Chemical Abstracts Service - National Historic Chemical Landmark - American Chemical Society
In the 1970s and 1980s the Chemical Abstracts Service adopted the tools of the new digital age—the computer, the internet, etc.—to assist CAS in fulfilling its core mission: Providing scientists with access to chemical literature and information. What changed were the methods of delivery (away from paper and traditional forms of publishing) and the speed with which CAS was able to deliver information to clients. In the past, chemists needing information might have to wait a day or several days for a librarian to find the requested references, which might not be entirely relevant. But in the digital age, scientists are only seconds from the information sought. Not only is information retrieval faster, but it can be done by the scientist himself.
CAS entered the electronic information age slowly. Before the 1980s online access to CAS databases went through commercial vendors. On November 1, 1980, CAS introduced CAS ONLINE®, which provided access to about one-third of CAS's substance records. Gradually, other segments of the CAS Registry were added as search capacity increased. Although initially limited, CAS ONLINE® permitted bench chemists and information experts to identify substances by specified molecular structures, something difficult, if not impossible, to do with printed materials. Although searching has been augmented over the years and the display of CAS Registry records has improved, the most remarkable advantage researchers derive from CAS ONLINE® remains the ability to perform structure-based searching of the CAS database.
In 1983 CAS introduced CA File, which enabled subscribers to retrieve post-1967 bibliographic references. Other enhancement followed, but by the 1980s CAS began planning a new online network, one that grew out of an agreement between the American Chemical Society and the German scientific organization, FIZ Karlsruhe, to create an international network of databases to include areas beyond chemistry and chemical engineering. The result was STNSM International—the Scientific and Technical Information Network.
STN® offered access to CAS files and Physics Briefs. Initially, the creation of STN® provided European customers access to CAS files and search systems. Eventually, CAS databases would become available globally. As the CAS web site puts it: "STN® is an online database service that provides global access to published research, journal literature, patents, structures, sequences, properties, and other data."
Dale Baker, who had ushered CAS into the digital age, retired in 1986 after serving as director for 28 years. Ronald Wigington, who had been director of research and development, succeeded Baker as director with no change in the emphasis on moving CAS toward the delivery of electronic information services. Wigington left in 1991 and was replaced a year later by Robert Massie.
Massie's first challenge was to insure CAS' financial well-being. At the same time, he wanted to guarantee CAS' leadership in providing scientific information. To further the latter, CAS moderated its price increases—to keep old and attract new customers—and strengthened product development. This meant even greater
emphasis on electronic services in the 1990s as CAS embraced the Internet and World Wide Web as tools for distributing information. In 1995 CAS introduced CAplusSM, a database covering literature worldwide in chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemistry and related sciences since 1967.
A major launch in the 1990s was SciFinder®. Much research went into the development of this forward-looking tool. Although the Internet was still in its infancy, CAS recognized the need for a new mode of data searching and retrieval. The rapid increase in personal computers meant that it would be possible to put chemists in direct connection with CAS databases. In 1991, CAS began to look into creating a desktop research tool, and the next year created a product development team. This group solicited views from CAS staff members and from customers. From users, the CAS researchers learned that scientists wanted more control over research and direct access to information. Moreover, the team understood that most scientists were not familiar with the language of information retrieval; accordingly, the search mechanisms had to be conversational and intuitive. In other words, users should not be asked to learn a command language, but rather they should be able to sit at their computer and use the system without training.
After extensive testing of prototypes by pharmaceutical and chemical companies, SciFinder® was launched in 1995. From the beginning it allowed for simple interaction with the search system. The complex algorithms and other tools that buttress the CAS Registry and other CAS files remain in the background. In 1997 SciFinder® ScholarTM appeared as a version of SciFinder® for chemistry students and faculty.
CAS quickly adapted to the online environment as it became popular in the closing years of the 20th century. Web-based initiatives undertaken by CAS included creation in 1994 of its website, http://www.cas.org; introduction of Chemical Patents Plus in 1996, which covers U.S. patents since 1974; STN® Easy, also in 1996, to make access to some STN® databases even easier; ChemPort® in 1997, a joint service with ACS Publications to provide links from the records in the searchable databases to full-text journals and patents on the Web; a whole host of new STN® products, including STN® Express™, STN® AnaVist™, STN® on the WebSM; and many others.
By 2007, when CAS celebrated its 100th anniversary, its databases demonstrated the exponential growth in scientific publishing and research. Those databases contained more than 27 million records of journal and patent literature, more than 170 million citations and more than 30 million substance records in the CAS Registry. In the words of Robert Massie, "CAS celebrates one hundred years of service to world science as an integral part of the American Chemical Society. That is a century in pursuit of a single mission—to provide access to chemical and related information that speeds and enables scientific discovery to improve people's lives."
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