Donald Lindberg, Former NLM Director, Dies
Donald Lindberg, Former NLM Director, Dies

Donald Lindberg, Former NLM Director, Dies

He led the National Library of Medicine for 31 years and oversaw the implementation of PubMed, MedlinePlus, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Aug 26, 2019
Nicoletta Lanese

ABOVE: National Library of Medicine, NIH
FLICKR/SAGE ROSS

Donald Lindberg, who served as the director of the National Library of Medicine within the National Institutes of Health for more than three decades, died on August 16 following a fall, according to an obituary in the Columbia Missourian. He was 85 years old. 

“Don was incredibly well read, in medicine and beyond. A discussion about one of NLM’s many products and services would inevitably be informed by insight from the latest book he was reading, about history, sailing, or the latest medical breakthrough,” writes NIH director Francis Collins and NLM director Patricia Flatley Brennan in a statement. “His thirst for knowledge made him ideally suited to lead the largest biomedical library in the world.”

Donald Lindberg
JESSICA MARCOTTE

Lindberg trained as a pathologist and received his bacherlor’s degree from Amherst College in 1954 and his medical degree from Columbia University in 1958, according to the Columbia Missourian. In 1960, he joined the faculty of the University of Missouri-Columbia and began his pioneering efforts to enhance healthcare with computer technology. He became NLM director in 1984 and retired in 2015 after 31 years of service, thereafter serving as director emeritus. 

While at the NLM, Lindberg oversaw the establishment of PubMed and PubMed Central, ClinicalTrials.gov, and MedlinePlus, providing the public and scientists unprecedented access to medical literature, according to the NIH statement. He also helped set up the Unified Medical Language System, a searchable database of biomedical vocabularies, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a repository of biomedical and genomic information. 

Lindberg was the founding president of the American Medical Informatics Association and the first director of the government-wide Office of High-Performance Computing and Communications, the statement adds. He also served as the US National Coordinator for the G-7 Global Healthcare Applications Project from 1996 to 2000, according to the Columbia Missourian.

Lindberg was on the editorial board for the Journal of the American Medical Association and the inaugural editorial board of Medscape, according to Medscape Medical News. Medscape editor George Lundberg met Lindberg in 1966 when the latter taught a week-long course on computing for physicians in Poughkeepsie, New York. At the time, Lundberg thought, "This is going to change the course of human events." 

“Don created programs that changed fundamentally the way biomedical information is collected, shared, and analyzed,” reads the NIH statement.

Lindberg authored more than 200 academic articles and three books, The Computer and Medical Care, Computers in Life Science Research, and The Growth of Medical Information Systems in the United States, according to the Columbia Missourian. He also supplemented the NLM Native Voices exhibits by collecting oral histories from 100 Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian physicians, leaders, healers, clergy, and medical students. 

“He will be remembered for his outstanding leadership, his vision and passion for transforming access to medical information, and as a civil servant who was committed to excellence, transparency, integrity, and public trust,” reads the NIH statement. 

Lindberg is survived by his wife, brother, sons, daughters-in law, and grandchildren, according to the Columbia Missourian.

Nicoletta Lanese is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at nlanese@the-scientist.com.