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Commentary by Dr. Martin M. Cummings on his testimony before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee concerning the National Library of Medicine, for fiscal year 1981

From interviews with Dr. Cheryl Dee, 2011

Excerpts from testimony
Interview and commentary
Further resources

Excerpts of U.S. Senate subcommittee testimony concerning the National Library of Medicine, followed by an interview with Dr. Martin M. Cummings, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine, reflecting upon the testimony



U.S. SENATE . . . Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations

Senator Eagleton, presiding.


The National Library of Medicine is dedicated to maintaining active research and development programs so that it will be able to use these new technologies in the processing of biomedical information for use by scientists, educators, and health practitioners.

During the coming year, the Library will continue its efforts to improve biomedical information services through the development of a more fully automated information system (MEDLARS III). The MEDLARS III development will improve the efficiency of record creation and maintenance, increase the quality of stored information, and greatly enhance the speed with which the user can retrieve this published knowledge.

Concerns regarding the health aspects of the environment will continue to be a high priority of our society in the 1980's. In this regard, the National Library of Medicine will play an important role in improving the transfer of toxicology and environmental health information. In cooperation with other Federal agencies, NLM's Toxicology Information Program collects, organizes, stores, and makes available for computerized retrieval, special chemical and toxicology data needed by industries, universities, government agencies and health care providers.

NLM's grant programs, carried out under the Medical Library Assistance Act will continue to improve health information services for the nation. Special effort will be devoted to aiding small community hospitals in rural and innercity areas to acquire the books and journals necessary to serve the basic informational needs of their primary users.

Within the organizational structure of the NLM there exist two unique national Centers with programs dedicated to improving the use of information and educational technology in health research, education and patient care. The first of these, the National Medical Audiovisual Center has been a part of NLM since 1967. Its mission is to improve the quality and effectiveness of health science teaching materials and to encourage their widespread use in the education of health professionals. Research activities at this Center have explored the use of new multi-media technologies, new concepts and theories regarding adult learning, and the techniques of training professionals in community health facilities of various sizes and locations.

The second organization is the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, created by Congress in 1968. Within this Center has evolved a team of information and computer scientists who, joined with health professionals of various specialties and backgrounds, are exploring more effective uses of information processing technology to support the health community.

Finally, the Library is pleased to note that the dedication and occupation of the new Lister Hill Center building is scheduled for the Spring of 1980. The completion of this building will permit all divisions of the Library to be together for the first time in over a decade. The transfer of the staff of the Lister Hill Center, the National Medical Audiovisual Center, the Specialized Information Services (Toxicology Information Program), the Extramural Program, and the Office of Computer and Communication Services into this new building will permit the restoration of the original NLM building to accommodate and maintain the integrity and availability of the books, journals, monographs and other informational materials which make up this magnificent national collection of medical literature.

Mr. Chairman, our request of $44,730,000 for FY 1981 represents an increase of $73,000 over FY 1980. I shall be pleased to answer questions and supply any additional information desired for the record.


Dr. Cummings. The National Library of Medicine tries to guarantee that any other library can come to us and get a copy of material that they no longer can afford to own.

But that is being threatened. Even the National Library of Medicine can no longer guarantee to provide a copy of all of these materials because of another deficit namely insufficient staff to index and catalog this vast growth of literature.

I am embarrassed to report to you that we have a backlog of 15,000 books that have never been cataloged. A book that has never been cataloged might just as well not be in the library. It is no help to you or anyone else if you don't know that it exists. We do have a serious problem there.

Senator Eagleton. Are there any new positions you are going to get in your budget this year, Doctor?

Dr. Cummings. None.

Senator Eagleton. If you are 15,000 behind in cataloging today, the same personnel coming back next year, you may be 20,000 behind?

Dr. Cummings. We estimate about 25,000 next year.

Senator Eagleton. This doesn't reflect on you personally, Doctor, but I find your testimony a bit depressing. It would seem to me that this would be a great area for the Institutes of Health to exercise a role of creating leadership.

Dr. Cummings. We do have a forward plan, Mr. Chairman. And NIH has been supportive of our needs. The Library, I think, has estimated fairly and objectively both its manpower and financial requirements. I wouldn't want the Chairman to believe that there has not been a sympathetic interest in our problem at NIH. Everybody is part of some group in this day and age--usually, with a Washington office. [Laughter.]



Question: The Lister Hill Center is almost complete. Do you have a move-in date?
Answer: The new Lister Hill Center Building is essentially complete and staff have begun to occupy portions of the facility. By early Spring the Building should be operational with the dedication scheduled for May 22, 1980.

Question: What programs do you intend to run out of this Center?
Answer: This new facility will provide laboratories and other physical resources needed to carry out the mandate of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, the National Medical Audiovisual Center, and other NLM activities such as the Extramural Programs, and the Toxicology Information Program.

Interview with Martin Cummings, MD, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine, 1964-84; interviewed by Cheryl Dee, PhD, 2011.

Dr. Dee. You report that the National Library of Medicine had a backlog of 15,000 books that had never been cataloged.

Dr. Cummings. Yes, Senator Eagleton allowed me to put the backlog in the record. The National Institutes of Health recognized the problem and was supportive of the NLM's need. The Lister Hill Center Building was about to become operational but there were a lot of demands for funding.

The testimony this year did not bring as many significant topics for discussion. The focus of the National Library of Medicine was on finalizing all of the components of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, the National Medical Audiovisual Center, and other NLM activities such as the Extramural Programs, and the Toxicology Information Program that would be housed in the Lister Hill Center Building.

Further Resources