Variations in Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) mapping: from the natural language of patron terms to the controlled vocabulary of mapped lists

J Med Libr Assoc. 2002 Apr;90(2):173-80.


Objectives: This study compared the mapping of natural language patron terms to the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) across six MeSH interfaces for the MEDLINE database.

Methods: Test data were obtained from search requests submitted by patrons to the Library of the Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, over a nine-month period. Search request statements were parsed into separate terms or phrases. Using print sources from the National Library of Medicine, Each parsed patron term was assigned corresponding MeSH terms. Each patron term was entered into each of the selected interfaces to determine how effectively they mapped to MeSH. Data were collected for mapping success, accessibility of MeSH term within mapped list, and total number of MeSH choices within each list.

Results: The selected MEDLINE interfaces do not map the same patron term in the same way, nor do they consistently lead to what is considered the appropriate MeSH term.

Conclusions: If searchers utilize the MEDLINE database to its fullest potential by mapping to MeSH, the results of the mapping will vary between interfaces. This variance may ultimately impact the search results. These differences should be considered when choosing a MEDLINE interface and when instructing end users.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / standards*
  • Language*
  • MEDLINE / standards*
  • Medical Informatics / methods
  • National Library of Medicine (U.S.)
  • Quality Control
  • Subject Headings*
  • United States
  • Vocabulary, Controlled