By the Book


February 2016

Variations in MeSH Mapping: An Article Summary

Gault, Lora V., Mary Shultz, and Kathy J. Davies. “Variations in Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) mapping: from the natural language of patron terms to the controlled vocabulary of mapped lists.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 90.2 (2002): 173-180.

Introducing their work, the authors note that many users of MEDLINE begin their searches with terms that are not authoritative MeSH. This means that the results they receive depend on their MEDLINE interface’s mapping process. This study was performed to determine whether the tested interfaces (Internet Grateful Med, PubMed MeSH Browser, PubMed Index/Preview feature, OVID, OCLC FirstSearch Index option (with MeSH Heading Phrase), and OCLC FirstSearch Index (with MeSH Heading)) will return the same mapped results to users. To measure this, the researchers pulled and parsed research questions posed at a university health sciences center, working to establish the broadest natural language terms possible for the concepts. They determined equivalent MeSH headings for as many of the concepts as possible, discarding the others, and entered the natural language terms into searches on the six interfaces. Once the terms had been entered, the searchers counted and recorded what subject headings were returned. This done, they checked whether the various interfaces had mapped the terms to the correct subject headings and, if so, where the correct mapping appeared in the list of suggested subject headings (and how long that list was).

The results revealed that the interfaces did in fact map to terms differently, with varying success rates: Online Grateful Med had the correct heading 79% of the time, while other interfaces matched it on fewer than 50% of searches. While the authors concluded that some of the failures came from poor structure within MeSH, others seemed to spring from failures of the interfaces to make full use of MeSH. One definite design flaw noted was that the technique of alphabetic mapping used by several interfaces often missed important headings.

Overall, the researchers found that not all MEDLINE interfaces are equal, a fact that can lead to very different search results for users. The interfaces tested did have a variety of strengths, however, which they suggested could be combined to provide better mapping in future.

The study was well planned, carefully conducted, and coherently explained. The information gained is understandable and readily applicable to medical librarianship. I liked this article a good deal.



Caught in the MeSH

As a (hopeful) future cataloger, I’m naturally interested in the controlled vocabulary that is used in NLM databases. I’d never used MeSH for anything before, so I went on to the browser and explored a little bit. Just from a quick search, the interface seems pretty intuitive. There are plenty of links to related terms, and the scope notes are really helpful in making the medical terminology a little clearer and easier to work with. Of course, things might prove to be a lot harder to navigate with a definite goal to accomplish. At any rate, I look forward to learning more about the vocabulary, browser, and databases in class tonight.

MEDLIB-L Culture: An Article Summary

Smith, Cheri. “A Longitudinal Study of the Culture of MEDLIB-L.” Journal of Hospital Librarianship 4.1 (2004): 29-43.

MEDLIB-L was begun in 1991 by Nancy Start, a medical librarian at the University of New York at Buffalo. It is dedicated to supporting medical librarians’ professional queries, and is kept as an unmediated list in order to provide a faster response time to those needs. Its participants are mostly in the U.S., with a majority at large academic institutions.

The paper lays out the useful features of listserv technology in general, noting that it “supports scholarly communication by providing a forum for participant exchange of information, enabling the rapid distribution of information, announcements, and press releases, and allowing collaboration of widely dispersed participants” (30). This generally takes place through relatively informal sort of exchanges – smileys and typos are not unknown. Another perk is that unmoderated lists are by nature quite democratic, because there is no limit on which (or what) participants can post. They still do demonstrate the 80/20 rule, though – 20% of the participants account for 80% of the postings, while the other subscribers stay as simply passive readers. Smith also briefly discusses the term “netiquette,” the behavioral standards expected on listservs. Different listserv communities react differently to netiquette infractions. In some, a volunteer overseer of the listserv will send a private message to the user in question. In others, the rebuke will be more public, and sometimes can lead to battles on the listserv.

Smith then turns to the methodology and results of the study. Data collected consisted of screenshots taken from the archives of a section of time in 1991, 1992, 1994, and 2002. The messages were sorted into categories by type. These categories were administrative/organizational, announcements/networked resource points/giveaways, discussion, information exchange/ILL/resource request, metadiscussion (discussion about listserv), noise (unrelated postings), position announcements, surveys, and thanks (for help previously given). Results showed that civility and rules following has increased over time, while administrative type messages have decreased. Smith also sent out a survey on MEDLIB-L. Responses showed that participants feel that the listserv is both a way to connect with their colleagues and a valuable resource for answering questions. Many are quite fond and proud of the collaboration it represents. She concludes that “MEDLIB-L is an effective tool used with restraint and respect by health sciences librarians around the world who have changed their posting behaviors of the good of the group.”

I found the article’s subject interesting, and the writing accessible, although the information seemed a little disorganized in spots. Overall, though, it is a valuable look at the trends of a notable listserv.

Health Care and Social Media

I was really surprised to learn through class presentations just how much information health care professionals put out daily through social media. It’s such an obvious channel for disseminating important information – I just never thought about that type of use before. Here is a useful list that I found during research for my presentation. It provides links to and discussions of some of the best examples of blogs dedicated to putting out reliable health care information.

Hullo all! This semester I’ll be posting primarily about medical librarianship for my LS 534 class. Stay tuned for questions, insights, and article summaries – lots of article summaries.

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