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NLM Technical Bulletin

NLM Technical Bulletin 1998 May-Jun; 302

In This Issue:

Technical Notes - e1

PubMed: Truncation, Automatic Explosion, Mapping, and MeSH Headings - e2

dot MLA 1998 [corrected 1998/07/14] - e3

BIOETHICSLINE Regenerated - e4

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MLA 1998

dot MEDLARS Online Users' Meeting - Remarks
MEDLARS Questions and Answers
DOCLINE Users' Meeting - Remarks
DOCLINE Questions and Answers [corrected 1998/07/14]

MEDLARS Online Users' Meeting - Remarks

Hello, I'm Sheldon Kotzin and along with the other persons on the panel, I represent the National Library of Medicine staff who index, develop databases and their interfaces, and provide access and user support to these databases. As always, we thank you for using our products and services, for suggesting improvements and for promoting the use of our databases and interfaces in your hospitals, medical centers, and companies. We value your opinions, suggestions and your constructive criticism. Send us a message at or call 1-888-FINDNLM. We will be happy to receive it.

Each year I like to begin my remarks with data entry and indexing. These unsung heroes and heroines make it possible for users to retrieve citations and abstracts for more than 9 million records from over 3,900 journals in MEDLINE. Last year a record 512,000 new citations were added.

The indexing operation can be divided into three broad activities: data entry of descriptive information; the addition of MeSH headings and Publication Types, etc.; and quality assurance activities. Last year, Dr. Lindberg challenged the staff to increase its use of scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology for one-third of the daily input of roughly 2,000 records per day. We have succeeded. Also, we have begun to request electronic data from all MEDLINE journal publishers. Though this program started only about six months ago, we can state that more than 60 publishers regularly send us data for over 200 titles. After securing acceptable data, we begin to discuss linking to publisher home pages. These two efforts have greatly reduced our dependence on double-keying of records for data entry and have greatly speeded up the availability of citations in MEDLINE.

On June 26, 1997, NLM announced that its MEDLINE database of more than 9 million references to articles published in 3800 biomedical journals may be accessed free of charge on the World Wide Web via PubMed and Internet Grateful Med. A few years ago NLM eliminated all domestic usage charges which should have brought some of your search costs down. Another change that occurred last year may have saved you money, whether you search MEDLINE through NLM or a licensee's products. NLM eliminated the surcharge that licensees had to pay for foreign use of MEDLINE. Now all NLM licensees pay the U.S. Treasury only one annual fee of no more than $16,000 for MEDLINE, whether their product is used domestically or internationally, on the Internet or via CD-ROM. Most licensees pay less than this amount. Not bad for 9 million records each year!

I'd like to acknowledge the other staff with me: Carolyn Tilley, Head of MEDLARS Management Section; Janet Zipser, Head of Online Training; and Kathi Canese, PubMed and IGM search expert.

Much has happened since PubMed access was announced. It is now used by 46,000 different IP addresses each weekday, conducting 320,000 daily searches. On an annual basis we expect PubMed use to exceed 75 million searches.

As you know, improvements introduced in PubMed in late January included: document ordering capabilities; the Entrez date showing when a citation was added to PubMed; a "details" button that allows users to see and edit their search strategies; moving the citation matcher that enables users to locate a specific article or issue by journal citation information to the gray sidebar; and a chance to display and select MeSH terms from a hierarchical structure. On April 16, a group of librarians, selected by MLA, the RMLs and NLM staff, met with Dr. Lindberg and others. They talked about system features they liked and didn't like as well as impediments to good telecommunications. Already, some of their suggestions have resulted in changes in PubMed.

MeSH terms with subheadings are now exploded with the subheadings attached to the MeSH headings--no longer free floating; and the variations available on a truncated term have been increased from 100 to 150. Also, PubMed now lets users know if the truncated term produces more than 150 variations.

Another recent enhancement of PubMed is a link to HSTAT documents. Users who retrieve a MEDLINE citation for a practice guideline whose full text is in HSTAT, will see a box that says "get original document." It links to the HSTAT full text. Users of HSTAT can search PubMed and HSTAT records simultaneously and can link from an HSTAT document back to a MEDLINE citation.

Many of you may have heard that NLM is planning to expand PubMed with data from other NLM databases. We will consider how to handle the addition of information in citations, on a database by database basis. The likelihood is that unique journal citations will move to PubMed, the monographs to the new Integrated Library System (ILS), and meeting abstracts to a separate resource, all linked to PubMed.

With the availability of the PubMed and IGM interfaces, NLM realized that it had a responsibility to train new searchers and retrain experienced searchers on these products. In addition to the classes being offered we have put all course workbooks up on the Web and we urge you to use them as is or modify them.

Work continues on PubMed enhancements. Expect improvements to be introduced regularly, not as annual updates. Among the improvements scheduled for release later this summer are:

A complete redesign of the way in which PubMed stores and retrieves information, that will dramatically increase the speed of retrieval. Complex searches that now take 18 seconds will run in under 2 seconds in the new system.

A redesigned Advanced search page to allow users to select limits such as language, age groups, and gender, and will include filters, such as AIM and nursing, and for dental journals.

A longer term goal is to develop a place in PubMed for users to store individual information and preferences. One could develop and store search queries; access other home pages and document delivery services; and access a variety of features that rely on storing individual preferences. The redesign also will make it possible to select a variety of print commands.

The availability of PubMed has resulted in one other program change. The flat rate arrangements with medical associations are ending. The program that began about six years ago with the American College of Physicians helped to introduce thousands of physicians to MEDLINE, but most of those users have moved to the Web.

Now let's cover what's in and what's out. Emphasis on consumer health is in. Since the introduction of free access, many patients and their families have searched MEDLINE looking for useful health information. In response to this growing user group, NLM is expanding its coverage of publications whose primary audience is the lay public. Recently twelve publications were selected for indexing and you can find citations for them in MEDLINE.

Printed Abridged Index Medicus is out. AIM was initiated in 1970 to "afford rapid access to selected biomedical journal literature of immediate interest to the practicing physician" when online services were not readily available. AIM citations from 119 journals was of value to the community over the years, with subscriptions peaking at more than 2,000. But in the 1990s subscriptions dropped, many new journals provided equally valuable information, and the costs of production and distribution of AIM rose. An electronic version of AIM still lives on as the tag continues to accompany these citations in MEDLINE.

In a manner of speaking, OLDMEDLINE is in. Last year, more than 307,000 citations published in the 1964 and 1965 Index Medicus were made available through IGM. This summer, about 250,000 records from 1962-63 will become accessible in OLDMEDLINE so that it will be a four-year file, and by this fall, we hope to release about 225,000 more records from 1960-61. We intend to keep going back, hopefully in larger chunks.

The Auto SDI program isn't quite out, but it is barely hanging on. In October the decision was made to stop adding new users, and to tell existing users to add no new search strategies. The program will disappear in its entirety when ELHILL ceases to exist. Many users have found it convenient to bookmark the URLs for PubMed searches that they perform repeatedly. This technique was first proposed by Linda Milgrom and Michael Boer at RML 6. Future PubMed enhancements may offer another alternative.

Back to what's in. MeSH on the Web is in. Now anyone can download three different versions of the MeSH file free from the NLM Home Page. One version has all MeSH main headings and tree numbers arranged hierarchically by tree number. A second version includes main headings, subheadings and allowable combinations in MARC format. The third version contains all terms, subheadings and supplementary chemicals in ASCII format. This is the only way to get access to the information that used to be printed in the now defunct Supplementary Chemical Tool. Many of you have taken advantage of using MeSH to organize and index curricula, training materials, and the like. And now it's free.

A Web interface for some of the TOXNET databases will soon be available. Initially, this interface will be a simple one, with access only to the factual databases. A more advanced search capability will be developed soon. PubMed will link its users to this Web site.

Improved Customer Service is in. In the past year NLM formed a new Customer Services Team to provide: a single point of access for offsite users; collect information to improve service; and turn user feedback into product improvement. I have two requests, however.

When you call, use the new 1-888-FINDNLM phone number, not the old 800-638-8480. That number is being phased out. Use the new phone number and the new e-mail for all kinds of questions, including those times when you wonder why NLM is doing something that seems unusual. Sometimes you discover a problem before we do, like a missing issue of a journal. So let us hear from you directly, not by reading your comments on LISTSERVs.

Finally, it is with great nostalgia that I announce that the Grateful Med disk program is out. It became impossible for NLM to keep the DOS, MAC and Windows products current with changing vocabularies and features. Also, in recent months, fewer than 5 new disks per month were sold of each version. In April, after 12 years and countless updates, NLM told NTIS to stop their distribution. I recall the excitement in 1986 when the GM DOS version was announced. The introduction of those original 5 1/4" disks marked a real sea change in broadening NLM's user base, a dramatic increase in searching, and led us into the age of the Internet.

Let me close by urging you to take advantage of NLM's e-mail service that messages you when new or updated files are available on the NLM Web site. The weekly messages contain automatically generated lists of new and updated pages with their titles and URLs. They are a great way to keep up-to-date. If you would like to subscribe to this service instructions may be found at:

--prepared by Sheldon Kotzin
Chief, Bibliographic Services Division
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