Scientific Library Becomes Unbound by Space in 2024

By Deanna West, contributing writer, Scientific Library
A woman at a card catalog

The library has changed many times in service to NCI Frederick over the years. The “library without walls” is the latest. See the new website at (Photo from the SPGM archive)

The Scientific Library is moving into a new dimension: a “library without walls.”

Capitalizing on its identity beyond its physical location, the library will adopt a greater focus on connecting people to information, ideas, and each other and will ultimately shed its brick-and-mortar space in Building 549. The Scientific Library as an online library will focus on being a transformational hub of resources, not just a transactional place to check out books. 

The change comes after much consideration and strategizing. Organizational libraries need to be able to serve a global community, especially in hybrid working environments like NCI Frederick. To that end, as libraries acquire more digital books and materials, they’re devoting less space to housing physical items. The emphasis is becoming less about materials and more about partnering and connecting with their community.

The Scientific Library was already in good company moving in this direction—it’s rapidly becoming a proven model elsewhere. The “library without walls” strategy was validated in conversations with similar FFRDC and government libraries over the last year.

Same Services, Different Approach

While the library without walls changes how the Scientific Library serves its customers, it isn’t a change to the library’s services. All services customers have come to know and love—research support, up-to-date news on topics of importance, and book and journal article access via document delivery and interlibrary loan—will remain. E-journal, e-book, and special collections will also continue and grow over time.

Several services are also slated to be elevated. The library staff plans to continue to evolve the iLibrarian service (previously known as the Laptop Librarian service) to an integrated, embedded model focused on building intuitive knowledge and strong  partnerships. The library’s research services will be customized to customers’ information needs, with a format tailored to each customer.

Moreover, the librarians will be available to collaborate with NCI Frederick on innovative information products and services. As a first step, the library staff has already begun building research guides on subjects of interest to NCI Frederick staff, which will highlight and provide easier access to the library’s digital resources. 

The staff are also working toward a well-honed library collection. The library’s focus will be providing trusted sources of current information via e-resources available 24/7, as well as a small print collection of relevant resources for the NCI Frederick community’s current and future needs.

Next Evolution in Library’s Success

The library without walls is the latest step in the Scientific Library’s long history of evolving to meet the needs of the NCI Frederick community. The library has taken on new roles and functions over time as technology has progressed, but its primary functions have remained the same.

For instance, in the 1970s, the library housed multiple photocopiers, and the librarians established a popular service for copying and sharing scientific journals’ tables of contents. The following decade saw computers introduced to the library, which further enabled data sharing. The late 1990s and early 2000s brought Internet access, advancing the library’s capabilities. Just a decade ago, the library launched OneSearch, a single search box that allows users to search all resources at once, which improved online access to library resources. The details may change, but the mission hasn’t.

There’ll be much to watch over the next few months as the library transitions away from its physical space. The librarians are overhauling the library website, developing a news product on healthcare-related artificial intelligence (AI) that will be available this summer, and charting more communications on the library’s services and updates to them. While the library’s digital resources—thousands of e-books, e-journals, and databases—remain available 24/7, the librarians will be embarking on a “listening tour” to learn about information needs from the NCI Frederick community.

The Scientific Library is in a unique position as an information connector across NCI. The library staff want to use their combined knowledge to build more partnerships with their customers and experiment with new products and services that will be of interest to multiple groups across NCI Frederick.

The library unbound by space has limitless potential to do that: to aim high and better serve and support the NCI Frederick community. 


Deanna West is the director of the NCI Frederick’s Scientific Library. The Scientific Library assists in all phases of the research process by providing information services, resources, and training to all NCI at Frederick and Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research employees.

From card catalogs to the internet, the Scientific Library continues to evolve and improve. The new website is one of the latest improvements.