Detail of the new Profiles in Science homepage

Profiles in Science: Exploring the Stories of Scientific Discovery

By Susan L. Speaker and Christie Moffatt ~

NLM’s Profiles in Science® has a new look!  On September 30, 2019, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) re-launched Profiles in Science and we’re excited about new opportunities it will bring for sharing these stories of research and discovery. The new platform, integrated with NLM Digital Collections, supports growing functionality for public access, engagement with, and sharing of these digital resources documenting the history of science, medicine, and public health in the 20th- and 21st-centuries.

For those new to site, Profiles in Science is an online archive of more than 30,000 digitized items selected from the Archives and Modern Manuscripts collections of NLM’s History of Medicine Division and from the collections of collaborating institutions. The site features over 40 collections of digital content and continues to grow.  Through primary source materials and accompanying biographical narrative texts researchers can explore stories of scientific discovery, achievements in clinical medicine, and advances in public health.  Information about navigating the site is available on Profiles in Science collection homepages and on our About page.

Each name on the Profiles in Science home page links to a collection (or “Profile”) focused on an individual and selections from his or her personal papers. From the menu bar, “The Story” provides access to in depth biographical narrative texts organized chronologically with an aim to share how the individual became interested in science, his or her career path, as well as challenges and obstacles faced along the way.  The Michael E. DeBakey Profile, for example, tells the story of a legendary American surgeon, educator, and medical statesman whose work transformed cardiovascular surgery, raised medical education standards, and informed national health care policy. Readers learn about Debakey’s life growing up in Louisiana (where he learned to garden and his mother taught him to sew), his mentors, surgical colleagues, and the influence of his sisters Lois and Selma DeBakey.

The Michael E. DeBakey Profile.

Alongside “The Story,” researchers can select “Collection Items” from the menu bar to browse the digitized collection items in list, gallery, or slideshow views.  You can browse all items in a Profile, or sets of documents (texts), visuals, or moving images only.  Within the DeBakey collection you can see a variety of document types, including photographic prints, correspondence, published and unpublished articles, oral histories, diaries, and much more.  These items tell their own stories—of DeBakey’s early interests in and outside of science, collaborations across the country and around the world, and engagement with the general public on matters of public health and medicine.

Researchers can access, manipulate, and share Profiles content in new ways on the new site, including zooming in and out, rotating images, flipping through pages, searching the content of text, downloading, and accessing more information about the item (e.g. whether it is in the public domain).  NLM is using the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) to share items in NLM’s systems and beyond.  Other institutions and researchers using the same image framework can add Profiles images and metadata to their own digital collections and compare and manipulate images held in different repositories.

An image of the book viewer interface on Profiles in Science.

The new Profiles in Science site is the culmination of over 2 years of work, the initial phase of which was supported in part by a generous gift from the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Foundation. We had a challenging task: to migrate metadata and digitized items from a homegrown custom system developed and maintained since the early 90s to open source, community designed and supported software for long term management as part of NLM’s digital repository infrastructure.  A team of archivists, computer scientists, developers, historians, and librarians worked together to define requirements for the new system and review and select products for describing, storing, and providing access to collection content.  Profiles in Science items are described in ArchivesSpace, stored in a Fedora-based Digital Repository, and accessible to the public in a brand-new interface using Spotlight, open-source software developed by Stanford University, via IIIF.  Profiles content is also available in NLM’s Digital Collections, where it can be explored alongside over 100,000 other NLM digital materials, including books, film, prints, photographs, and manuscripts. This was a large and complicated effort (our own story!), and a significant step on the path of sustainability for this early and ongoing digitization project.  Migrating this content helps support NLM’s strategic goals to accelerate discovery, modernize NLM collections and services, and enhance the integration and interoperability of existing collections.

But even more exciting is what comes next! Profiles in Science is (and will always be) a work in progress. We are looking forward to adding more content and exploring new ways to make collection materials available and accessible for researchers with a broad range of questions, using new tools and approaches to historical analysis. We invite you to explore the new site and learn more.  And please, let us know what you think at

Look how we’ve grown!

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Portrait of Susan Speaker in the Reading Room at NLM..Susan Speaker, PhD, is Historian for the Digital Manuscripts Program of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.
An informal portrait of Christie Moffatt.Christie Moffatt is Manager of the Digital Manuscripts Program in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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