Alternative Spring Break at the National Library of Medicine: NLM as an Organization

Homepage of the National Library of Medicine Digital Collections repository
Homepage of the National Library of Medicine Digital Collections repository

Spring break is often a time for relaxation, warm temperatures, and sleeping in.  However, for nearly 100 UMSI students, it was a week of engaged experiential learning at not-for profit and governmental agencies in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, DC.  I was one of the 40 students who participated in the DC Metropolitan area’s Alternative Spring Break experience; my particular experience was working with Library Operations team members at the National Library of Medicine to evaluate their Digital Collections site and create survey measures and outline a feasible usability test study protocol.

I put my Human Computer Interaction coursework to the test beginning Tuesday morning (Monday was a Federal Government “snow day”) when I began exploring the National Library of Medicine homepage and being immediately confused by the multiple references to digital collections (small d, small c) on the Homepage.  The Digital Collections (big D, big C) link is available under the Databases heading and was not immediately visible to me.  Instead, I was drawn to the Explore NLM header and its link to Online Exhibitions and Digital Projects.  There is some siloing at NLM, as there are at many large organizations, and therefore my confusion about which site was which was neither unwarranted nor novel.  As I interacted with librarians from different library units, I learned more about the history behind organizational choices and also about the hopes of many staff to create inclusive discovery search opportunities for users interested in gaining access to NLM’s extensive digital collection repository of books, moving images, posters, photos, and audio.

I met with many librarians in the Technical Services unit (full disclosure, my mother is the head of one of the three cataloging units within Technical Services) and received valuable advice about future course selections and up and coming trends in Health Sciences librarianship.  One suggestion that will have immediate implications on my educational trajectory at Michigan is to take any and all metadata courses available; this suggestion was closely followed by learning the XML scheme used to populate most resource description vocabularies (e.g. MARC, Dublin Core).

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