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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 1972

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


TUESDAY, JULY 20, 1971

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

The subcommittee met at 10 a.m. in room 1223, New Senate Office Building, Hon. Warren G. Magnuson (Chairman) presiding.

Present: Senators Magnuson, Cotton, and Boggs.


Senator Magnuson. The National Library of Medicine. Dr. Cummings we will be glad to hear from you.

Dr. Cummings. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Lister Hill Center

The Lister Hill Center created by Joint Resolution of Congress in 1968 has been designated as the department's focal point for the coordination of biomedical communications systems and networks. It has been assigned the responsibility for new communication technology to assist in information delivery.

The center is cooperating with NASA, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin, and Stanford University, in using satellite communications technology to conduct and expand technical experiments which permit verbal consultation and data transmission between health aides and physicians in Alaska, particularly in the remote areas.

Also the Center has initiated an interactive television communications network for Vermont and New Hampshire where physicians may be assisted in their continuing education and patient care activities.

Lister Hill Center Building

The program of requirements for the Lister Hill Center building has been completed. It has been approved by the National Institute of Health and now awaits approval by the Department and the Office of Management and Budget before we proceed with our architectural and engineering design.

Alaskan Satellite Communications Program

Senator Magnuson. Naturally, the people from Alaska are wondering whether under this budget you will continue this experimental satellite program in Alaska.

Dr. Cummings. We will continue to develop the satellite communications effort in Alaska.

We have begun to install our small antenna and transceivers and are sharing these installations with the Office of Education who also intend to make use of these resources. The full implementation of the program however, will not be possible within the present allocation of funds.

Agreement with NASA

Senator Magnuson. Is there any agreement with NASA on the use of the satellites?

Dr. Cummings. Yes; there is a very important agreement with NASA. This program could not proceed without their making available to us one of the older satellites which is not being fully used for other purposes. We have, in addition to that basic agreement, very fine technical support from the staff at NASA.

Senator Magnuson. The Senators from Alaska say they hope to be able to keep this experiment going, especially in expending the service for emergency signaling through the satellite and examining the possibilities of using radios on bush planes as emergency links on an experimental basis. Do you know about that?

Dr. Cummings. I have heard that mentioned, but I am not able to tell you that the airplane linkage aspect of this program will be funded within our present resources. At the moment, we are concentrating on what we have called mayday type of help assistance where an aide confronted with an emergency problem in a remote station can talk to some competent professional in a nearby clinic or hospital.

Senator Magnuson. Speaking of the NASA agreement for experimental satellites, are they considering possible expansion of medical tests into the Northwest part of the United States and for links in other areas?

Dr. Cummings. This is definitely part of the library's plan. We are working with engineering and medical groups in Seattle, in Palo Alto and in Madison, Wis.

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

Lister Hill Center

Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, will you tell us about the process for the approval of the Lister Hill Center?

Dr. Cummings. The approval begins with the National Institute of Health and then goes to the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare. Approval then goes to the Office of Management and Budget in the office of the President of the United States.

Alaskan Satellites

Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, because of the budget cuts, Senator Magnuson expressed concern to you that the people from Alaska were wondering whether you would continue the experimental satellite program in Alaska under this budget.

Dr. Cummings. NLM was able to continue to develop the satellite communications in Alaska and we had started to install equipment and had established sharing agreements with the Office of Education. Unfortunately the budget cuts placed immediate full implementation of the program on hold.


Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, please explain how the relationship between NLM and NASA evolved.

Dr. Cummings. Through my service on the Science Information Council, I met Mr. Mel Day who was the Senior Science and Technology Information official for NASA. Through this connection, we established a technical relationship which gave NLM access to the Advanced Technology Satellite being developed for civilian use. Dr. Ruth Davis had comparable interactions with senior technical staff at NASA. NLM was able to keep abreast of the satellite technology required by NLM to make use of this unique satellite resource. When the satellite became operational in space, NLM was able to use the satellite for the first health communications experiments. It may be noted several years after this arrangement, Mr. Day was recruited to become my Deputy Director of the National Library of Medicine.

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