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 May 28, 2004 [posted]
 IndexCat: Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, 1880-1961

drop cap letter for i ndexCat is now available at

IndexCat is the online Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, (Index-Catalogue), printed from 1880 - 1961 in five (5) series consisting of sixty-one (61) volumes. The Index-Catalogue was initiated by John Shaw Billings who was the principal indexer for Series I.1 Billings expanded the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office into a major medical and scientific collection and created Index Medicus as well as the Index-Catalogue - each a cornerstone for the foundation of the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The project to digitize the Index-Catalogue was initiated by the Electronic Media Committee of the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM). Starting in 1997, the Wellcome Trust and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund awarded grant funds to support pilots to demonstrate project feasibility, suggest conversion approaches, and later, quality review of data. Based upon AAHM's presentation to NLM in 1998, NLM agreed to support the costs for digitization of data, system software, and the continuing costs for free Internet access. Data conversion began in fall of 1999 and was completed in early 2002. Project goals included preserving the integrity of the printed Index-Catalogue in the online version and providing browse and display similar to the printed catalogue. Therefore, IndexCat reflects all citations printed in the sixty-one volumes, totaling more than 3.7 million references to monographs (250,000 items), dissertations (300,000 items), analytics [e.g., journal articles, newspaper articles, obituaries, and letters] (2.5 million items) and portraits (4,400 items).

John Shaw Billings selected a dictionary arrangement for the printed Index-Catalogue and explained in his transmittal letter in Series I, vol. 1. that "The great majority of physicians ... have expressed a decided preference for this form; ...." Under specific subject headings, Index-Catalogue divides monographs and dissertations into a second alphabet by author and title, and creates a third alphabet by author for analytics.

An IndexCat Browse mimics the printed page and displays in dictionary order in a single alphabet, interfiling Subject Headings with Author and Title main headings. The exception is Series V which is published in a divided format with two alphabets. Volume 1 includes authors in one alphabet. Volumes 2 and 3 include Subject Headings in another alphabet. The content of Series V is also limited in scope to monographs and dissertations; journal articles were cited in Index Medicus.

Subject Headings are not MeSH. They are Index-Catalogue headings that may differ both in format and content among series. For example:

Series 1: Cholera, Asiatic (History and statistics of), by localities
Series 2: Cholera (History and statistics of), by localities
Series 3: Cholera (History and statistics of) by countries [or continents]
Series 4: Cholera [Asiatic] Epidemiology-by countries
Series 5: Cholera epidemiology
Because of these differences, the subject headings index is a keyword index. Use 'all of these' or 'as a phrase' indicators to simulate exact heading searches, when desired.

In a follow-up project, NLM intends to map headings to MeSH.

Names in IndexCat appear in two (2) formats: monographic form and analytic or journal article form.

  Monographic: Lastname Firstname Initial
Dates (if available)

Garrison Fielding H
  Analytic: Lastname First initial space Second initial MEDLINE format but with a space between initials
    Garrison F H not Garrison FH
  Use truncation after the first initial to retrieve all works: garrison f?
Again, the author index is a keyword index. In Advance Search, select Author Search and use 'all of these' to search authors.

The software platform for IndexCat is ENCompass from Endeavor Information Systems, Inc. Voyager, used for NLM's LocatorPlus, is also a product of Endeavor. Search capabilities for IndexCat are similar to LocatorPlus. Use the same symbols for truncation (?), phrase ("double quote"), essential term (+), important term (*), and term exclusion (!). See IndexCat Help for examples.

IndexCat on ENCompass is a linked, hierarchical structure. Each IndexCat record is linked to at least one other record. You can view and browse records in the dictionary arrangement of the original printed catalogue and it is possible to use a record retrieved from one search and view items indexed to another subject heading without invoking a new search. For a further explanation, go to IndexCat Help.

You can see all IndexCat Help topics at: NLM IndexCat Help Contents

1Index-Catalogue Series are published with Roman numbers. However, IndexCat converts these to Arabic numbers.

By Lillian R. Kozuma
History of Medicine Division

black line separting article from citation

Kozuma LR. IndexCat: Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, 1880-1961. NLM Tech Bull. 2004 May-Jun;(338):e8.


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