Sixty Years of Progress

Winifred Sewell

    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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