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THE BIOMEDICAL INFORMATION "CRISIS' A USER'S VIEWPOINT W. CURTIS WORTHINGTON, JR.* In preparing for a brief review of current problems of information retrieval forthe medical library generalist, I thought itdesirable tochoose as a starting point recent practical experience. I therefore sought the perspective of a younger colleague, with a superb record ofaccomplishment , engaged in research in the basic sciences. His major concerns in a memorandum to me (I assume in the order that they occurred to him) were as follows (D. R. Knapp, personal communication): (1) the large number of publications being produced; (2) the increasing cost of individualjournals and the large number ofjournals to which a researcher feels compelled to subscribe; (3) the time lag in retrieval and delays in indexing recent literature; (4) fragmentation in the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of modern research, requiring the researcher to maintain awareness in broader areas and to maintain special topic libraries ; and (5) pressures which encourage publication of questionable necessity. I then found a very scholarly and diprough paper by Lancaster and Smidi [1] in which they listed the problems in information retrieval which they considered significant: (1) the amount of information being produced; (2) fragmentation: the necessity for more and more specialized journals, compounding the problem radier than simplifying it because of the interdisciplinary nature of much contemporary research; (3) cost; (4) inconvenient forms of publication and distribution for the scientist as reader: journals attempt to fulfill social (the pressures on the scientist to publish and get ahead), archival, and dissemination roles; die first two of these roles are satisfied, but the last is not; (5) rejection of manuscripts for reasons ofspace radier than merit; (6) lag; (7) language: This paper is based on a presentation made to the Southern Chapter of the Medical Library Association, Charleston, South Carolina, October 15, 1982. * Professor of anatomy, College of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, South Carolina 29425.© 1984 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 003 1-5982/84/2702-0385101 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Mediane, 27, 2 · Winter 1984 | 251 increase in the number of languages in which significant research is being published (this probably is not a major concern in the medical literature); and (8) translation: communication or dissemination beyond "scientist-to-scientist" to the practitioner or society at large ("popularization ") and to underdeveloped countries. Although my consultant basic biomedical scientist is dealing in a relatively highly specialized and restricted field and Lancaster and Smith were covering all of scholarly and research information dissemination in all fields and in all aspects of society, the two lists are remarkably similar. I deduce from this that the worker in the vineyard and the theoretician in the field of information science both know and agree on what the problems are. What to do about them is obviously another matter. I will present here some solutions that have been suggested, discussed, analyzed, and reviewed in the recent literature. These solutions fall into several categories. Applications of Computer Technology The first consists of a group of three applications of recent electronic and computer technology: bibliographic search by electronic means, the electronic journal, and the electronic library. From my perusal of the literature it appears that electronic bibliographic search and retrieval is by far the most advanced of these three applications. Doszkocs, Rapp, and Schoolman [2] make reference to at least 18 separate data bases now available from the National Library of Medicine and describe in detail satisfactory to the ordinary reader the technical system which makes access to them possible. The advantages and disadvantages of these data bases are discussed. While the disadvantages seem to be quite real, they do not seem to be overwhelming. One of the problems is the degree of sophistication and skill required to make optimal use of on-line data bases and the frequent need by some individuals for the use of a skilled intermediary. Related to this is the ability of an individual to find the most appropriate key words to use in making the search, and here the system is compounded to advantage by the availability of some interactive dictionary files; those particularly cited were CHEMLINE, a Chemical Dictionary On-Line...


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