The newest member of the National Library of Medicine family

From the January 2000 ACP—ASIM Observer, copyright 1999 by the American College of Physicians—American Society of Internal Medicine.

PubMed Central is just the latest offering in a long line of database products from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Its original forebear was "Index Medicus," an index to biomedical literature that the NLM first began selling to medical libraries in 1960. While the index was thorough, it was tedious to use and required physicians to search each year's volumes.

In the early 1970s, the NLM created a fee-based electronic database of "Index Medicus" known as Medline. Commercial entities licensed Medline from the NLM and sold subscriptions or charged per-use fees. The NLM also created Grateful Med, a fee-based version of Medline that users could access through a computer modem.

As the Internet began to grow during the 1990s, companies eager to lure physicians to their Web sites began offering free Medline searching. In 1997, the NLM launched its own free Medline search interface, PubMed and began posting a free Internet version of Grateful Med. PubMed offers an archive of journal abstracts and bibliographic citations with links to full-text articles when available.

"PubMed was a revolutionary advance in medical literature searching," said Michael W. Jacobson, FACP, a cardiologist in New York who maintains the "Journal Club on the Web" medical site. "It transformed literature searching from an ordeal into something that can now be easily done on every physician's desktop."

Today, PubMed processes 250 million Medline searches a year. Consumers request one-third of those. That volume prompted NLM to launch Medlineplus, a consumer-friendly database that can be searched by specific disease or condition.

Because PubMed Central provides the full text of journal articles, it is the next evolutionary step in the NLM's family of databases.

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