NLM Online Users' Meeting - May 1997
[Editor's Note: This article contains the edited text of a presentation given by Sheldon Kotzin, Chief of Bibliographic Services Division, at the NLM Online Users' Meeting, May 25, 1997 in Seattle, WA. It is followed by DOCLINE remarks and questions and answers from that same meeting.]
A Look Back
Last year in Kansas City, I described June 1995-May 1996 as the year from Hell. We had survived two government-wide furloughs, a week-long blizzard, a water-main break and a disastrous protest that halted contractor data entry activities for nearly three months. In May 1996 the Library was just beginning to recover from the effects of all these calamities. It took almost a year but we can proudly announce that the resulting data entry and indexing backlogs have been eliminated and that MEDLINE is once again current. From October 1996 through April 1997, staff added a total of 326,000 citations to MEDLINE, fully 68% more than during the same period in FY1996.
Data Entry Update
The data entry award actually was made last August. Besides the record number of citations added to MEDLINE, we set two other unique records. The July 1996 issue of Index Medicus was the smallest in our collective memory - containing fewer than 8,000 citations. The February 1997 issue was the largest ever published at 55,000 citations - almost twice the size of a normal issue.
The data entry suspension did have some positive outcomes. NLM developed the PREMEDLINE database of in-process citations; the Library successfully developed an in-house data entry capability using scanning and optical character recognition technology; and an increasing number of publishers began to supply SGML tagged citation data electronically. The latter development was initiated by the Library's experimental retrieval system known as PubMed.
This is a good place to segue to MEDLARS developments. As you might expect, use of the Internet to access NLM databases continues to grow rapidly. About 60% of user codes and more than 70% of search sessions are now coming via the Internet. And these figures only include traditional ELHILL access including access via Internet Grateful Med (IGM), but not PubMed, which is only Internet accessible via the Web.
Grateful Med for Windows
PubMed is not the only new NLM service introduced since we last met. Grateful Med for Windows became available in January and its use has been strong. It provides access to MEDLINE and has the LOANSOME DOC ordering feature. Additional capabilities include a variety of retrieval options for downloading and reviewing search results, a menu option to build a Personal Journal List, and multiple options for saving and printing search strategies and results. By early 1998, we hope to have access to other databases, including AIDSLINE and PREMEDLINE.
Internet Grateful Med
Internet Grateful Med (IGM), the Web-based version of Grateful Med, provides access to MEDLINE, AIDSLINE, HealthSTAR, PREMEDLINE and has the LOANSOME DOC capability. IGM will soon add access to the following NLM databases: AIDSDRUGS, AIDSTRIALS, DIRLINE, HISTLINE, OLDMEDLINE, and SDILINE. In addition to the ability to browse and select terms from the UMLS Metathesaurus, IGM will soon incorporate some of the functions of the Windows version, including the personal journal list. Our goal is to make the "look and feel" of these two products more consistent.
Fixed Fee Agreements
The Fixed Fee Agreements, which allow an educational institution or other organization to pay an annual fee for unlimited institutional online access, continue to be an important program at NLM. The approximately 60 fixed fee and flat rate agreements cover more than 300 sites and represent about 35% of all domestic MEDLARS use. Due to the increasing availability of the Internet in small communities, many new agreements are being signed with community hospitals. State-wide arrangements are being considered that include high school and public libraries.
Registering New Users
The last twelve months have been busy ones for registering new users - about 22,000 in all. More than 12,000 of those registered online via IGM and received codes and passwords immediately. Since this was the first time non-U.S. individuals could register, we count about 2,000 foreign registrants among the new direct users. Eighty-four countries are represented from Afghanistan to Venezuela.
In December 1996, the Library switched off all Telenet and Tymnet connections to the NLM computer. All modem users must use FTS2000 or dial direct. At the moment, we know of no major problems with the FTS2000 network. However, the government's contract does not provide services faster than 9600 bps. I want to publicly thank all the RML (Regional Medical Library) Librarians and the many other librarians who helped NLM so much with the switchover.
NLM is making major improvements to its customer support activity. Beginning May 1, 1997, a new toll-free number, 1-888 FIND NLM (1-888-346-3656) was announced. This number replaces the Library's main customer service number that connected to our Public Information Office as well as the MEDLARS Service Desk (1-800-638-8480) and the DOCLINE numbers (1-800-633-5666). The old numbers are not being eliminated; we have just mapped them to the new number. There are only four choices - online services, reference and information services, DOCLINE service, or hours and directions to the Library. The simplified phone tree eliminated several layers and makes it easier to speak directly to a Customer Service representative. I urge you to try it. Besides the redesigned phone tree, the new Customer Service includes a state-of-the-art electronic call distribution system and a call tracking and knowledge base software package. This will be implemented during the summer. The changes will provide better monitoring of call flow, collection of better statistics on the nature of calls and all-around improved service.
PREMEDLINE Database Added
In order to speed the flow of new citation information to NLM database searchers, the Library announced the availability of PREMEDLINE. This database provides basic citation information and abstracts from items in process before they are indexed and added to MEDLINE, and is updated every weekday. As a consequence, you may find some "dirty" data since the records are not maintained. Citations remain in PREMEDLINE only until they have had MeSH terms, Publication Types, and other indexing data added and are loaded into MEDLINE. Once the indexing of all articles in an issue is finished, the complete records are added to the weekly MEDLINE update and deleted from PREMEDLINE. Command language searchers may order PREMEDLINE documents via the DOCLINE process. IGM and Grateful Med for Windows users may order PREMEDLINE documents via LOANSOME DOC. PREMEDLINE contains between 25,000 and 100,000 records at any given time.
OLDMEDLINE Database Added
This year NLM also introduced Something Old - Yet Something New. We call it OLDMEDLINE. The first installment of this database became available last Fall with 307,000 citations from the 1964 and 1965 Index Medicus (IM). These citations contain records just as they originally appeared in IM, and reflect the MeSH vocabulary and data format in use in 1964-65. At this time, the Library has no plans to update the older MeSH, although we may consider mapping them to current headings sometime in the future.
Perhaps the most significant difference between MEDLINE and OLDMEDLINE is the way one performs a subject search. Since the original MeSH terms haven't been updated in more than 30 years, there is no MeSH field. The headings are carried in a keyword field, and searched qualified by KW. OLDMEDLINE has no abstracts since the data is taken directly from the printed publication. Work is already underway to add 1962-63 Index Medicus data which we hope to complete in the next several months. There also will be other records added that appeared in Index Medicus prior to 1962. At present, we are working on adding about 500 journal citations on tuberculosis. If money is available, we expect to begin work next year to add several more years preceding 1962 to OLDMEDLINE.
At the end of this fiscal year, NLM will remove the DENTALPROJ database from the MEDLARS system at the request of the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR), which provides the data. Since few of you ever searched it, let me remind you that it contains summaries of about 1,000 active dental research projects funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies. Unfortunately, it was seldom accessed. Those of you who need access to this data can retrieve it via the NIDR Home Page (http://www.nidcr.nih.gov). Editor's Note: See the Technical Notes section for more information.]
Fundamentals of Searching MEDLARS Class Revised
The revision of the Online Training Program for the Fundamentals of Searching MEDLARS has been completed and is being used around the country. The course lasts just two days (when I was first trained, the course was three months) and utilizes computer-based tutorials to teach a significant portion of the class. Great credit goes to Janet Zipser and her colleague in MMS, Annette Nahin, for the outstanding job they did on this revision and to the National Online Training Center in New York for its support.
Technical Bulletin to be Published on the Web
Speaking of the Web, you probably know that issues of the Technical Bulletin (TB) have been on our Web site for downloading in Adobe PDF and PostScript formats. We are now working on providing the TB for your reading pleasure on the Web. Beginning in 1998, individual articles will be available on the Web immediately instead of waiting for the print issue six times a year. We will provide a printed version for a fee, updated six times a year, to any user who cannot access the Web. [Editor's Note: Stay tuned for more information in the next issue.]
NLM Home Page adds Links
While you're at the NLM Home Page (http://www.nlm.nih.gov), check out the revised Databases and Electronic Information Sources site. This page provides easy links to the various Grateful Med products, MEDLARS information, biotechnology databases and resources, a link to National Cancer Institute services, DOCLINE, AIDS resources, HSTAT, Images from the History of Medicine, Toxicology Information and more. It's a good place to do one-stop shopping.