Chemistry librarians have traditionally been involved with instruction in the chemical literature and chemistry reference tools. There is a very strong tradition in chemistry for instruction in this area to be required for undergraduate chemistry majors, especially those who receive a degree certified by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The ACS has published guidelines in this regard, but has avoided prescribing the manner in which chemical information instruction is conducted. A selective review of the literature in this area finds arguments for teaching in a single class devoted to chemical information versus integrating the material in other chemistry classes. While not rejecting the former approach, the authors support the latter, suggesting that instruction be coordinated throughout the undergraduate curriculum by a librarian.

Keywords: chemistry chemical information sources instruction teaching instructional resources

Wade M. Lee is a Reference Librarian at the University of Toledo Carlson Library. He holds a BS in chemistry, an MLS, and is currently pursuing an MS in chemistry.

Wade M. Lee

Carlson Library

University of Toledo

Toledo, OH 43606-3399

Gary Wiggins is Head of the Indiana University Chemistry Library. He holds a BA in chemistry and Russian, an MA in Slavic Languages and Literature, an MLS, and a Ph.D. in library and information science.

Gary Wiggins

Chemistry Library

Indiana University

Bloomington, IN 47405


Every chemistry librarian (or science librarian whose areas of responsibility includes chemistry) should be a teacher of chemical information sources. There is a great deal of information in the printed literature of chemistry to assist in such an endeavor. In this paper, we will examine the guidelines that exist for chemical information programs, see how such programs have been implemented at various academic institutions, and point out some of the decisions that must be faced when teaching chemical information.

The general framework for chemical information instruction in the undergraduate curriculum is defined by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training (CPT), which approves undergraduate chemistry curricula (1992). In the 1983 CPT guidelines, the necessity of formal instruction in chemical information, either in a specific course or as part of coordinated instruction within other upper­level chemistry courses, was noted. The 1992 revision of these guidelines was explained at the ACS Division of Chemical Information's 1993 symposium entitled "Chemical Information Instruction in the 1990's: Facing Reality" (Craig).

In addition to the current CPT Guidelines section devoted to "Chemical Literature and Information Retrieval," the use of and concomitant instruction in the chemical literature as part of the core courses (CPT 1992, 8-9), laboratory work (9), and undergraduate research (10) are stressed in those sections also. A separately published appendix, prepared with the help of the ACS Division of Chemical Information for the 1983 CPT Guidelines, spells out the objectives in detail. These objectives are based not only upon competence in specific reference works (such as Chemical Abstracts, Beilstein, and Science Citation Index), but are skill based as well. Their focus on solving various types of information problems is a valuable framework for integrating chemical information into the classroom, and would be useful in assigning and coordinating chemical information instruction throughout the undergraduate curriculum. However, the guidelines also permit all chemical information instruction to take place in a single course.


Given the latitude allowed for the structure of chemical information instruction in the CPT's Guidelines, it is inevitable that schools would meet this requirement in a variety of ways. A series of surveys has tracked instructional methods in recent decades, the most recent completed in 1993. One of the earliest surveys was done in 1961 by the American Chemical Society Divisions of Chemical Literature and Chemical Education. They found that 56% of the colleges surveyed had no formal course in the chemical literature, 41% had such a course, and just under 4% thought a course was unnecessary (Mellon 1961). Other surveys focusing on graduate-degree granting institutions (Martin and Robison 1969) and small colleges and universities (Powell and Schlessinger 1971) reported similar results: about 41% offered formal courses in each setting. An interesting finding in the early surveys was that 70% of the schools that had dropped formal chemical information courses by 1970 listed integration of the material into other courses as the main reason (Martin and Robison, 96). Also, even though 61.2% of the small colleges at that time thought a literature course was desirable, only 40.8% offered a course, and less than a third had taught the course in the past year (Powell and Shlessinger, 688).

In a 1984 survey sponsored by the ACS Division of Chemical Information, Somerville sought information on how schools were handling instruction in chemical information. She found that 32% of the respondents offered separate courses, whereas 63% preferred to integrate the instruction into other courses, particularly laboratory and seminar courses (Somerville 1990). Most recently, a 1993 survey by the Education Committee of the ACS Division of Chemical Information polled all chemistry departments listed in the 1991 Annual Report of the CPT. This survey found that 41.5% offered a separate course (comparable to earlier surveys) and 76% reported that instruction was integrated into one or more courses (34% in one, 42% in more than one course.) Only 3% of the schools did not teach chemical information in any course (Somerville 1993).

It is apparent that both formal courses and course-integrated approaches are being used to fulfill the CPT's guidelines, and sometimes both methods are being utilized at a single institution. What advantages might one approach offer over the other? Somerville notes that proponents of the integrated approach claim that it enables the students to apply their information skills as an essential part of coursework. Thus, the information work is directly relevant to success in each course and seen as an integral part of research. Those favoring this approach argue that a separate course lacks direct applicability to research and that exercises conducted in such courses are done in an "artificial situation." As long ago as 1951, Dean wrote that it "has been stated with considerable justification that a course about chemical literature is like a course about research, and is of little interest unless correlated with live problems." Some schools have chosen the integrated approach because they felt that their curriculum was already too crowded and therefore could not accommodate a separate course (Somerville 1985).

Detractors of the integrated approach claim that the subject of chemical information is too big to be broken up and that the integrated system lacks cohesiveness and comprehensiveness. Some maintain that trying to mix chemical information into other courses is impossible given the amount of material that must already be covered in those courses. Gorin contends that "a formal course is the more reliable way of fulfilling the CPT recommendations. . ." (1991). Wilen observes that it is often the schools with the best research libraries that opt for the integrated approach, while smaller schools frequently offer a separate course (1984). On the other hand, the separate course approach is still used at some major research universities, among them, Purdue and Cornell.


Even if instruction in the chemical literature and reference sources is integrated into the core curriculum, decisions must be made as to when to teach each of the significant topics (Carr and Somerville 1994). In 1949, at the first meeting of the ACS Division of Chemical Literature (forerunner of the Division of Chemical Information), Van Patten argued that the two most important problems in providing systematic instruction in the use of chemical literature are when should instruction be given and by whom. He advocated beginning instruction "as early in an individual's academic career as possible" (1950).

There are several examples in the literature of the schedules developed at academic institutions, and from an examination of these, a consensus timeline for introducing various topics can be constructed (Sampey 1938; Wolman 1984; Drum 1993; Maut 1975; Somerville 1985). If we follow such a sequence, during the first year, the student will become acquainted with the chemistry library and its organization, with the flow of information through the chemical literature, and with literature that will be used in the classes. This includes a basic introduction to Chemical Abstracts, as well as the use of chemical handbooks and encyclopedias. During the second year, the instruction can be integrated into the laboratory setting. Resources for chemical properties and spectral catalogs will be introduced, as well as the Beilstein Handbook of Organic Chemistry and more advanced instruction in Chemical Abstracts (such as the Ring Index and structure searching). Upper level instruction would include sources such as Science Citation Index, the Gmelin Handbook of Inorganic and Organometallic Chemistry (introduced in the Inorganic Chemistry course), reaction chemistry, locating patents, and current awareness tools. Most delay online instruction until the latter part of the undergraduate's education, when the print sources have been mastered and the search can be used to further the student's undergraduate research (i.e., until the information problem is particularly relevant to the student).


There are in the literature numerous depictions of chemical information units oriented towards specific classes or student populations. Many of these lesson plans provide practical advice and effective exercises for the inclusion of literature projects in courses, particularly laboratories. Such lesson plans fulfill the CPT's first objective for laboratory instruction, namely that it "should give students the . . . competence to plan and execute experiments through the use of the literature." (1992, 9)

On a larger scale, information skills have been actively integrated into the entire curriculum of the four-year pharmacy program at the University of Southern California, with graduated introduction of library concepts, skills, and resources (Wood et al. 1990). At the other end of the curriculum spectrum, there are articles describing basic library units for incorporation into general and organic chemistry courses. These focus on the organizational structure of the library, basic reference sources, and Chemical Abstracts (Sullivan and Maier 1979, Epling and Franck 1979, Novick 1995). Other articles, while not involving bibliographic instruction per se, advocate the incorporation into the chemistry curriculum of exercises that highlight the importance of the chemical literature and chemical literacy (Sherman 1988, Buntrock,1993, Penhale and Stratton 1994, Schneider 1992).

Kline argues that using the literature in the laboratory allows students to explore and develop their own interests and that it is excellent practice for the way the working chemist uses the literature. He illustrates this with an example for the organic laboratory (1984). Also geared toward the organic laboratory is an article by Baysinger. She explains how the use of handbooks can be incorporated into a large organic class by providing library training to the teaching assistants, who are then available for reference assistance during the week (1995). Dess et al. describe a "dry lab" for physical chemistry that serves as an introduction to online searching. It consists of planning and executing a search strategy with the aim of compiling a bibliography of five to twenty citations (Dess, Kesselman, and Muha 1990).

At Penn State University, a librarian teaches a one-credit 400-level course in chemical information. It is taught in tandem with a course in organic and inorganic preparations, which is the Chemistry Department's "writing-across-the-curriculum" course. Although the chemical literature course is not required at Penn State, it is strongly recommended, and most students take both courses at the same time. Students divide into teams, and each conducts a literature review on the synthesis of a particular molecule. Among other things, they have to figure out how to synthesize the molecule using the equipment and reagents available to them in the synthesis class. Upon completion of the literature review, they attempt the synthesis in that class. Penn State has a room next to the lab with computers on which the Beilstein and other databases can be searched (Minard, Butkovich, Carroll, and Dible 1996).

In another lab-integrated approach, students are given weekly online searches to perform, with the equipment located in the laboratory for quick use during experiments (Cooke 1994). At an even more advanced level, Prorak and von Braun report the use of the National Library of Medicine's TOXNET system throughout an environmental chemistry course. Several assignments are given which are integral to the completion of the course (1993).


Putting aside the basic dichotomy between integration of instruction into several courses and teaching the material in a single course, there are key decisions that must be made concerning lesson content, regardless of the type of course in which chemical information is taught. One of these is whether the print or electronic (including online) sources should be emphasized. Many instructors feel that with the amount of material that must be taught, there will not be room in the curriculum for one of the two, but at this point in time, there is no consensus as to which should dominate (Kline 192, Carr and Somerville, Wilen 113-114). Print has the advantage of being more widely available and of laying the foundation for online searching (in addition to the obvious benefit of not requiring expensive equipment and online charges). However, electronic sources offer search capabilities not found in print and will be an ever-increasing part of the chemist's research tools.


In the 1983 ACS Division of Chemical Information survey, chemistry faculty taught the course in 69% of the cases, the librarian in 14.5%, and a combination of the two in 16.5%. Some advocate that only chemists should teach the courses, especially in the integrated setting, since they are presumably more able to relate chemical information in a practical way to the curriculum than are librarians. Others say that librarians should be the instructors, a position supported in general by librarians at Indiana University in the report "Information Literacy and Undergraduate Education." The report emphasizes that librarians "understand aspects of the organization, storage, and transmission of knowledge in ways often different from those of the teaching faculty: understanding which better appreciates the structure of information systems." (IULR 1990)

Unfortunately, many academic institutions lack a science librarian or one who is specifically trained in chemistry. Nevertheless, librarians at many academic institutions do have responsibilities in chemistry and are both willing and able to assist in the teaching of chemical information. Perhaps the best solution, and one that has apparently worked well for institutions using both models of chemical information instruction, is to have librarian­chemist teams design, coordinate, or teach the courses (Porter, Lanning and Warner 1986; Mendelsohn 1993).

An increased emphasis on integrating chemical information into the classroom would seem to be both desirable and effective in training chemists of the highest caliber at the undergraduate level. Regardless of the lessons themselves and the exact timetable for integration, in order for the integrated approach to work, a single person ought to be assigned to coordinate the curriculum. This would ensure that:

We argue that the coordinator for chemical information instruction ought to be a librarian. The librarian is generally more cognizant of the many changes and new tools that appear at such a rapid pace in today's chemical information environment. Since keeping up with such changes is a key part of the librarian's job, that person should be in a better position to foresee needed changes in the chemical information curriculum than would a chemistry professor whose main interests are probably focused on other areas.

There is a growing body of high-quality chemical information resources on the Internet. Geographic barriers can be broken down by the Internet, so it is possible that collaboration between chemists and librarians in the development and teaching of chemical information courses might eventually occur inter-institutionally, as they now do within the walls of single institutions. Holmes and Warden describe a web-based chemical information course developed by a librarian and a chemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1996). Wiggins has also provided information on the use of the Internet in teaching the chemical information course at Indiana University (1996).


Herman Skolnik, then editor of the Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences stated over a decade ago:

I think it is time for academe to take a positive approach toward motivating students to acquire and maintain an appreciation and knowledge of the chemical literature. In addition to having a basic course in chemical literature relatively early in the curriculum, there are valid reasons to incorporate in each chemistry course, viz., inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, those aspects of the chemical literature that are specific to each course. In view of the fact that chemical information science is a discipline of chemistry, one in which several thousand chemists are shaping meaningful careers, we should expect some graduate schools to conduct research in this discipline, preparing students for potential careers as chemical information specialists. Most importantly, however, students of chemistry, undergraduate and graduate, need to be comfortable and competent in using the chemical literature as they metamorphose into professional chemists. (1984)

In light of the preceding survey of the literature, chemistry departments should consider better coordination of the library exercises routinely assigned in undergraduate chemistry courses, preferably with chemist­librarian teams deciding on the timing and content. Given today's technological environment, people with an interest in developing such curricula should not feel bound by the constraints of their own institution. The world is potentially their collaboratory and their virtual library.


Resources for Chemical Information Instruction

ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF), Education Committee:

The CINF Education Committee presents the half-day "Workshop on Teaching Chemical Information: Tips and Techniques" at various chemical and library conferences ( Committee members can be found at the CINF Web page ( Members are available for consultation about matters relating to the teaching of chemical information.

Clearinghouse for Chemical Information Instructional Materials:

Sponsored by the chemical information divisions of both the American Chemical Society and the Special Libraries Association and maintained at Indiana University, the clearinghouse includes syllabi, problem sets, and examinations, as well as a wide variety of guides for different disciplines, resources, and reference works. Many of them are accessible on the Web. (

Journal of Chemical Education and "The Chemical Information Instructor":

JCE often contains articles and exercises relevant to chemical information instruction and to the integration of the chemical literature into the classroom or laboratory setting. In recent years, the special section "The Chemical Information Instructor" appears regularly in JCE as a forum for discussion of techniques, exercises, and issues in chemical information instruction.

Carr, Carol. 1990. Teaching and Using Chemical Information: An Updated Bibliography. Journal of Chemical Education. 72:719-726.

This excellent bibliography is an update of the earlier:

Heideman, Linda K., Ann Razgunas, and Gary Wiggins. 1984. Chemical Literature Guides and Aids: Bibliography and Index. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Chemical Information Center. (, prepared for the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Information.


Baysinger, Grace. 1995. Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Students Use Printed and Electronic Handbooks to Identify Unknowns. Journal of Chemical Education. 72:1107-1111.

Buntrock, Robert. 1993. Read All About It… Technical Topics and the Media. Database. 16:94-96.

Carr, Carol and Arleen Somerville. 1997. Coping with the Transformation of Information. In Using Computers in Chemistry and Chemical Education. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society.

Carr, Carol and Arleen Somerville. 1994. Teaching Chemical Information Instruction in Academe. Paper presented at the National Chemical Information Symposium, June 19-23, 1994, Burlington, VT.

Committee on Professional Training (CPT). 1992. Undergraduate Professional Education in Chemistry: Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society. (

Cooke, Ron C. 1994. Undergraduate Online Chemistry Literature Searching: An Open-ended, Course Segment Approach. Journal of Chemical Education. 71:867-871.

Craig, Norman C. 1993. Evolution of ACS' Committee on Professional Training Perspective on Instruction in Chemical Information. Paper presented at the 206th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago IL, June 23; paper CHED 71.

Dean, Robert B. 1951. A Literature Search Assignment. Journal of Chemical Education. 28:642-643.

Dess, Howard M., M. Kesselman, and G. M. Muha. 1990. Introducing On­Line Searching of Chemical Abstracts in the Undergraduate Curriculum: An Alternative Approach. Journal of Chemical Education 67:946­947.

Drum, Carol A., et al. 1993. Library Instruction for Chemistry Students: A Course-Integrated Approach. Science & Technology Libraries. 14:79-88.

Epling, Gary A. and Richard W. Franck. 1979. Developing Familiarity with the Primary Literature of Chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education. 56:388-389.

Gorin, George. 1991. Alternative Approaches to Teaching Chemical Information Retrieval. Journal of Chemical Education. 68:757­759.

Holmes, Colette O. and Joseph T. Warden. 1996. CIStudio: A Worldwide Web-Based, Interactive Chemical Information Course. Journal of Chemical Education. 73:325-331.

Indiana University Libraries Report. 1990. Information Literacy and Undergraduate Education. (August)

Kline, Eugene A. 1984. A Practical Approach to the Use of Literature Early in a College Career. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 24:190-192.

Martin, Dean F. and Dennis E. Robison. 1969. Who's Teaching Chemical Literature Courses These Days? Journal of Chemical Documentation. 9:95-99.

Maut, Leendert. 1975. On­line Searching in a Chemistry Curriculum. IATUL Proceedings. 6:129-134.

Mellon, M. G. 1961. Report of Committee on Status of the Teaching of Chemical Literature. Journal of Chemical Education. 38:273.

Mendelsohn, Loren D. 1993. Working Together: The Development of a Chemical Information Course. Paper presented at the 206th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago, IL, August 23; paper CHED 92.

Minard, Robert, Nancy J. Butkovich, Tina Carroll, and Scott Dible. 1996. Student Designed Synthesis: A Coordination Project Between Two Chemistry Courses to Improve Knowledge of the Chemical Literature. Poster paper presented at the 211th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, New Orleans, March 24; paper CHED 63.

Novick, Sabrina Godfrey. 1995. Elements of and in the Chemical Literature: An Undergraduate Course. Journal of Chemical Education. 72:297-301.

Penhale, Sara J. and Wilmer J. Stratton. 1994. Online Course for Nonscience Majors. Journal of Chemical Education. 71:227-229.

Porter, Betsy, John A. Lanning, and Beth Forrest Warner. 1986. Team Teaching the Chemical Literature. In Preparing for the Twenty­first Century: Proceedings of the Mountain Plains Library Association Academic Library Section Research Forum, V. edited by Sue Hatfield. Emporia, Kansas: Emporia State University.

Powell, Ann and Bernard S. Schlessinger. 1971. Teaching Scientific Literature in the Small College and University. Journal of Chemical Education. 48:688-689.

Prorak, Diane and Margrit von Braun. 1993. Teaching Students to Use Electronic Information Sources to Research Chemical Toxicity. Research Strategies. 11:107­110.

Sampey, John R. 1938. Acquainting the Undergraduate with the Chemical Library. Journal of Chemical Education. 15:362-364.

Schneider, Marilyn J. 1992. A Chemical Literature/Periodic Table Exercise for General Chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education. 69:232.

Sherman, Larry R. 1988. Using the Chemical Literature to Write an Interesting Freshman Term Paper. Journal of Chemical Education. 65:993­994.

Skolnik, Herman. 1984. Relevancy of Chemical Literature in the Educational Process. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 24:95­96.

Somerville, Arleen N. et al. 1984. Survey for the Education Committee, Division of Chemical Information, American Chemical Society. (Spring).

Somerville, Arleen N. 1985. Chemical Information Instruction of the Undergraduate: A Review and Analysis. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 25:314­323.

---. 1990. Perspectives and Criteria for Chemical Information. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 30:177­181.

---. 1993. Chemical Information Instruction in United States Colleges and Universities: A Survey. Paper presented at the 206th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago, IL, August 23; paper CHED 70.

Sullivan, Suzanne G. and Lawrence R. Maier. 1979. A Basic Library Research Unit Developed for Chemical Technology Students. Journal of Chemical Education. 56:590­591.

Van Patten, Nathan. 1950. Must We have Formal Instruction in the Use of Chemical Literature? Journal of Chemical Education. 27:431-435.

Wiggins, Gary. 1996. Use of the Internet in Teaching Chemical Information Courses. In the ACS Division of Chemical Education's New Initiatives in Chemical Education: An On-Line Symposium, June 3 to July 19, 1996. Paper 9. (

Wilen, Samuel H. 1984. Unresolved Problems and Opportunities in Chemical Literature Teaching. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 24:112­115.

Wolman, Y. 1984. Incorporating Chemical Literature and Information Retrieval into the Chemistry Curriculum at The Hebrew University. Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences. 24:135­139.

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