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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 1978

From interviews with Dr. Cheryl Dee, 2010

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


[Washington: 1977]

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

National Library of Medicine

Senator Bayh. . . . Nice to have you here, Dr. Cummings. . . .



NLM which is responsible for operation of a nationwide online computerized bibliographic retrieval service including MEDLINE (MEDLARS online), will encourage the use of these services in direct patient care facilities. This is in contrast to the earlier years of the MEDLINE network's development when the development of MEDLINE centers was concentrated in medical school libraries and their affiliated health care facilities. Currently the existing 445 MEDLINE centers, approximately one-third are located in direct patient care facilities. Nearly 50 percent of the new centers established 37 of 75 in 1976 were in hospitals. This trend to expand the network to include smaller hospitals and community based health oriented training programs will be accelerated in fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 1978. In addition to providing services to physicians, dentists, nurses and allied health personnel, the library has improved access to health care administrators, planners, economists, legislators and others who are playing an expanding role in our nation's health care delivery system.

Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications

The Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications continues to develop and coordinate experimental communication networks and systems for the entire biomedical community. Utilizing the Communications Technology Satellite, the NLM, in conjunction with other U.S. health agencies, has begun a national experiment to provide information for health education and the delivery of health services to remote areas. Six broadcast and receive satellites will be installed this year in sparsely populated areas of the country. NLM's broadcast studio has been completed. Such stations will facilitate teleconferencing among health agencies and provide professional consultation between the academic health center and professionals in remote areas. . . .


Senator Bayh. What is the MEDLARS system?

Dr. Cummings. It is an acronym for Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System. It's our computer-based apparatus which takes all of the major publications and lists them article by article, indexes then stores them in the computer for ready retrieval. We have more than 3 million articles compacted in the computer system. About 650,000 searches of that file will be made this year to serve information queries from outside the library.

This system has been put online now to some 455 institutions around the country so that people don't have to come to the National Library, but merely search it by a terminal, either in a hospital or medical school, or some other health institution.


Senator Bayh. I talked to Chairman Magnuson. He wanted to make certain we had a target date on completion for the Lister Hill facility. Do we have a target on that?

Dr. Cummings. Yes, as Dr. Fredrickson pointed out, the bids have been opened. There was a technicality involved in how the contractors listed their subcontractors, so we have been delayed 90 days. We expect construction to start in June of this year and to be completed at the end of 1979.

Interview with Martin Cummings, MD, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine, 1964-84; interviewed by Cheryl Dee, PhD, 2010.


Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, the MEDLINE system was expanded beyond the academic medical libraries in 1977.

Dr. Cummings. The important context behind the expansion of MEDLINE to the direct patient care facilities is that this expansion of services is how the National Library of Medicine promoted the expansion of MEDLARS I to MEDLARS II. MEDLARS did not have the capacity to add the new direct patient care users. The new MEDLARS system allowed the capability to add all of the new users. The Testimony gives the exact figures.

Lister Hill Center

Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, with plans going forward with Lister Hill's completion in 1979, did the construction go smoothly?

Dr. Cummings. My prediction of the completion of the Lister Hill Center in 1979 was very optimistic. The Testimony for the next few years will explain some of the complications. For example, it would seem like a small issue but as the testimony states there was a technicality involving how the contractors listed their subcontractors. This seemingly easy to solve issue caused us a delay of 90 days.

The testimony reminds me that through the Lister Hill Center, six satellites were able to broadcast and receive communications to remote areas by teleconferencing between academic health centers and practitioners. The teleconference provided professional advice and assistance to remote practitioners. NLM was at the forefront of medical communications. These were significant times for the communication of health issues to the remote local practitioner. The staff at Lister Hill is to be congratulated for their forward-thinking accomplishments.

For a complete story of the Lister Hill Center's construction, my Deputy, Kent Smith, is the man who can give the details of the construction. Kent was the man behind the solution to the Lister Hill Center's building construction issues.

Further Resources

Institutions and Programs

  • "Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications." Chapter 23 in Wyndham D. Miles. A history of the National Library of Medicine: the nation's treasury of medical knowledge. Bethesda, Md. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine; Washington, D.C, 1982.

Articles and Oral Histories

  • Cummings, MM. "A brief recent history of the National Library of Medicine." In National Library of Medicine. Past, present, and future of biomedical information. Bethesda, MD: United States Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, 1986; 27-40.
  • Dee, CR. "The Development of the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS)." J Med Libr Assoc. 2007 October; 95(4): 416-425.
  • Harkin, Tom (Senator). "Tribute to Kent A. Smith." Capitolwords 2004 July 12; 150 (95): S7934.
  • Sodergren, Linnea. "MEDLARS II: A Review". Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1973 October; 61(4): 400-407.
  • Smith, Kent. "Laws, leaders, and legends of the modern National Library of Medicine." The paper is an expanded version of the 2007 Joseph Leiter National Library of Medicine (NLM)/Medical Library Association Lecture presented at the Medical Library Association annual meeting in Philadelphia in May 2007. J Med Libr Assoc. 2008 April; 96(2): 121-133.