Humphreys Honored, Brennan Delivers Keynote at Medical Library Conference

In a city known for its rain, the sun broke through with a vengeance, setting the tone for an upbeat, forward-looking Medical Library Association (MLA) annual meeting in Seattle last month.

Dual Honors for Humphreys

Two women hold a gilded folder and smile broadly

Betsy Humphreys receives a copy of the MLA resolution honoring her from MLA President Teresa Knott at the 2017 Annual Meeting. (Photo credit: Chris Shaffer)

The sun shined most brightly on NLM Deputy Director Betsy Humphreys, who was honored for her 44 years of service to the medical library community.  At the MLA business meeting, MLA President Teresa Knott presented Humphreys with a resolution commending her outstanding leadership, tremendous accomplishments, and dedication to health sciences librarianship. Later that same day, the two met onstage again, as Knott named Humphreys the 2017 recipient of the Carla J. Funk Governmental Relations Award. The appreciative audience greeted both honors with standing ovations and even a few tears.

Conference attendees relayed their gratitude and good wishes during a “meet and greet” with Humphreys at the NLM booth. The gathering highlighted the impact Humphreys has had on both new and experienced medical librarians as a role model, colleague, and friend and validated the MLA resolution declaring Humphreys “an inspiration to our profession and a ‘national treasure.'”

Brennan Looks Ahead at Leiter Lecture

NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan added to the praise for Humphreys during her Leiter Lecture and cited other inspirations as well: Virginia Henderson, Joe Leiter, Hildegard Peplau, and Nina Matheson. These nurses and librarians shaped Brennan’s understanding of how health information can touch the lives of patients—and how, in turn, patients need to remain at the center of data-powered health care.

In a high-energy talk that included personal revelations, humor, and future-oriented videos, Brennan laid out her vision for NLM’s role in data-powered health—as both a platform for discovery and a pathway for engagement.

“NLM wants to help medical librarians create a path toward data-powered health,” Brennan said. “There has never been a more critical time for medical librarians to be involved in health care.”

A woman stands at a podium, a large slide visible behind her detailing data-powered health

Dr. Patricia Brennan speaks on data-powered health during the MLA Leiter Lecture.

Things librarians regularly do—like organization, curation, and the reference interview—are needed in this data-intensive future, Brennan noted. And the points in patients’ lives where librarians can have an impact are actually more numerous than the direct intersections patients have with the health care system. Brennan called it “the care between the care,” the daily lives patients lead between doctor visits or hospital stays.

The audience laughed in recognition when Brennan observed that patients’ lives do not look like a stock photo—a calm, smiling model sitting in a pristine office casually browsing online for medical information. Patients’ lives are stressed, messy, and complex, with crying babies, piled boxes, and oxygen tanks stacked under the kitchen table. “We need to rethink how we can integrate into their lives without adding to that complexity,” Brennan said.

NLM’s next five years will be focused on laying the foundation for such a future by making NLM the hub for data science at NIH, establishing a PubMed-like discovery resource for data and models, and working collaboratively to shape policy and spark innovation.

Affecting a deep, sonorous tone—and drawing another round of laughter—Brennan delivered the well-known line, “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.” Though delivered with humor, it was sincere.

“I come to this process expecting the library to serve society,” she said.

More from NLM

The NLM Update reflected both that service to society and the need to look forward that Brennan espoused.

Brennan opened the session with a brief look at her first few months as NLM Director and the addition of a new role as Interim NIH Associate Director for Data Science.

A man seated in the foreground listens to a woman speaking at a podium to his left

A Brennan’s-eye view of Joyce Backus at the NLM Update. Dr. Dan Masys is in the foreground.

Dr. Daniel Masys, co-chair of the NLM Board of Regents Strategic Planning Committee, crossed town from the University of Washington School of Medicine, where he is an affiliate professor of biomedical and health informatics, to describe the strategic planning process and give a sneak peek at some of the themes emerging from the working groups.

The new head of the National Network Coordinating Office of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Amanda Wilson, recapped organizational changes in the Network and introduced a few new offerings, including the freshly launched RD3: Resources for Data-Driven Discovery, a place to learn about research data management throughout the data lifecycle.

Joyce Backus, Associate Director for Library Operations, closed the session by highlighting accomplishments from the past year. From MedlinePlus’s 1,000th health topic to selection of the inaugural group of DeBakey Fellows in the History of Medicine to the conflict of interest statements now in PubMed, she showed how NLM is ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-learning to be more responsive and more service-oriented.

National Library of Medicine staff and contractors attending the MLA conference collectively delivered seven posters, six sessions, and 16 presentations in the NLM booth over the course of the meeting. Booth presentations covered such key library resources as PubMed, DOCLINE, and ClinicalTrials.gov, along with new resources like HealthReach and NICHSR OneSearch. Recordings of all booth presentations are online for those unable to attend or looking for a recap.

By Mary Ann Leonard, NLM in Focus writer