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FW: Adding earlier content to Medline: NY Times


Anders Lowenborg <[log in to unmask]>


BIBLIST - Topics in Nordic research library user services <[log in to unmask]>


Tue, 22 Jun 2004 08:31:09 -0700





text/plain (1 lines)

Det hör kom just in via en e-lista som jag läser.

Ha det gott!

The NY Times today has an essay on the value of the quiet process going on
to "push back the Year I [of Medline]": Medline now indexes articles
written through the mid-1950s.

See "Paying Homage to the Wisdom of Voices from Medicine's Past" by Abigail
Zuger, M.D.

(NY Times articles are free online, but access requires registration).

An excerpt from the essay:
Over the last three decades, medicine has become firmly tethered to
Medline, the National Library of Medicine's vast computerized database of
journal articles that is accessible without charge from any computer in the
world. For technical reasons, the system for years coded only articles
published from 1966 onward. And 1966 effectively became Year 1 of medicine.

If you are a medical student trying to learn about tuberculosis, you will
find thousands of up-to-date articles on Medline, but not the article
describing the intoxicating triumph of the first effective anti-tuberculous
drug; that article was written in 1948.

If you are looking for information on smallpox, you will find nothing at
all of a vast literature from the 1920's through the 1940's....

Many doctors do not miss the old stuff at all. "It has less and less
practical importance," a journal editor told me recently.

But the people at the national library have a different opinion.

"Not everything that's worth knowing came out in the last 10 years," a
spokesman there said last week.

And so slowly over the last decade, with no fanfare, the custodians of
Medline have been pushing back the Year 1. Now their database includes
articles written through the mid-1950's. The aim, given enough time and
money, is to extend the starting date back to the beginning of the 20th

Is that money well spent? Perhaps the answer depends on one's definition of
"practical importance."

Cutting-edge medicine has clear practical importance. One might say that
everything else then fades away. Or one might make the case that those who
study the past in medicine are not so much condemned to repeat it as,
occasionally, privileged to do so.

A good essay, and an excellent project by NLM.

Bob Michaelson
Northwestern University Library
Evanston, Illinois 60208
[log in to unmask]

Anders Löwenborg
Cardiff-By-The-Sea, CA 92007

Westheimer's Discovery: "A couple of months in the laboratory can frequently
save a couple of hours in the library"
Runyon's corollary: "A couple of hours on the Internet can frequently save a
couple of minutes in the library"

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