In the span of a few months, the list of NLM tour guests may sound like a version of the board game “Clue.” Not Miss Scarlet in the conservatory, perhaps, but…
< Korean high school students in the computer room with Brian Szamborski, information technology specialist in the NLM Office of Computer and Communications Systems
> A family from Argentina at the main entrance of the Library. The pediatrician dad, holding a copy of NIH MedlinePlus magazine, wanted to visit the home of PubMed, the database in which his published article resides.
< Guests from China in the Visitor Center, fascinated by life-sized artworks based on the Visible Human Project. (And, yes, selfies were taken!)
> Physicians from 16 countries at the main entrance to the National Institutes of Health campus. Part of a State Department-sponsored program, several said that visiting NIH and NLM was something they had dreamed about for years.
< Tara Mowery, chief of NLM Visitor Operations, describing models of the Library’s past and present homes to visitors from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.
> Krista Stracka, rare book cataloger in the History of Medicine Division, in HMD’s Incunabula Room, mesmerizes different generations with rare and ancient treasures.
< Howard University students in the Lister Hill Center lobby, lunching and learning with NLM staff before their tour.
v National Center for Biotechnology Information scientists Roxanne Yamashita and David Hurwitz in the Visitor Center with high school students from Allegany County, Maryland, discuss careers in science.
But wait, there’s more!
Welcome to the world of National Library of Medicine tours, where visitors come from every state in the US and from around the world. In fiscal year 2017, visitors representing 82 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, came to tour NLM.
More than 3,100 people toured the Library last year and, with our new chief of NLM Visitor Operations, Tara Mowery, who started in July 2016 after being branch chief of the NIH Visitor Center, the number of guests continues to increase.
And who are these folks? They’re an A to Z list—just like the states and countries they are from. They include administrators, artists, attorneys, bibliographers, computer engineers, conference attendees, dieticians, educators, families, gardeners, grantees, historians, journalists, librarians, life-long learners, nurses, pharmacists, PhD candidates, physicians, public health experts, publishers, retirees, scientists, surgeons, veterinarians, and those who are just curious about the Library. (We’ve probably also welcomed some zoologists!)
What do they come to see?
They come to learn more about the National Library of Medicine, the home of such marquee “brands” as PubMed, MedlinePlus, and NCBI, but they have no idea what awaits them! A typical tour may entail:
- Learning about the Visible Human Project through the life-sized artworks and a haunting hologram.
- Discovering the many beautiful books that can be explored virtually via “Turning the Pages.”
- Hearing about the construction of the Library and why we have three floors of underground stacks. (Spoiler alert: It involves the Cold War.) Upon request, you can also tour those stacks, which are closed to the public.
- Seeing the Computer Room that’s in full operation 24/7 (even in the face of a Snowmageddon or a government shutdown) to ensure that customers around the world have access to NLM databases.
- Seeing some of the oldest and rarest medical books in the world in the History of Medicine Division.
- Visiting the main Reading Room and realizing that, with a library card, they can have access to any of the items in the collection here on site.
This sounds kind of cool. Can I go on an NLM tour, too?
Tours are available Monday through Friday (except federal holidays) at 1:30 pm and walk-ins are welcome. The basic tour lasts about an hour.
Busy at 1:30? No problem. Tours are available for individuals and groups weekdays between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm. Fill out the tour request form, and Tara Mowery will get back to you to arrange a time that works for you and your group. (Sorry, we are closed on weekends.)
What are they saying? Quotes from our visitors…
“Such an amazing place—on such an inspiring campus.” —Clinical informatics specialist, Northwell Health, a not-for-profit healthcare network based in Great Neck, New York
“Through your tour, I could reach one of my dreams, which was visit to NLM.” —Foreign exchange student at Columbia University
“I am sending a HUGE THANKS for the program you provided to our group. Our visit to the NLM has been one of the most popular activities so far in our program. Also, please pass our thanks to Dr. Greenberg for the tour of rare books. As you can probably imagine, the students couldn’t get enough of the books in Arabic.” —George Washington University International Medicine Programs
By Melanie Modlin, NLM in Focus writer