive amounts of genetic sequence data generated from evolving high-throughput sequencing technologies.”
Dr. Lindberg began his career as a pathologist. He started applying computer technology to health care in the 1960s while at the University of Missouri. He was a professor of pathology and director of the Information Science Group at the University of Missouri, Columbia, when he was tapped to become NLM director.
His contributions to the field of biomedical informatics extend well beyond NIH. Dr. Lindberg was a founding member, and the first president of, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). He also was one of the founders of the American College of Medical Informatics, which is now an elected body of fellows within AMIA.
“We are deeply grateful for his service and support of the biomedical informatics community,” AMIA president and CEO, Doug Fridsma, MD, PhD said in a statement posted on AMIA’s website. “He was an advocate for informatics well before it was popular, and his leadership has touched nearly everyone in our field.” In 2005, AMIA honored Dr. Lindberg by establishing the Donald A.B. Lindberg Award for Innovation in Informatics.
During his time at NLM, Dr. Lindberg also led several interagency programs. In 1992, he became the first director of the National Coordination Office for High Performance Computing and Communications in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and in 1996 was named by the HHS Secretary to be the US National Coordinator for the G-7 Global Healthcare Applications Project. Those posts, he said, hopefully positioned the Library as both a national and international model of information innovation.
NLM’s mission of making high quality health information available to everyone broadened under Dr. Lindberg’s leadership. The scope of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine expanded and the Library entered into longstanding and successful partnerships with minority-serving institutions, tribal and community-based organizations, and the public health community.
His years at the Library included two major milestones, NLM’s 150th and 175th anniversaries. More recently, he presided over NLM’s “Voyaging to the Future” symposium, which looked back at the library’s last 30 years and looked ahead as it begins its next long-range planning effort.
“I will say that I have enjoyed beyond measure being at the helm of such a fine and storied institution—and will continue to do so until I depart,” Dr. Lindberg wrote NLM staff. “What a great place, and what great people.”
Information compiled by Shana Potash, NLM in Focus editor