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 August 29, 2001 [posted]
 NLM Online Users' Meetings 2001: MEDLARS Remarks

[Editor's note: These are remarks made by Sheldon Kotzin, Chief, Bibliographic Services Division, NLM, at the Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association in Orlando, Florida on May 28, 2001.]

Drop cap graphic of the letter H ello, I'm Sheldon Kotzin and this is the 21st time I've had the pleasure to welcome you to the NLM Online Users' Meeting. These meetings began in the 1970s just after NLM announced the first remote access real-time searching of computerized data. This October, we hope you will join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of those first MEDLINE searches.

This year I want to thank you for being so patient as we convert citations from specialty files to MEDLINE/PubMed and LocatorPlus. I'll update you on the status of these efforts in a few minutes. As usual, I must acknowledge the excellent efforts of the NLM staff who work on database development and testing, respond to your customer service questions, and especially thank those who process serials, provide data entry, indexing, and quality control for MEDLINE.

At this point let me introduce some representatives of that excellent staff: James Marcetich, Head of the Index Section; Janet Zipser, Online Training Coordinator; Annette Nahin, PubMed development team member; and Lou Knecht, Deputy Chief, Bibliographic Services Division.

As you know, each year NLM giveth but also taketh away. In the last several years, we added many new journals to MEDLINE through review and recommendation by the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee. A total of 116 journals were selected for indexing; none were deleted. Emerging areas of genomics, exobiology, and bioengineering are receiving more coverage; and so are gender-specific medicine, public health, and life science subjects. I am always happy to receive suggestions of new journals or subject areas to examine for MEDLINE. Please send your comments to:

Indexing, Data Creation and Electronic Data
This will be a record year for MEDLINE indexing. By the end of this fiscal year NLM expects to add more than 450,000 citations to MEDLINE. A new Web-based Data Creation and Maintenance System, called DCMS, is now being used for virtually all indexing done for MEDLINE. The DCMS design allows indexers to work productively and accurately. The design includes a close integration with the MeSH Browser, so that indexers may expeditiously select the most accurate headings, and also with PubMed, so that they may perform indexing that is consistent with similar articles indexed in the past.

Currently there are 35 journals indexed for MEDLINE that are indexed from an online version. Some of these journals are published solely online. NLM provides high-speed Internet access, either digital cable or DSL, for indexers to allow maximum productivity while indexing these online journals.

DCMS includes a number of features that will directly assist MEDLINE searchers. One is the implementation of a separate Corporate Author field. Although it is not yet programmed for PubMed, we plan another feature that improves the comment linkages in MEDLINE. If a PubMed user retrieves a citation that is a comment on a previously published article, the user will be able to link to the full citation for the original article, and vice versa.

Now, more than 50% of MEDLINE citations are created from data supplied electronically by publishers. This is important because it is the most cost-effective means of data creation and it also enhances the currency of citations in MEDLINE.

The total number of indexed journals continues to grow. In February 2001, there were 3,621 journals indexed for Index Medicus and 4,515 for MEDLINE.

The Demise of Cumulated Index Medicus
As we introduce new systems such as the DCMS, we also take something away, as an era will close for Cumulated Index Medicus (CIM). NLM will cease publishing CIM with the 2000 edition, Volume 41. The publication of the monthly Index Medicus will not be affected. The production of the first CIM in 1960 was a major achievement of the Index Mechanization Project that predated the MEDLARS system. Initially, it enhanced access to biomedical information, but its utility declined steadily as online access improved. Several factors influenced the timing of this decision to discontinue CIM:

  1. declining subscriptions;
  2. easy, free access on the Web;
  3. widely available commercial CD-ROM products containing Index Medicus citations;
  4. Government Printing Office no longer requires that all depository libraries receive CIM, instructing them to use electronic means such as PubMed.

[Editor's Note: Please see the announcement of NLM's decision to cease publication of CIM in this issue of the NLM Technical Bulletin. (2000 Cumulated Index Medicus: The End of an Era. NLM Tech Bull. 2001 Jul-Aug;(321):e3.)

Indexing of Former Special List Journals
Last year, I reported on the cessation of old arrangements with the American Hospital Association and the American Dental Association and on the transition to NLM of indexing for journals formerly indexed by these organizations. NLM indexing of over 200 former HealthSTAR journals began about two years ago and these are now a part of MEDLINE. The transition of former non-Index Medicus dental journals has taken longer than hoped. However, NLM has finally incorporated most of them into its regular indexing workflow. Now I can report that NLM will also assume the indexing of former non-Index Medicus nursing journals as well. Nearly all will remain in MEDLINE. Expect to see cover-to-cover indexing of these journals that were frequently selectively indexed before.

Data Conversion Update
Last year I reported on the reorganization of our bibliographic data into what we fondly refer to as the three "buckets": PubMed, LocatorPlus, and the NLM Gateway. Now it's time for an update.

Here are some of this year's data conversion milestones and upcoming target dates:

  • We converted the entire MEDLINE file and unique journal citations from HealthSTAR into the new DCMS. This was used to create the annual reload of MEDLINE for PubMed and was also disseminated to NLM licensees in eXtensible Markup Language (XML) format. With the conversion of unique POPLINE monographs to LocatorPlus, we completed the conversion of all ELHILL monographic records. Then we removed 22,000 MEDLINE monographic citations from PubMed. These citations are scheduled to be added to LocatorPlus this summer. [Editor's Note: These citations were added on June 9, 2001.] Journal citations from AIDSLINE were recently made searchable in PubMed, and HISTLINE, SPACELINE, and BIOETHICSLINE will be moved into the DCMS by late summer, with POPLINE to follow. This data will be sent to PubMed this fall. Full retirement of Internet Grateful Med (IGM) will occur on or about September 30, 2001.
  • NLM intends to provide PubMed subset strategies that will limit retrieval to history of medicine, space/life sciences, bioethics, and possibly population/family planning citations. In addition, NLM is pursuing options for the Gateway to offer a subject-based hedge, something comparable to the current specialty databases, that will enable users to retrieve journal articles and monographs in one search.
  • I spoke earlier of the conversion of older POPLINE records. A change in priorities at the John Hopkins University Population Information Program will result in this organization no longer providing NLM with additional population and family planning records. POPLINE will continue to exist on the Hopkin's Population Information Program Web site while NLM will continue to index important population and family planning serials for MEDLINE. NLM will retain existing POPLINE records, as well as continuing to catalog relevant books in this subject area. [Editor's Note: For more information see Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs and NLM Cease POPLINE Agreement. NLM Tech Bull. 2001 Jul-Aug;(321):e5.]

PubMed Update
This year, in response to your inquiries, we prepared a factsheet and Web links that detail the difference between MEDLINE and PubMed. Although the scope of MEDLINE is primarily biomedical, in recent years it has been broadened to include those areas of the life sciences, behavioral sciences, and chemical sciences needed by health professionals to conduct research and patient care. MEDLINE citations and abstracts are available as the primary component of PubMed. In addition to MEDLINE, PubMed provides access to a relatively small number of other citations that do not receive MeSH indexing or publication types. For those of you who wish to limit your retrieval to MEDLINE, it is easy to do so using the PubMed Limits feature.

We are gratified by your continued use of PubMed. In April about 150,000 unique user addresses conducted more than one million searches each week day.

This year PubMed has undergone an enormous amount of new programming necessitated by NLM's transition to the DCMS and the new XML flow of data. The transition was, to put it kindly, a little bumpy. Year-end processing was stretched and new data was delayed. We know we will have an easier time next year.

At this time last year we were encouraging, bribing, and even dragging some of you to switch to the new version of PubMed. Now, some of you may not even remember we had an old version. Since then, we added two additional subject subsets, Toxicology and Complementary Medicine. We now refer to In Process citations instead of PREMEDLINE. We added a sort capability, released the Cubby feature and LinkOut for Libraries, and added links from PubMed citations to PubMedCentral. I wish I had time to go into more detail on these changes but I encourage you to read about them in the NLM Technical Bulletin.

I would like to go back to the LinkOut for Libraries program to thank the representatives from each Regional Medical Library (RML) who helped us support this project. Interest from libraries has been exceptional. If you are interested, please contact your RML representative.

I do have to take a couple of minutes to talk about PubMed Training. In the past year, close to 1,200 individuals across the country have taken our PubMed training classes. This year classes were expanded to include an overview of the Gateway and Soon the National Training Center will develop a Web clearinghouse for network libraries to make their training materials available for others to use.

I am also pleased to announce that the long-anticipated, interactive, Web-based PubMed tutorial made its debut in March. We are gratified at your comments and use of this valuable resource. Users have accessed the tutorial through links on over 100 library Web sites and total use in April was 37,000 hits.

The training staff also is trying out a new technology to create short, animated PubMed demonstrations perfect for "just-in-time" learning opportunities. Each demonstration opens in its own unique JAVA-enabled browser window and requires no plug-ins. Stay tuned in the coming months for more information.

Consumer Health
I would like to report on changes in MEDLINE that will affect retrieval of information for patients and the general public. In the mid 1990s a review of consumer health information resulted in 12 consumer health journals being added to MEDLINE. They included five health newsletters published by Harvard, one from Johns Hopkins, one from the Massachusetts Medical Society, one from the Mayo Clinic, as well as four others. Since then we received requests, especially from the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section of MLA and other consumer-oriented organizations, to expand this coverage. By March 2001, MLA members and others recommended a list of nearly 500 journals for NLM to review. Expert NLM staff, augmented by a public librarian who oversees a consumer health collection, evaluated the list prior to another review by external experts. This external Committee will consist of librarians from hospital and academic settings, health educators, and health professionals. This review group will forward highly recommended titles to our journal advisory committee for consideration in MEDLINE. This consumer health review will be concluded by early 2002.

Let me try to anticipate some of your questions by stating that there are no plans, at this time, to expand the coverage of consumer health monographs in the NLM collection. However, in addition to the consumer journal review, we are indexing a growing number of consumer health pages found in clinical journals, such as JAMA and Postgraduate Medicine. Also, we will soon index patient-oriented summaries of clinical articles found in the Annals of Internal Medicine. We are also looking into a new Publication Type in 2002 that will allow the easy retrieval of these patient pages from clinical journals.

NLM Gateway
Let's move rapidly to cover a few other items. The Gateway allows users to search simultaneously in multiple retrieval systems and is also the source for searching OLDMEDLINE, as well as AIDS and health services research meeting abstracts. However, the implementation of LocatorPlus, using Endeavor software, currently restricts Gateway searching of that database. We are investigating several possible resolutions. Let me remind you that the Gateway is quite different from IGM. IGM allowed users to access one database at a time; the Gateway searches many databases at one time and displays retrieval for each.

OLDMEDLINE now contains nearly one million records from 1958-1965. Approximately 110,000 more citations from 1957 will be added late this summer and citations from 1956 will be added by the end of 2001. Use of OLDMEDLINE grows and NLM will continue to convert its older medical indexes to machine-readable form as time and resources permit.

Data Distribution
One of the efforts that goes on behind the scenes at NLM that benefits many of you is our data distribution program. Last year there were 37 licensees receiving MEDLINE. This year there are more than 90 licensees receiving MEDLINE data and at no charge. Licensees also may get weekly MEDLINE updates in XML format from NLM's FTP server. In addition, in-process records as well as maintained or deleted records are made available on the server daily. I need to congratulate the NLM staff and thank the licensees for working with us to achieve this improvement.

NLM's reinvented TOXLINE database on TOXNET includes a component called TOXLINE Special which will be distributed to licensees in XML format later this summer. TOXLINE Special includes citations from an assortment of non-MEDLINE journals and other sources, such as technical reports. Most of the literature in toxicology is now covered in MEDLINE. In 2001 we began indexing cover-to-cover, for MEDLINE, about 40 toxicology journals that were selectively indexed in the past for TOXLINE.

Unified Medical Language System
Finally, we see more and more librarians using the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) to assist their institutions in identifying appropriate vocabularies and lexical tools for clinical and research purposes. Here is a brief summary of advances in 2001:

  • There are more than 1200 UMLS licensees, including many libraries.
  • The Metathesaurus includes 800,000 concepts from over 60 biomedical vocabularies.
  • There are seven foreign translations of MeSH.
  • A new, public Web site contains FAQs about the UMLS, PowerPoint slides for courses, and other useful materials.
  • A new class is being developed by NLM staff to teach librarians the basics of the UMLS.

It's been a busy year as you can see. As always we value your suggestions and criticisms. It's time for your questions and comments. We will answer each question to the best of our ability but reserve the right to change any answer and print it in the NLM Technical Bulletin. [Editor's Note: See NLM Online Users' Meetings 2001: MEDLARS Questions and Answers. NLM Tech Bull. 2001 Jul-Aug;(321):e? for the text of the questions and answers.]

By Sheldon Kotzin
Bibliographic Services Division

Black line separating the article from the citation

Kotzin S. NLM Online Users' Meetings 2001: MEDLARS Remarks. NLM Tech Bull. 2001 Jul-Aug;(321):e9a.


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