PubMed is 20 Years Old: Let’s Look Back and Have a Party!

The National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) PubMed was born in the month of January 1996 when it was released as an experimental database under the Entrez retrieval system. Its experimental status was dropped in April 1997 just before its christening. On June 26, 1997, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) held a press conference to announce free Web-based access to MEDLINE through PubMed and Internet Grateful Med. At this briefing the honors to demonstrate PubMed fell upon Vice President Albert Gore.

PubMed’s gestation took many decades. Beginning in 1962, the MEDLARS project began to investigate digital computers as a way to publish Index Medicus, PubMed’s print predecessor, as well as create a method to do on-demand online searching of the same computer data. Punched paper tape was used to input the bibliographic data onto magnetic tapes stored onto room-sized mainframe computers that could handle batch-processing. Currently, NLM’s History of Medicine Division’s Circulating Now blog is highlighting a series of posts on the birth of PubMed, MEDLINE, digital printing, and instantaneous searching of online citations. To learn about this fascinating history, read NLM’s National Digital Stewardship Resident Nicole Contaxis’ blog posts:

~Charlie Wessel