The Relationship of Specialized Information Centers and Research Libraries, 1965
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the relationship of specialized information centers and research libraries by martin m cummings, m.d in the first few moments after i had accepted your kind invitation to discuss with you the interrelationship of today's research libraries and centers for specialized information i found myself reflecting on the experiences of the past year when i became director of the national library of medicine last january i had no idea that the next 12 months would turn out to be among the most stimulating and challenging of my professional career as a student physician scientist and administrator i have long been accustomed to making use of library facilities and services but medical librarianship was a field of activity completely new to me there is of course a vast difference between being on the receiving end and the giving end tonight i would like to talk about some of the problems that have confronted me since january and the lessons i believe i have learned it will come as no surprise to you that the central theme of my remarks will deal with the problem of biomedical communication to begin with let me try to define the terms specialized inform ation center and research library in 1963 the report of the president's science advisory committee saw a specialized information center as being an establishment which makes it its business to know everything that is being published in a special field for example tumor viruses or nuclear medicine the center collates and reviews the data and furnishes its

Page  2 2 subscribers with regularly issued compilations critical reviews specialized bibliographies and other tools designed to provide access to the information content of documents such a center has certain distinct characteristics its collection is not intended to be broad or even necessarily complete insofar as the historical background of the specific subject or field instead the specialized collection emphasizes what might be called exhaustive currency acquisition activity may not need to be extensive if the subject is highly specialized but it must be thorough in identifying and obtaining information from all significant sources pertinent to that particular area personnel who provide services from these sources are intended to be to some degree subject specialists capable of interpreting authoritatively, the data stored in the center current thinking assigns to specialized information centers the job of evaluating the literature this function requires knowledgeable scientific specialists who can digest the collected data review the field and distill its information in a manner that goes to the heart of current technical problems the subject coverage is both narrow and deep primarily the center aims to provide services in terms of specific information rather than in terms of book loans or referral services to documents of possible related interest a research library on the other hand may be described in terms of the size and excellence or uniqueness of its collection the principal materials in the collection are commonly monographs and serials extensive collections include similar materials from other lands and other cultures

Page  3 3 and therefore in other languages equipped with modern facilities and an active book acquisition program as well as subscriptions to current periodical literature a research library plays an active role in providing current and retrospective information services covering a relatively broad subject area one of its essential functions is to preserve or to maintain for long periods its collection thus providing continuing physical access to documents which have been published through established channels these works early as well as contemporary will be cited by many workers in the same or related fields in future publications and therefore must be maintained to provide continuity in retrospective use the services of research libraries vary widely but are nearly universally provided by personnel--in this case librarians--who are trained in the art of manipulating a collection of documents and the bibliographic tools used to identify them the reference services and bibliographic tools available deal in books or volumes seldom articles as the basic unit these items are searched for identified and provided in their entirety to the user unless by pure accident reference librarians though highly trained personnel are without subject specialization and cannot offer assistance at the detailed information level often however they develop a remarkable familiarity with the items in their collections at times there may also be an awareness of the value judgments placed on items in the collection by specialist users with whom the librarians come in contact research library activities are intended to be relatively stable since they are designed to serve a large number of users whose interests are

Page  4 4 generally classified into one or more academic disciplines services are usually limited to identification of and access to books and other formal documents compilation of bibliographies provision of copy through loan service or photoduplication in addition to browsing privileges and assistance in using the bibliographic tools and facilities of the library among the operations performed in research libraries are acquisition cataloging indexing control of terminology used in these processes and storage of documents it must be admitted that the objectives of specialized information centers are not always understood by reference librarians but neither do the planners of scientific information communication systems always stop to examine the utility of resources that is information and processing capability available in research libraries nevertheless from a careful examination of the objectives of research libraries and specialized information centers it should be clear that they are complementary rather tham competitive components in the overall science information service network you are all no doubt familiar with the wellsian dream of a world brain an instrument which could absorb the entire store of recorded technical and scientific knowledge the novelist viewed this mechanism as the ideal solution to the problem of providing scientists and scholars with ready access to up-to-date information although the ideal remains to be achieved we at the national library of medicine believe a major step in that direction was taken with the advent

Page  5 5 of medlars the library's medical literature analysis and retrieval system traditionally the medical library has played the central role in the interchange of published biomedical information in the face of today's crisis in scientific communications resulting from the new scientific revolution systems such as medlars offer great promise of facilitating the processing control and dissemination of scientific knowledge for the benefit of those of you who have not yet become acquainted with medlars i would like to review our operational experience to date medlars is the first library based computerized information program it is the only system of this type operating in the medical field it was specifically designed to combine the talents of trained literature analysts with the tremendous processing capabilities of the computer medlars consists of a bank of paper-tape typewriters for preparing the input a central electronic computer for editing sorting compressing merging storing and formatting data for subsequent printing and a special optical phototypesetter called grace meaning graphic arts composing equipment which converts computer output into high-quality photocopy for publication the system works this way medical journals are reviewed by professional indexers who classify the subject content of each article by assigning subject headings taken from the library's controlled list of terms medical subject headings, better known as mesh the indexers also translate titles of foreign language papers and transliterate those in non-latin alphabets the journals with indexer data sheets attached are next processed by the operators of the paper-tape typewriters who prepare the material for

Page  6 6 computer input the basic unit record includes the article's title author names journal reference and subject headings assigned by the indexer after verification corrected tapes are batched and spliced for entry into the computer computer input programs are run once a day these programs edit the input extensively reject improperly prepared unit records and build the two major data files the compressed citation file used in the retrieval sub-system and the processed citation file used in the publication sub system about 150,000 papers from some 2,300 medical journal titles are currently being processed each year and added to the computer files approximately 60% of the indexed articles comes from foreign journals requiring a massive translation effort the retrieval sub-system goes into action when a medical researcher or practitioner requests a demand bibliography search specialists who have had extensive training both in indexing and the logic of machine retrieval formulate the requests into logical statements intelligible to the computer search parameters may include subject headings specific journal titles specific languages author names publication dates and computer entry data once formulated the requests are punched on paper tape proofread and batched for computer processing the demand bibliographies resulting from this search process may be printed in any one of a variety of output formats normally they are turned out on the computer's own on-line high speed printer

Page  7 7 the publication sub-system is used for the preparation of periodic indexes to the current literature each working day punched cards are entered into the computer instructing it to compile that day's recurring bibliography or copy for the index medicus, the library's monthly listing listing of references to the journal literature the computer then selects the appropriate citations performs a rather complicated task of page composition and prepares a magnetic tape file of print records for the computer-driven phototypesetter, grace grace is a revolutionary device which prints from a font of 226 characters in upper and lower case onto positive photographic film or paper operating at a speed of approximately 300 characters per second it represents the only system now capable of delivering high-quality typography directly from a computer and at computer speeds grace converts digital information from the magnetic tape to characters on photographic film the exposed film is developed by an automatic film processor inspected cut into page-size sheets and packaged for mailing to a printer the film masters are used directly for plate-making printing and binding of the final publication by 1969 the output printing load is expected to increase from the present level of some 290 million characters to 590 million it is noteworthy that medlars derives much of its power from being in and part of the library i would remind you that aside from being the world's largest medical library the nlm is the world's largest research library in any single scientific and professional field medlars is thus backstopped by the library's collections and by its uniquely high level of literature-handling expertise developed over the past 130 years

Page  8 8 by now you have some idea of medlars capability the next stage in the evolution of the system will mark the beginning of a program of decentralization from the outset the library has realized that the system offered an opportunity for extending the retrieval capacities of medlars to numerous other institutions decentralization will be accomplished through the use of duplicate tapes of the medlars file the tapes can be produced inexpensively and turned over to universities medical schools and other organizations with compatible equipment in this way these institutions will share nlm's capacity for searching the literature while being spared the high costs of the input systems in an effort to develop the necessary technological data and experience for ensuring the utmost compatibility the library is negotiating contracts with two universities so that medlars tapes may be processed locally by computers on the campuses after a period of extensive testing nlm will be ready to plan further decentralization of converted medlars tapes to those medical libraries which provide regional functions which have access to computers and which can meet the inevitable demand for services by using the same units of information medlars can respond to requests for recurring bibliographies or demand dearches related to a specific discipline--or to an entire mission the importance of this enormous capability is underscored by the changing patterns of medicine and medical research today we at the national library of medicine intend to exploit it to the fullest

Page  9 9 to return to the specialized information centers medlars can be harnessed to serve their needs too since it is able to provide quick answers from the literature on fields as narrow as molecular metabolism or as broad as developmental biology the specialized information centers will also enjoy the benefit of savings in money peeir needs too since it is able to provide quick answers from the literature on fields as narrow as molecular metabolism or as broad as developmental biology the specialized information centers will also enjoy the benefit of savings in money personnel and time already in recent months medleir needs too since it is able to provide quick answers from the literature on fields as narrow as molecular metabolism or as broad as developmental biology the specialized information centers will also enjoy the benefit of savings in money personnel and time already in recent months medlars has been used to prepare recurring bibliographies and demand searches requested by such organizations as the national heart institute the duke university medical center the university of colorado medical center the national institute of child health and human development and the stanford medical center as you can see the potentials here are unprecedented to cite one particular area of publication need the library could use medlars to assist in providing data for critical reviews and to keep abreast of the international production of such reviews medlars could also be employed to perform current awareness services in any number of fields in return the library would only ask for feedback from its customers on the value and effectiveness of the medlars products this information is necessary not only for our current programs but to enable us to ensure that our systems for dealing with the literature keep pace with the changing character and needs of modern medicine the increasing complexity of the literature and the shifting patterns of biomedical research have imposed additional responsibilities on the entire medical library system we see as part of our task the job of helping other medical libraries adjust to the times so that they can meet

Page  10 10 the multidisciplinary, mission-oriented requirements of today's science we recognize that the national library of medicine must lead the way in preventing the constriction of available resources by taking advantage of every opportunity to facilitate the growth and progress of medical library facilities and related information centers most important we do not view medlars as the final answer but only as a beginning the need for flexibility is paramount if our information systems are to cope successfully with the future information requirements of the health sciences # # #