Monday, July 25, 2016


Hurt, C. D. Informational sources in science and technology. 3rd ed. Englewood, Colo. : Libraries Unlimited, 1998. pp. 101-102 
With its roots in alchemy, chemistry is the science of transformation. The literature of chemistry reflects this characteristic, constantly changing in a variety of ways. An example is the adoption of elements from physics into chemistry. Quantum chemistry is now a respected and intellectually rich area of chemistry. Traditionally divided into organic and inorganic chemistry, chemistry also has areas of intellectual activity such as analytical chemistry and physical chemistry.

Chemists publish most often in journals and in short bursts of information. A chemical journal article might not be more than one or two pages in printed form. Some people have accused chemists of publication of LPUs (least publishable unit). Those who make the claim generally come from disciplines where the publication has a double-digit page length.

Journal articles and conference proceedings are the stuff of chemistry. In this respect, chemistry is like other areas. Where it differs is in the control of its literature. Whether chemists simply understood that their literature needed to be controlled or whether the institutions of controls were unintended, chemistry is better controlled bibliographically than any other scientific discipline. Chemical Abstracts is one of the premier abstracting and indexing services in the world. Within chemistry, it is the premier abstracting and indexing service. Because chemists publish in small components, a consequence of this publication characteristic is that they publish a great deal. Chemical Abstracts does an excellent job of gathering this information and making it available to the research world.

One problem related to bibliographic control in chemistry is particularly vexing. Chemistry is often very graphic; that is, chemical equations are often paired with chemical structures. The highly graphical nature of chemistry is handled reasonably well by databases within the Chemical Abstracts Service (now CAS) umbrella. The ability to search by chemical structure is one of the more interesting and innovative means of bibliographic control in science and technology. Chemists share many of the same problems with others in science, specifically, the lag time in journal publication. To counter this problem, chemistry enrages an intermediary publication, a letters journal. Letters journals are used to report findings that will soon be published. In effect, chemists use such journals to announce forthcoming papers. This technique significantly shortens the period from discovery to dissemination.

The relative shortness of chemistry papers either as letters or as articles suggests that electronic journals are a solution to the burgeoning chemical literature. However, although there are some extant examples, the use of letters journals seem to mitigate the need for electronic journals. There is a second reason, hinted as above, why chemistry will move more slowly into the electronic journal. Graphics-intensive material is difficult to convert into electronic form. The secondary literature is much more susceptible to conversion.

Changes in chemistry will come mainly from the movement of other fields into the main intellectual body of chemistry. A current example is the use of Riemann surfaces to describe and model certain chemical structures. The chemist must not only know the basics of chemistry but also have a passing understanding of some complicated mathematics.

Additional changes in chemistry will come from its melding with other disciplines. Biochemistry is one example. The entrance of other disciplines and techniques into chemistry will spread its literature to those other disciplines. The result will be a richer discipline but greater difficulty for bibliographic control of the field.

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