Following up on the Chemistry issue

I promised everyone, when we made the decision to cease subscribing to an ACS package, that I would follow up, saying, “The libraries have agreed to do a robust analysis of how well or poorly this works out in this year.”

So here I am. How’d it go? You’re all wondering, right?

In May, I met with the faculty in the Chemistry Department to talk through their experiences. The Libraries’ Collection Development Coordinator, Marianne Hebert, and I came to the meeting with our ILL data, our expenditures data, and questions. A few key takeaways from that discussion, and my responses and observations to each:

  1. Student learning was largely unaffected. This was the first question I asked; I want to know if students were able to complete the assignments given in our chemistry courses, and if their learning was affected by our choice. The overwhelming response from the faculty was “no,not really.” They had to do some assignments a little differently, and they leaned on librarians to assist with information literacy, but overall, the impacts were appropriate, expectable, and manageable. Also, small.
  2. Some faculty found that doing their own research became considerably less convenient. Everyone loves clickthrough access to full-text, and we took that away for the majority of our faculty researchers in Chemistry. The intermediation of ILL (with its attendant systems, delays, and potential for human error) as the solution is, understandably, annoying. We discussed at length with both the faculty and our ILL staff some issues we were having about getting black and white photocopies of articles that contained color figures, and worked out ways to ensure that faculty get color scans or .pdf downloads to fulfill ILL requests for which the figures are a crucial part of the article. We also discussed ways to leverage our participation in the Associated Colleges of St. Lawrence County, which includes Clarkson University, and how we might work with their library to provide information access for our faculty. And we discussed the libraries’ potential ability to add individual subscriptions to high-demand titles for which we would end up paying very high Copyright Clearance Center bills due to ILL volume — we only saw ILL spikes on a few core titles, and we shared the cost implications of those requests with the faculty (who are the admitted source of the ILL requests). We also reiterated that the personal ACS memberships that many faculty already pay for come with benefits, and that they should explore those as they do their research. One of those benefits is access to a limited number of articles annually — some frustration on their part and cost on ours might be avoided if they chose to use those benefits.
  3. Students doing focused undergraduate research and/or partnering on faculty research were somewhat inconvenienced. Frankly, for all the same reasons as the faculty, enumerated above under #2.
  4. Student memberships to the ACS need to be explored further by the institution. As we discussed the benefits faculty could realize from their ACS memberships, I asked a pointed question, based on the stated action intentions of our initial conversation last year: “Did you encourage your research students to become ACS members?” The answer was “No.” We began discussing why it would be a good idea to do that — student members gain access to meetings, begin the process of professional acculturation in their field, and also get access to a limited number of article downloads. Acknowledging that there are not only benefits to the institution, but to the student as future chemists, these memberships could be truly valuable on many fronts. The question I needed to answer as I walked away from the meeting was whose responsibility are those memberships? Are they the student’s, as an emerging professional? Are they the Libraries’, as information resource providers? Are they the institution’s, as the educational provider? I took the question to the Academic Program Committee, made up of the Provost, Associate Provost, Deans, and a few academic directors (including me) at the core of our academic endeavor. We all agreed, after some debate, that the responsibility needs to lie with the student or the department; it’s mission stretch for the libraries to take it on, and some could argue that it’s no more an institutional responsibility than textbooks are. I expect that the “whose issue is this?” discussions will continue this year, though one thing is clear: memberships in professional organizations make sense for our students in many disciplines, for many reasons.

And so. Speaking as Director of Libraries and based on this information, I can still confidently say that I facilitated doing a smart thing in support of appropriate and thoughtful resource use for my institution, in support of our mission of teaching and learning. Is it perfect? No. But is it sustainable and having appropriate impacts? Yes. Yes it is. I can work with that.


  1. Good. Back in the day I became a member of the Society of Physics Students – I paid out of my pocket and got my copy of Physics Today and whatnot. Advisors should definitely encourage their students to participate in student ACS groups and join the national association. I don’t see that as belonging to the library but part of the inculturation (?) process that is inherent to the science education process.


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