NIH News Backgrounder
National Library of Medicine

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Contact: Robert Mehnert
Kathleen Cravedi
(301) 496-6308

Happy Birthday MEDLINE, Happy Birthday MEDLINEplus

(Bethesda, Md.) — It's certainly true that the phrase, "You've come a long way, baby," can be applied to MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine's premier bibliographic database of references to 4,500 biomedical journals published in the United States and 70 foreign countries. This month, MEDLINE celebrates its 30th birthday. Its much younger relative, MEDLINEplus, a source of reliable consumer health information available on the World Wide Web, celebrates its third birthday also this month.

The pioneering MEDLINE project, begun in the early seventies, evolved from the computerized system used to produce the Index Medicus, which the NLM had installed in 1964. MEDLINE was the first successful marriage of a large reference database with a national telecommunications network.

The eighties saw the introduction of "Grateful Med," a software program created by the NLM that one could load onto a PC and, equipped with a modem and a password, search MEDLINE right from one's home, office, or laboratory. Due in large part to outreach efforts by librarians in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Grateful Med was eagerly snapped up not only by librarians but also by health professionals, scientists, students, lawyers, medical journalists and others, who saw the average charge of $2 per MEDLINE search as a bargain.

Today, in the age of the Internet and World Wide Web, the National Institutes of Health Web site is the second most heavily trafficked site in the Federal Government, and the NLM databases account for the major share of that use.

MEDLINE searching via the "Internet Grateful Med" was introduced in 1996. The following year, free MEDLINE searching via the Web began using a new system called PubMed. Now, for the first time, anyone with access to the Web could search through an immense database of references and abstracts to 11 million medical journal articles. The response was immediate and startling: from 7 million MEDLINE searches (1996) the usage climbed dramatically and now stands at 400 million searches annually.

Improvements to PubMed continue to be introduced, and today it offers a high degree of flexibility to users. For example, there are now Web links to about a quarter of the publishers represented in MEDLINE, allowing users to have access to the full text of articles referenced in the database. As it turned out, with the simplification of MEDLINE searching, about 30 percent of all MEDLINE searches were being done by consumers, and this presented a wonderful opportunity for the NLM.

In October, 1998, NLM introduced a service that not only provided selective MEDLINE results that are useful to the consumer, but that also linked the Web user to authoritative, full-text health information. Because the name "MEDLINE" had a quarter-century exposure to the health professions, and because that database was now also increasingly known to the public, the Library called the new service MEDLINEplus (

MEDLINEplus is the Library's consumer-friendly source of up-to-date health information, with countless resources on health and wellness topics. Consumers and health professionals are using MEDLINEplus as the source of the most reliable and most accurate health information available on the World Wide Web. It now receives some 70 million hits each year.

The National Library of Medicine, the world's largest library of the health sciences, is part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The Library has an extensive Web site at, with a great variety of information for the general public and for health professionals.

Note to editors: Photographs of MEDLINE then and now available. Email requests to