Nelson J. Gilman received Bachelors and Masters degrees in education from the University of Southern California in 1959 and 1960. He taught mathematics before returning to the University California at Berkeley to earn a Masters in Library Science in 1964. From 1964-1965, he was a Library Administrative Intern at the UCLA University Research Library under Associate University Librarian Paul Miles.
After his internship Nelson became the Assistant to the University Librarian in charge of library building & planning and supplies & expenses, with additional budgetary responsibility for furniture & equipment. From 1969 to 1971 he was the Assistant Biomedical Librarian under Louise Darling and the first Associate Director of the Pacific Southwest Regional Medical Library Service. From 1974-1979 he was concurrently Director of the Norris Medical Library at the University of Southern California and Director of the Los Angeles County Medical Center Library. In 1980, he became the Director of the Norris Health Sciences Libraries a position he held until his retirement in 2000.
In addition to his position as Library Director, Nelson held appointments as Assistant Professor in the USC School of Medicine from 1971-2000, and was the Associate Dean for Libraries & Director of Planning for the Teaching Library of the USC Central Library System from 1989-90. He also served on and chaired many USC Committees, most notable the Health Sciences Campus Computing Advisory Group, the Faculty Handbook Committee, the University Instructional Computing Committee, the University Software Committee and the Advanced Biotechnical Consortium Business Advisory Council. He was a consultant for many projects, especially those involving planning library buildings and library organization.
Nelson joined the Medical Library Association in 1966. His committee service included the 1972, 1982, and 1988 National Program Committee, the Committee on Group Structure, the Committee on Certification Examination, the Committee on Regional Medical Library Programs, and the MLA/NLM Liaison Committee. He was on the Board of Directors from1977-1979.
Nelson was also a member of the American Medical Informatics Association, the American Society for Information Sciences, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors, and state library groups. He is a Life Member of the American Library Association. He has received numerous grants and published extensively, especially in the area of database management and library services for health practitioners.