Reproduced with permission from Am J Health-Syst Pharm, Vol 57, Feb 1, 2000, pp 292-3. [See also, reviews of the second edition]

Book Reviews

MEDLINE: A Guide to Effective Searching
By Brian S. Katcher. Published by the Ashbury Press, 736 Ashbury Street, San Francisco, CA 94117-4014, 1999. ix + 149 p. Price $29.

With improved access to online databases, more pharmacists are conducting their own literature searches to seek answers to drug information questions. MEDLINE: A Guide to Effective Searching is a textbook of detailed information on the structure of this widely used bibliographic database. The primary goal of the book is to promote better searches, and you should be able to search more effectively after reading it.

The book, written by a pharmacist, can benefit all pharmacists who use MEDLINE in their practice. This is a textbook, not a reference, meaning that the book is not particularly useful as a guide to consult when confused about a search. The book must be read in its entirety, which takes three hours at most. A large portion of this 149-page book consists of appendixes and a glossary. There are five chapters in 85 pages.

The first chapter tells the history of MEDLINE, which is essential to know in order to understand the database’s sophisticated structure. This chapter also covers the use and limitations of the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT. The second chapter describes the various interfaces for searching MEDLINE and the types of information in the most common display fields, including author, language, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), and publication type. The entire third chapter covers MeSH terms and their use in searches, with explanations of exploding, focusing, subheadings, and text words. The fourth chapter mainly discusses the use of the field “publication type” as a strategy to limit searches. The fifth chapter offers some practical tips for conducting effective searches.

Because the appendixes and glossary make up nearly one half of the book, they deserve description. The first appendix provides Internet addresses for the various interfaces that can be used to search MEDLINE and other databases indexed by the National Library of Medicine. The second appendix is simply a list of journals that make up the Abridged Index Medicus. The glossary defines all the MeSH terms used in the examples in the book.

The strength of this book is the author’s use of many step-by-step examples essential to understanding the point being made. Such detail is not found in many other reviews on this topic.

There is one major limitation, however. Much attention is given to narrowing a search and little to broadening a search. As a drug information specialist, I find zero or few citations for most searches I conduct. Although the author discusses the use of exploding, he never mentions in the discussion of text words the technique of truncating.

This textbook is useful to all pharmacists who frequently use MEDLINE in their practice. The book may be more useful to those with a beginner’s or intermediate level of training and experience with the database than to the advanced user. To obtain the most benefit from this book, the reader should access MEDLINE and conduct the searches along with the author as he presents them. Anyone can combine two terms in MEDLINE and find pertinent information, but you must understand the principles presented in this textbook in order to use the database effectively and efficiently.

Reviewed by Stacy L. Haber, Pharm.D., College of Pharmacy, The University of Arizona, P.O. Box 210207, Tucson, AZ 85721-0207.

[See also, reviews of the second edition]