Chemical AbstractsTM

The early history of Chemical Abstracts is the story of Evan J. Crane, who served as editor for 43 years. Crane succeeded John Miller, editor for a brief time in 1914 following Austin Patterson's resignation. Crane joined CA in 1911 at the age of 22 as an associate editor; he became acting editor when Miller resigned and was named editor by the ACS Council at its meeting in New Orleans in 1915.

During Crane's stewardship, CA grew from a fledgling operation into the trendsetter for scientific abstracting and indexing journals. Crane did this through some very difficult times: money was often so scarce that he dipped into his own small salary for business travel. Crane himself wrote that it was his "long-established policy to trim his budget sails as well as possible to fit the Society's current circumstances and then to keep within budget limits." During his tenure he did that, never exceeding CA's annual budget.

Crane said that "in times of financial difficulty, keeping within limits [was] accomplished principally by shortening abstracts rather than by failing to report all papers and patents containing new information of chemical interest. The history of Chemical Abstracts is in part a series of ups and down as far as length of abstracts is concerned, with most of the emphasis on 'downs.'" Crane's perseverance in the face of financial and other difficulties insured the success of Chemical Abstracts. He won many honors, including the Society's Priestley Medal, but perhaps Crane's greatest honor came in 1956 when he was named the first director of the renamed Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a new division of the American Chemical Society.

Crane combined a lively sense of humor with a dedication to Chemical Abstracts. Three times a year Crane issued The Little CA, which went to all employees. It contained exhortations and instructions, but always gently and with a deft touch:

Queer style may rile;
Clear style - worthwhile.
If you're obscure,
Please find a cure.

And this:


In speeches, yes.
In skirts, I guess,
In hair, perhaps,
In office naps,
And now, anew,
In abstracts, too.

And this also on brevity:



And, finally, this admonition to be timely:

Flood-Prevention Note

Prevent a flood at round-up time
Of abstracts long past due
By keeping up and up and up
From day to day-please do.

Under Crane's tutelage, CA grew rapidly. In its first year of operation, 1907, the service published 12,000 abstracts. Half of those were on works published in Germany. The number of abstracts published rose almost every year after and the service soon claimed complete coverage of the chemical literature. Of course, the definition of "completeness" is itself abstract; as Crane wrote "completeness in an abstract journal is a somewhat indefinite goal never quite attained, but he whole history of Chemical Abstracts has been one of striving for complete coverage so that the user of this journal can have confidence in the thoroughness of his survey without searching elsewhere." He defined completeness as reporting all suitable papers and patents, insuring that each abstract is thorough to allow full indexing, and guaranteeing that the index contains all the useful information that a searcher needs.

Completeness meant, among other things, that the number of abstracts published each year soared. It was not until 1939 – 32 years after publishing began – that the number of abstracts published reached one million; it took eighteen years to generate the next million; eight years for the third million. In 2006, for the first time, more than one million abstracts were added to the CAS databases.

Crane recognized early in his tenure that comprehensive and accurate indexes were necessary. Cursory author and subject indexes were provided from the beginning, but Crane undertook to release a thorough CA Decennial Index in 1916, doing much of the work himself. This project prompted a search for a more thorough system of indexing. The solution was to devise a systematic index for compounds on the grounds that the absence of such a system would mean that references to compounds would be scattered throughout the index and related compounds would not be grouped together. The indexing system also had an important influence on chemical nomenclature.

Over the years indexing assumed increased importance because of the volume of material being abstracted. An annual formula index was added in 1920. Other indexes were added: for example, numerical patent indexes and a keyword subject index. The amount of material abstracted became so large that in 1962 CA began publishing Volume Indexes semiannually rather than annually.

Crane retired in 1958. He was replaced by Dale Baker, who became Director, while Charles Bernier was appointed Editor and Leonard Capell, CAS' nomenclature expert, was named Executive Consultant. The most important task facing the new triumvirate was to oversee CAS' transition from an ACS-supported service to a financially independent operation. In the beginning, ACS-member dues financed CA and Society members could receive it free. In 1933 a small subscription fee was charged, as a supplement the allocation from dues, a system that satisfied CAS' financial needs for a time.

After World War II, this financial arrangement proved inadequate. The rapid expansion of scientific publications – which meant more abstracts – coupled with post-War inflation forced CAS to look elsewhere for funding. For a time, industry was asked to make up the service's deficit. Finally, in 1955, the ACS Board of Directors stepped in and changed subscription prices with the aim that CA should break even. Fees were raised so that, in the words of Board Chair Ernest Volwiler, CA would become "a joint responsibility of the profession and of those governmental, industrial, and commercial organizations that have a direct stake in its availability." In recent decades the revenues from CAS' various services have met its operating expenses.

The post-Crane leadership had a second problem to tackle – housing for a rapidly expanding organization. Since 1909, CAS had been housed on the OSU campus, first in a 15-by-30 foot room, then a room twice that size, and in 1928 in 1600-square foot section of McPherson Chemistry Laboratory. In the 1950s – when CAS had a staff of 100 – a building jointly financed by the ACS and OSU was erected on campus to house the abstract service. In 1965 – now with a staff of 300 – CAS moved into a four-story, multi-million dollar building of its own on a 50-acre site adjacent to OSU's campus. Less than a decade later CAS added a second building.

Until the 1960s CA relied on volunteers for the bulk of its abstracting. In 1907 CA utilized 129 volunteer chemists; by the mid-1960s the number of volunteers reached more than 3200. Crane referred to some of the volunteers as "the iron men of CA," and many served for decades, with thirteen volunteers abstracting for more than 50 years. Over the years the abstractors took on an international caste as chemists from 70 nations contributed entries. In the mid-1960s, CAS began to phase out its use of volunteers, and in 1994 it entirely ceased using volunteer abstractors.

The decline in use of volunteers corresponded to CAS' entry into the digital age. Baker and the rest of the CAS leadership understood the need to modernize procedures due to the vast increase in chemically-related published material. Older methods for producing abstracts did not suffice by the 1960s. On one level, this meant professionalizing of the staff; at another, it meant new ways of processing information.

CAS had been moving into the information age slowly. In 1955 it established a research and development department. In 1959 Baker hired G. Malcolm Dyson, an Englishman who had worked on an early linear notation system for representing chemical structures. It was Dyson – working part-time in Columbus from 1959 to 1963 – who developed many of the cutting-edge innovations in information processing that CAS introduced in these years, starting with Chemical Titles in 1961. CT was the first periodical to be organized, indexed, and composed by computer, which meant greater publishing speed. The issue of CT listing a given article often reached subscribers before the journal in which that article appeared.

CAS information needs began to drive the technology. For example, CAS required a composition system that did not yet exist. This problem was solved in 1967 when CAS acquired an IBM unit and then developed a software-based, computer-driven composition system for it. It was put to good use and by 1970 all CA indexes were being organized and composed by computer. Computerization meant considerable savings in staff time and costs. It also meant more precise data; in addition, staff no longer had to do the routine fact checking which could now be done by the computer. This freed staff for the more intellectual tasks of analyzing the primary chemical literature. For chemists, it meant ease and speed. Information seekers in the past might have to wait a day or more for a librarian to find the appropriate references (only to find sometimes that the references were not appropriate). With computers, the chemist could do his own searching and do it quickly and accurately.

CAS revenues sources shifted with computerization. In 1975 95% of CAS' revenues came from print services; only 5% from electronic sources. By the end of the 20th century, that had shifted to 19% of revenues from printed sources with 79% from electronic services (the remaining 2% came from consulting and other sources). In 2006 95% of CAS' revenue stream derived electronic sources with the remaining 5% from print and other services.


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