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History of MeSH Videocast

On November 18th, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) marked the 50th anniversary of MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) with a talk by Robert Braude, PhD  entitled MeSH at 50 – 50th Anniversary of Medical Subject Headings. An archive of this videocast is available at: http://videocast.nih.gov/Summary.asp?File=16292

MeSH was first published in 1960. The seeds of MeSH were planted in December 1947. The Army Medical Library, the NLM predecessor, sponsored a Symposium on Medical Subject Headings in 1947. Participants, who included Seymour Taine, Thelma Charen, and Eugene Garfield, considered the challenges of the bibliographical control of publications. It was noted that the increasing complexity of scientific literature necessitated increasingly sophisticated approaches to organization and access. The participants recognized that the issue of a subject authority was not an academic exercise. Rather, subject cataloging and the subject indexing of journal articles were acknowledged as the essence of bibliographic control. The needs of the user of scientific information was to be always at the forefront in creating a set of medical subject headings that were made equally for subject description of books and for indexing of journal articles.

That first edition of MeSH  represented a departure from the then usual library practice. MeSH contained 4300 descriptors, and it was designed to be used for both indexing and cataloging. It is likely the first vocabulary engineered for use in an automated environment for production and retrieval.  MeSH continues to evolve and grow. The 2011 edition contains more than 26,000 subject headings in an eleven-level hierarchy and 83 subheadings. Annual revision and updating are ongoing to assure that MeSH remains useful as a way to categorize medical knowledge and knowledge in allied and related disciplines for retrieval of key information. MeSH is 50 years old and new each year.

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The speaker: Robert M. Braude received his Masters of Library Science in 1964 from UCLA. In 1965, he attended MEDLARS training at the National Library of Medicine and his talk reflects on his 45 years of life with MeSH.   In 1987 he received a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Nebraska and he was Director of the Mid-Continental Regional Medical Library. His career included positions as director of three academic health science libraries, and he has served on many NLM Committees and Panels such as IAMS Review Committees, the Planning Panels on Medical Informatics and NLM Outreach Programs, and the Biomedical Library Review Committee. He is a past  Janet Doe Lecturer, a Fellow of the Medical Library Association and Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics.

The talk was co-sponsored by the Division of the History of Medicine and the Medical Subject Headings Section, NLM

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