Reproduced with permission from Bull Med Libr Assoc, Vol 88, July 2000, p 282.
The online version of this review was derived from the author's final submission to the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association and is used with permission of the Medical Library Association. All material subject to the Medical Library Association copyright may be downloaded or printed for the noncommercial purpose of scientific or educational advancement.
KATCHER, BRIAN S. MEDLINE: A Guide to Effective Searching. San Francisco, CA: The Ashbury Press, 1999. 160 p. Softcover. $29.00. ISBN 0-9673445-0-6.
This book is basically a paean to MEDLINE and MeSH from an avid nonlibrarian searcher. A doctor of pharmacy based in San Francisco, Katcher has great respect for MEDLINE as it has evolved into the "largest and best organized database of its kind" (p. 1). He also believes, as does this reviewer, that the "story" of MEDLINE, back to John Shaw Billings and the Index Cat, is both interesting and relevant to the modern searcher. On the other hand, most nonlibrarian searchers simply want to get the desired information quickly and with as little effort as possible. This book was not written for them. It was written, instead, for searchers who have been intrigued by the database and want to know more, for students and instructors who have set out to begin at the beginning and gain a good overview, and, finally, for librarians who are always looking to fill in gaps in their knowledge. For this last group, those for whom most of the material is well known, the book is worth reading for recommendation to others and for quotes like, "Using MEDLINE is a bit like driving a powerful racing car that has been modified for street use. It can transport you with astonishing speed to places you don't want to go" (p. 12).
Realizing there are far too many MEDLINE interfaces to survey without confusing the reader, Katcher has chosen instead to concentrate on MeSH, on the other key elements of the unit record, an on the process of searching, including framing the question. Chapter 3, "Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)," is liberally sprinkled with annotations such as "good advice," "great examples," and "clear explanation." At the end of each of the five chapters, there are a few, well-chosen references. Citations from MEDLINE include MeSH and Publication Types to illustrate usage. In addition, a "Glossary of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) Used in this Book" is included to help ease the user into the MeSH system, its organization, and annotations. Finally, one of the most unique and potentially useful aspects of the guide is Appendix A, "MEDLINE Interfaces and Related Resources on the World Wide Web." This annotated list contains uniform resource locators (URLs), also available on the Web, with active links. When last visited, the page had been updated within the past two weeks.
As a self-proclaimed MeSH evangelist and longtime instructor in biomedical database searching, this reviewer was undoubtedly destined to write a positive review of this work. A defining moment occurred when reading the following lines, which express a sentiment familiar to many health sciences librarians: "MEDLINE's controlled vocabulary and elaborate indexing system require a little effort, but the reward...is more direct access....Take advantage of all the energy that has gone into organizing the information in MEDLINE. It is a National Treasure" (p. 84).
Reviewed byNancy Calabrett; Reuben L. Sharp Health Science Library; The Cooper Health System; Camden, New Jersey.