September 20th, 2010

NLM APIs: Why medical librarians should care

On Friday, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) announced the release of their application programming interface (API) web page via the Technical Bulletin.

It’s Monday and I know we’re all gearing up for a crazy busy fall so I’ll keep this short and sweet

What’s an API?

NLM’s definition from the API webpage: a set of routines that an application uses to request and carry out lower-level services performed by a computer’s operating system.

Huh? What’s so exciting about that?

Agreed. We need to stop talking about technology to explain technology.

Let’s paraphrase Webpopedia: An API is part of a set of tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier to develop a program. This is good for users because all programs using a common API will have similar interfaces. This makes it easier for users to learn new programs.

Oh, does that include mobile applications and such?

Yes, releasing APIs does make it easier to develop mobile apps.

Does that API page include PubMed too?

Yes, as part of Entrez Programming Utilities (currently third down).

Why should I care/know when I don’t write software?

As I learned in Woods Hole last year, the future in direct data access is now and we need to stay on top of the latest.

NLM has invited the public to develop computer and mobile interfaces and are seeking comments and recommendation for future APIs. I am hopeful NLM will also create resources including these third-party interfaces once they are developed so we don’t have to search high & low for them.

Now’s your chance to let people know this is in the works and submit your own recommendations to NLM for what you’d like to see developed.

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