3 Reasons Chemistry Librarians Should Attend ACS National Meetings

Attending the 252nd ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Philadelphia last month on behalf of the ACS Publications and the Award Committee as a recipient of the ACS Publications First-Time Attendee Travel Grant for Librarians was an exciting opportunity. I challenge everyone to find out more about ACS, join a Division, attend a future meeting, actively participate in a variety of technical programs, and to be changed by these experiences.

The sheer numbers around the event were mind boggling – more than 13,000 chemists, 9,000 papers, 2,800 posters, 250+ exhibitors, 49 ACS journals, 27 technical divisions and committees, countless sponsors, courses, symposiums, presentations, receptions, mixers, conversations, and ideas. The ACS is not just American, but an international society of chemists noting that the Society’s international membership exceeds 24,000, represents more than 140 countries, with more than 60% of the articles published in ACS journals and more than half of the material covered in the Society’s Chemical Abstracts Service originating outside the United States. While immersed in the meeting, I quickly began to think that chemists from around the world took over the entire city for five days.

The work of division chairs, programmers, volunteers and award-winning researchers at the event is excellent. The social events, food, wine, and networking were also top notch. It is a unique experience you can’t duplicate through listservs, e-mails, virtual seminars, reading the Bulletin, and social media. Attending a National Meeting shapes your opinions on all-things-chemistry as well as your professional practice. The five days of symposia, tutorials, poster sessions, short courses and related sessions is draining, but the experience is certainly worthwhile. As ACS President Dr. Donna J. Nelson commented as part of a welcoming video, the National Meeting is a place for “…building community, to leverage our research, discovery, and teaching beyond the laboratory and classroom.” Sorry folks, as a chemistry librarian for more than 30 years, my big takeaway from attending this meeting was that — you have to be there to experience it!

I whittled down my list of reasons to attend an ACS National Meeting down to three. Attending allows you the opportunity to:

  1. Explore what’s new and trending in chemistry, research, and industry,
  2. Network one-on-one with CINF members, researchers, service providers, award-winning professionals, experts, and
  3. Be a part of something bigger.

Similar to starting graduate school as a new student, by attending the National Meeting you quickly find out what you do not know. Delving into CNIF, CHED, and CHAS sessions, I was able to learn more about open source data, cheminformatics, metrics, and related discussions on how librarians and information professions have an integral part to play promoting the curation, validation, and archiving of metadata. There is so much work to be done in many areas, but the potential benefits of this ground-laying work are remarkable.

Opportunities to explore come at you in many different directions and in a variety of formats. I had the opportunity to talk with ACS staff about new and emerging journals, services, and programs such as ACS on Campus, Chemistry Class Advantage, the new ChemRxiv preprint server, and CAS’s updated SciFindern database, search engine, and discovery tool. I Attended a Fred Kavli Innovations in Chemistry Lecture presentation by Dr. Chad A. Mirkin (Northwestern University) on Establishing a Genetic Code for Unnatural Materials. This presentation was both visually enthralling and entertaining. Participating in CNIF, CHAS, and CHED small group sessions introduced me to a wide variety of new and emerging concepts, including ontologies as they relate to smart chemicals, teaching students how to communicate chemistry, chemistry as an open enterprise, chemistry information literacy, and chemical safety and public risk. My favorite session involved this year’s Herman Skolnik co-awardee, Dr. Evan Bolton (National Library of Medicine) speak on how best to respond to the never-ending challenges of open data standards, practices, and outcomes.

Networking is such a big part of the ACS National Meeting. Having the opportunity to engage in intentional conversations about my professional practice and research, as well as talk with experts, was priceless. I had the opportunity to sit in on a conversation with ChemSpider founder Tony Williams, the CEO of a major database producer, and the editorial team of a major ACS journal. I also got to meet and informally discuss ideas with graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and researchers. I found it extremely satisfying to talk one-on-one with CAS experts who took my list of “top 10” ways to improve SciFinder seriously. Meandering through Sci-Mix poster presentations was an interesting way of testing my personal research interests – to understand better, how chemists search for, track, document, and keep up to date with new research, patents, chemical data, information, and scholarship. The most rewarding conversations came over late-night drinks, in corridors between sessions and with colleagues back home.

Attending the ACS National Meeting helped me better appreciate the formal and informal nuances of research, publication, and the advancement of science. Many salient ideas and opinions were challenged with colleagues old and new, about the business and politics of doing chemistry, the evolving nature of new and emergent areas of research, commonalities of our profession, and the value of building community. These lasting impressions helped me to be a better chemistry librarian when serving my local community.

Chemistry is so much more than lectures, textbooks, lab work, publications, and h-index factors. Being part of something larger than yourself such as ACS re-invigorates you, creates synergies and draws you closer to the pursuit of knowledge.

Thanks to ACS CINF Division colleagues for an excellent program, co-award winner Michelle Bass, University of Chicago, ACS Library Relations Manager Michael Qiu, and ACS Publications Senior Account Manager Bruce Cary for their gracious hospitality.

I encourage everyone to check out ACS National Meetings and hope to see you in San Francisco in April 2017.