ONCE upon a time, long, long ago (sometime in 1997), the Journal made its first tentative steps onto the Internet. We started with our current table of contents, a library of article abstracts taken from Medline (with the help of Ira Rampil, B.S., M.S., M.D., Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, The State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York), and, I think, Instructions for Authors. In the intervening years, we completed the process of moving our entire current content on-line, and also succeeded in putting approximately 10 yr of “back issues” on-line as well (part as HTML and the more recent years as PDF).
However, during this process, we continued to explore and discuss how we might make our on-line presence “complete.” From the beginning, we talked about the feasibility of back-loading the entire contents of the Journal—starting with Volume 1, No. 1 from 1940. We explored mechanisms for accomplishing this goal in the late 1990s, but with little success; the cost of gathering, scanning, and uploading 50 yr of articles was more than we thought could be justified. But we never stopped trying.
Well, finally the dream has come true. As part of the new contract between the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), an agreement was reached to achieve our goal. I’d like to take credit for this, but in fact, it was really due to a change in the plans of LWW and their on-line group, Ovid. For many years, Ovid has been a major provider of electronic journal content to libraries around the country and, in response to many requests (including ours), they came to realize that there was a market for archival content on-line. This was the basis of their decision, well over a year ago, to create the LWW Legacy Archive Collection. This archive was initially marketed to libraries in November 2006 (and has already recouped its production costs) and in July 2007 finally became available via the Journal’s Web site.*
If you’re not reading this editorial via the Web, please go to the Journal’s Web site. Click on Archive near the top of the page. You’ll see a page that looks just as it has for many years. But scroll down—and keep scrolling and then scroll some more. Finally, you’ll reach the bottom, under the bar titled 1940. There are two issues: July and September. Open the July issue, and there you will see the first article we ever published (fig. 1), presciently entitled “The Place of the Anesthetist in American Medicine.” And above this you’ll find much, much more.
Why is this important? There are several reasons. Nearly all medical journals are now on-line, and more and more readers are accessing their content electronically. I and many others have said that the future of medical publishing will be entirely electronic; some major journals have already dropped their print versions. Medical libraries are also changing. I’m reminded of an old joke about the National Geographic magazine. Someone postulated that the accumulating weight of undiscarded National Geographics (which no one ever throws away) would result in the Eastern Seaboard of the United States sinking several feet.1Well, imagine the accumulated mass of old journals that reside in our libraries. I’m not sure whether libraries are physically sinking, but financial pressures and the problems of finding a place to keep these archives has lead many libraries to cut back on their subscription lists and to reconsider what to keep and what to discard. My bet is that it will become harder and harder for us to gain access to our archival material via the traditional means. Having the entire content of Anesthesiology on-line obviously eliminates this concern. Now anyone with an Internet connection can retrieve and read any article from the Journal at any time—without the delays (sometimes many days) associated with asking your library (if you have access to a medical library) to retrieve it from their basement stacks (if they still have it).
There is another benefit. As the former Editor-in-Chief, I repeatedly said that the medical literature only began in the 1960s, simply because most researchers used Medline to seek background material. I can’t count the number of times that I read submitted articles describing a “new discovery” when, in fact, the same “discovery” had been published decades earlier, “pre-Medline.” This should (ideally) occur less frequently. Our total content may not yet be on Medline, but you now have at least a partially searchable database of contents of Anesthesiology (and other LWW journals) that goes back to the beginnings. And I’m going to bet that Medline will be taking advantage of this material to extend their databases even further into the past.
Last, there is history. As many of you know, I’ve long believed in the value of knowing about our professional history. I’ve been lucky enough to have personal access to a complete set of Anesthesiology—and I’ve spent many hours browsing through it. It’s a sobering experience. What you quickly realize is that our predecessors faced many of the same issues that face us today. We may have more sophisticated tools and drugs, but the problems we face have not changed. It’s also clear that we aren’t any smarter than they were. It’s wonderful to read about some of their incredibly innovative problem-solving methods, many of which are still in use today. Now all of you have access to the same material, and I urge you to spend some time browsing as I have. You’ll be surprised at what you find: some outstanding medicine and science, some serious weirdness—but very little that you won’t find interesting.
It may seem odd, but gaining access to our published heritage is only one of the advantages of our move into the 21st century.
Department of Anesthesia, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and Former Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesiology, Iowa City, Iowa. email@example.com