Sixty Years of Progress
When asked to recall a memorable moment in two minutes,
my reaction was that my most memorable moments are right now. I'm honored
to be on these pages with the giants of science information system creators
at this particular point in time. Today from my suburban
Maryland home I'm working with an outfit in Syracuse, New York. They have
a search engine that responds to queries in the user's own words with documents
ranked according to their closeness to the question. To do so, their computer
checks every word in all the documents in the database.
This is what we dreamed of in 1961 when I
was responsible for Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) as a team member creating
MEDLARS. At that time the inadequacies of our 64K computer and serial search
techniques left us far short of what is being done today. However, as you
are well aware, today's search engines aren't perfect either. There is
a tremendous amount of work to be done, much of which requires the same
thinking and challenges that we experienced in developing MeSH.
The fantastic difference today that boggles my mind
is how much more productive we can be. Much of our research can be done
electronically with findings pasted into our reports by a mouse click.
Documents and messages can be sent by e-mail or fax. Compare these procedures
with literally clipping and pasting as we did when studying subheadings
in 1961, or with waiting three days in the 1940s to get photocopies of
a document and taking three more to send it by snail mail. Viewing librarianship
from the perspective of nearly sixty years is fun!
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Biographical Information on Winifred Sewell
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