Former NLM Director Lindberg Mourned

Dr. Lindberg stands in front of NLM.

Dr. Donald Lindberg served as director of the National Library of Medicine for more than 30 years.

Photo: NLM

Dr. Donald Lindberg, who served as director of the National Library of Medicine—the world’s largest biomedical library—for more than 30 years, died in Bethesda on Aug. 17. He was 85.

A world-renowned leader in applying computers to health care with expertise and outstanding accomplishments relevant to NLM’s mission, he was appointed its director in 1984. He was one of the longest-serving leaders at NIH and continued his service as director emeritus of NLM after his retirement in March 2015.

“It is hard to put in words and do justice to the many contributions made by Dr. Lindberg and the many people he touched during his tenure at NLM,” said Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan, who succeeded Lindberg as NLM director. “For so many reasons, I am personally grateful to Dr. Lindberg, not the least of which is his transformation of NLM into a global powerhouse of health information used millions of times a day by scientists, clinicians and patients. His loss is being felt across NLM, NIH and the library science and bioinformatics communities.”

In a 2014 statement about Lindberg’s planned retirement from the library, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins gave a sweeping view of his contributions:

“Don has created programs that changed fundamentally the way biomedical information is collected, shared and analyzed. Think about it—when Don began, NLM had no electronic journals in its collection, few people owned personal computers and even fewer had access to the Internet. He introduced numerous landmark projects such as free Internet access to MEDLINE via PubMed, MedlinePlus for the general public, the Visible Human Project, ClinicalTrials.gov, the Unified Medical Language System, and more. Don also created the National Center for Biotechnology Information. NCBI has been a focal point for Big Data in biomedicine for decades, providing rapid access to the data generated by the Human Genome Project and now to massive amounts of genetic sequence data generated from evolving high-throughput sequencing technologies. GenBank, PubMed Central and dbGaP are just some of the many NCBI databases that support and enable access to the results of research funded by NIH and many other organizations.”

Lindberg came to NLM after a distinguished career at the University of Missouri, where he was a pioneer in applying computer technology to health care. Trained as a pathologist, he reinvented himself to become a leader in the use of computers in medicine. He helped establish the American Medical Informatics Association and became its founding president. He made notable global contributions to information and computer science activities for information used in medical diagnosis, artificial intelligence and educational programs.

Born in Brooklyn, Lindberg graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College and received his M.D. degree in pathology from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University.

Lindberg is survived by Mary, his wife, two sons, a brother and two grandchildren. A third son died in 1996.