NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

‘Gratitude Tour’ Checks Out NIH Library, Honors Staff for Support During Pandemic

Alicia Livinski and Derek McDowell, seated at table
The NIH Library’s Alicia Livinski and Derek McDowell recall working on site during the height of the pandemic.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the majority of NIH’ers had been sent home to telework, Derek McDowell, a reference assistant in the NIH Library, was on campus wearing a face mask and looking at an enormous line of people, also in masks, waiting to get the antigen tests he was handing out. That’s when the enormity of his job and that of his colleagues hit him.

“As I saw all those dedicated NIH staff in those long lines expressing gratitude to us for being in-house to distribute those tests, it made all the concerns, all the fears—any apprehension—it made it all worth it, because I recognized the dedication they showed to us, we now needed to show to them,” he said. 

In a gathering that underscored the unwavering dedication of NIH Library staff during the pandemic, NIH leaders met with the group recently to express their gratitude and recognize the exceptional contributions that shaped the agency’s response to the global health crisis.

Held in the library’s training facilities in Bldg. 10, the event brought together a cross-section of individuals who played pivotal roles in ensuring that critical information was disseminated swiftly and accurately, reaching both the NIH community and the public. The gathering aimed to highlight the profound impact made by NIH Library staff as they stepped up to support a multitude of critical initiatives.

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Individuals sit around a table, smiling
NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Tara Schwetz (r) and Colleen McGowan, director of the Office of Research Services (second from r) share a light moment with NIH Library staff at the gratitude event.

Photo:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

Colleen McGowan, director of the Office of Research Services, set the tone by acknowledging the incredibly wide range of services and resources the library provides and its staff’s collective effort to maintain the same high levels—even during the pandemic.

Monica Valencia
Monica Valencia

From 3D printing and translation services to bioinformatics, document editing and emergency technology, “this organization is nimble and it’s dedicated and we want to thank you,” McGowan said. “This event is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable dedication and invaluable contributions of our library staff during one of the most challenging times in recent memory.”

NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Tara Schwetz added her appreciation, “I want to thank each one of you for the many, many hours you have spent helping to keep research moving forward.”

Schwetz, too, recalled the extraordinary effort NIH Library staffers made early in the pandemic, when they helped “distribute over 34,000 Covid tests—more than 15,000 on day one in 2021, when the tests were still hard to get. That’s incredible!”

Dr. Jessica Chertow
Dr. Jessica Chertow

Also on hand to appreciate those who work in the NIH Library were Dr. Jessica Chertow, ORS associate director of scientific resources, and NIH Deputy Director for Management Dr. Alfred Johnson, who joined remotely from Bldg. 1.

In addition to McDowell, other staff members shared their experiences. 

Monica Valencia, who leads a translation team, recounted the early days of the pandemic, when the demand for translated materials surged. Some specialty and scientific terms didn’t even exist in some languages, she said.

“As Covid-19 materials started to be created, we were flooded with requests, not only for translations, but also for protocol consents and communication guidance,” she recalled. The team’s role in translating critical documents ensured that vital information reached diverse audiences and facilitated clear communication during an uncertain time.

Candice Townsend
Candice Townsend

Alicia Livinski, an informationist, spoke about the NIH Library’s ever-growing workload and the deluge only got bigger. 

“My relationship with researchers grew even closer during the pandemic, as I provided them with essential information that shaped their research proposals and studies,” Livinski explained. She highlighted the library’s role as a dynamic and responsive resource in the research community.

Candice Townsend, a branch chief and new employee who joined the library during the pandemic, expressed admiration for her colleagues’ resilience and adaptability during challenging times. 

“I saw so many staff members together hugging, fist bumping and just happy to be together,” she said, describing the occasions when coworkers reunited after long periods of telework and isolation. “And as a new employee, that was just so telling about this community and how much everyone cared about each other.”

Nancy Muir
Nancy Muir

As the event drew to a close, NIH Library Director Nancy Muir emphasized the collective spirit and commitment that define her staff. 

“Your dedication, resilience and unwavering focus on mission have been the driving forces behind our response to the pandemic,” she said, echoing sentiments expressed throughout the event. “We hear time and again about how customer-focused you are and it shows here today as we’ve heard from everybody. Whether it’s your area or not, you’re trying to get the answer for that person, no matter what the question is. But most important, and what I’ve seen here today, is the support you have for one another. Whatever happens, you pitch in and make it work…thank you for [all] you do.”  

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large group photo in library
Schwetz (seated, fourth from l) and McGowan (seated, c) and the staff of the NIH Library

Photo:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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