Magazine article American Libraries

Medical Questions? Medline Has Answers

Magazine article American Libraries

Medical Questions? Medline Has Answers

Article excerpt


People in this country thirst for medical information. Increasingly, when we have a specific illness or condition, we want to read everything about it that we can get our hands on, and to find the best treatments. If we're in good health, we want to learn what we can do to maintain an optimal state of wellness throughout our lives. Not surprisingly, librarians are turning to the Internet for fast and easy delivery of health information.

Developed by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), an arm of the National Institutes of Health, Medline is the world's largest collection of published medical knowledge and an increasingly popular online health resource used by a growing number of information seekers.

According to the most recent statistics, about 10 million searches of Medline are done each month.

The roots of Medline go back long before the computer age. In 1860, John Shaw Billings was a medical student writing his thesis on epilepsy. His frustration at conducting research without a subject index to the medical literature stayed with him; soon after he took over the library of the Surgeon General's Office of the U.S. Army (NLM's antecedent) in 1865, he began a subject index to significant articles in the world's biomedical literature. The first volume of this work, called Index Medicus, came out in 1879. It is still published monthly by NLM today.

Medline is the electronic version of Index Medicus, plus additional nursing and dental titles. It allows searching of the world's most important published biomedical information by subject, author, journal title, and text word. It is a bibliographic database containing citations, subject headings assigned by NLM's indexers, and author-produced abstracts that appeared in the journal, for nearly 4,000 biomedical journals from around the globe.

For about 250 of the indexed journals, users can link to the publisher's Web site and view the full text of recent articles, complete with illustrations. Medline references date back to 1966, although a related NLM database, OldMedline, will let you search articles from earlier in the 1960s.

A wide spectrum of people depends on Medline for accurate, up-to-date medical research information. According to NLM statistics, Medline users are 36% librarians and researchers, 34% health care professionals, and 30% the general public.

Most articles referenced in Medline are written by and for health professionals. But some can prove extremely helpful to consumers, too. Earlier this year, NLM started adding references from 10 consumer-oriented health newsletters and magazines issued by medical schools and government agencies.

Helping the public tap in

Thanks to the Internet, Medline is available at no cost to people all over the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All that's required is a Web browser and basic knowledge of the Internet.

First, users should go to the National Library of Medicine home page ( and click on the "Free Medline" button.

On the next screen, select either PubMed or Internet Grateful Meal, two search engines for Medline. On the resulting search screens, users can type in a single subject or multiple subjects, the name of an author, the name of a particular journal, or a combination of any of these. The search engine will sort through all Medline references and retrieve citations to articles with information matching the request.

Access to Medline is now possible in a growing number of public libraries with Internet capability and in virtually all of the 4,500 member libraries in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. The NN/LM, administered by the National Library of Medicine, links medical libraries (primarily at hospitals and medical schools) that share the goal of providing health science practitioners, investigators, educators, and administrators in the U. …

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