A Future of the History of Chemical Information

A Future of the History of Chemical Information (ACS Symposium Series) American Chemical Society, McEwen, Leah Rae (Editor), Robert E. Buntrock (Editor)  2014, ISBN 9780841229457

This book is a must read for science librarians, information professionals, and researchers who need a primer on the chemical information landscape. Each chapter in this book covers a different area of chemical information and its evolution including patents, mobile device apps the evolution of chemical databases (CAS, and Reaxys for example), open access databases and resources, chemical ontology, the semantic web, and even spectral data. Some common themes emerge from many of the chapters. For example, although the delivery of chemical information has shifted from print to electronic resources, the need to know where to find such information and how to formulate useful search strategies remains key. Researchers should still spend time keeping current with the literature in their area and beyond. Print may be becoming obsolete but the need to browse the literature is not. As the saying goes (or words to that effect), a few hours in the library can save a few weeks in the laboratory. Although researchers may not walk into a physical library space, they do need to consult the right information-based tools whether they are databases accessed from the lab or applications used while waiting in the airport. 

As a science librarian, I found Judith Currano’s chapter on teaching chemical information especially informative and helpful. I too have spent far too much time showing students how to navigate databases without challenging them how to think about the actual information they are seeking. She discusses some key principles that students need to learn in order to effectively search for chemical information such as understanding the scope and organization of resources and realizing that not all information resources are created equal. Some authors in this book hint that librarians in the field may be outliving their usefulness but after reading Currano’s chapter it is clear that librarians are here to stay.

Another interesting theme that arose is the need for open access articles, data, electronic lab notebooks and other related resources that can promote collaboration and corroboration of the data.  It seems to me that much of this talk of open access and open data is quite idealistic in a field that is seemingly resistant to such concepts (at least in my limited experience). Who will put pressure on Elsevier and ACS?  Who will share data and what data will they share?  I would love to see a future title that seriously examines the obstacles and resistance both from publishers and researchers themselves that open access information and open data face. 

Patti McCall
University of Central Florida