National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Powers discovery capabilities to support millions of searches each year by millions of people worldwide

Published on 13-Sep-2013

National Library of Medicine (NLM)


Deployment country:
United States

Big Data


The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has one of the most visited medical sites on the Internet, searched millions of times each year by millions of people worldwide. But after implementing a solution to support its web search and navigation capabilities, satisfaction surveys revealed complaints about poor quality results. By moving to IBM InfoSphere Data Explorer software, the NLM transformed the search and discovery experience and users now consistently rank the NLM website among the highest in government and even higher than most businesses.

Business need:
The NLM needed to provide site users with easier access to relevant information; enable bilingual searches; and identify data origins to reduce duplication and streamline capacity requirements.

Implementing IBM® InfoSphere® Data Explorer provides secure navigation and discovery capabilities across a broad range of NLM structured and unstructured content, from a single access point.

Provides relevant and trusted health and medical information from NLM’s extensive resources; enables bilingual searches; and traces data lineage to reduce duplication and streamline capacity.

Case Study

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), on the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, is the world’s largest biomedical library. In addition to a vast print collection, the NLM produces electronic information resources on a wide range of topics. The NLM also coordinates a 6,000-member National Network of Libraries of Medicine that promotes and provides access to health information in communities across the United States.

The Internet has become the first line of defense in healthcare, and with the rapid growth of available information, it is challenging to search and find trusted information within the huge volumes of available data—a classic big data problem. The NLM has one of the most visited medical sites on the Internet, searched millions of times each year by millions of people worldwide.

After implementing a solution to support its web search and navigation capabilities, satisfaction surveys revealed complaints about poor quality results. NLM staff and other users reported better results by simply using a public search engine and noted that the software was not meeting expected levels of customer support.

To improve information delivery, the NLM recognized the need for enhanced capabilities to connect, collect, and access relevant information from myriad databases, file systems, shared networks and other repositories. The solution of choice would enable users to find precise, relevant information in less time and reveal details that might otherwise be overlooked. In addition, the solution had to support usability requirements for queries, manage access to large NLM collections, and offer timely, cost-effective deployment.

Searching for a big data solution

In 2006, prior to IBM’s acquisition of enterprise software vendor, Vivisimo, Inc., the NLM invited prospective vendors to demonstrate their solution capabilities. Among the offerings submitted in June 2006, Vivisimo’s solution earned the highest technical score and was selected in January 2007.

Each vendor was asked to submit a prototype, and the Vivisimo solution provided the flexibility and configurability that NLM needed. The NLM was also looking for a “best-of-breed” software provider that would focus on continuously improving its solutions, and would be more of a partner than just a vendor.

Achieving fast time-to-value

The NLM was able to implement the Vivisimo solution within a few months. The solution’s flexibility and configurability, combined with usability testing results, enabled the NLM team to design an interface that optimizes the user experience. Vivisimo’s technical experts helped prepare the NLM team with onsite training in both implementation and day-to-day administration.

Vivisimo’s technical experts provided some suggestions, as the NLM team implemented the solution. Through this process, the NLM team learned more about the solution capabilities and the technical experts learned more about what the NLM wanted to accomplish.

Delivering optimal navigation and discovery capabilities

Since its original implementation at NLM, IBM acquired the Vivisimo solution, today known as IBM InfoSphere Data Explorer, a core component of the IBM big data platform.

InfoSphere Data Explorer software indexes data from the NLM main website, its intranet, and the NLM MedlinePlus website, and enables searches in English or Spanish. This technology also supports ten micro-sites hosting special exhibits, online newsletters, historical resources and more. In all, a total of 19 different NLM projects use InfoSphere Data Explorer software. By far, the most visible web presence is , a highly authoritative public resource for medical information.

InfoSphere Data Explorer software also clusters results into topical categories on the NLM website and automatically completes terms entered into the search box. The NLM team customized InfoSphere Data Explorer search and navigation results by adding spotlights of health topics that relate to user queries. The spotlights provide a consistent frame of reference and define the highlighted disease, condition or wellness issue.

Additionally, the NLM website allows visitors to navigate results based on different “collections,” such as “Drugs and Supplements” and a “Medical Encyclopedia.” These collections provide users with an overview of results that the NLM site has to offer in each area. Today, the search and navigation technology also delivers the best results at the top of the page.

Realizing a return on investment

Users have consistently ranked the NLM website among the highest in government and even higher than most businesses. It was important that any new changes made to the site—including new search, navigation and discovery capabilities—help retain those high customer satisfaction scores.

The evolving NLM site, powered by InfoSphere Data Explorer, is now delivering more relevant search results. Additionally, IBM continues to innovate and enhance the technology, giving the NLM and other clients new options to improve the search and discovery experience.

The National Library of Medicine website provides a search and discovery experience that reflects the quality its users have come to expect and enables site visitors to quickly find the most pertinent health information.

For more information

To learn more about the IBM InfoSphere Data Explorer, please contact your IBM sales representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website:

To learn more about IBM big data solutions, visit:

For more information about the U.S. National Library of Medicine, visit:

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

InfoSphere Data Explorer

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2013 IBM CorporationSoftware GroupRoute 100Somers, NY 10589 Produced in the United States of AmericaSeptember 2013 IBM, the IBM logo,, and InfoSphere are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided. IMC14840-USEN-00