For decades, American Chemical Society national meetings have been very successful in terms of providing our members with an opportunity to present—and hear others present—information in a particular field of chemistry. These meetings are also well-known for supplying other benefits, such as allowing participants to forge new friendships or further develop existing relationships with other professionals. In fact, by nearly any yardstick, ACS national meetings have been and continue to be a great resource for ACS members.
I say "nearly" any yardstick because there is one inherent weakness associated with our national meetings: You have to be there in order to truly benefit from all they offer.
Even though each national meeting typically attracts 10,000-15,000 participants, the vast majority of ACS members do not attend national meetings. So while some members are benefiting from the hard work that our divisions and others invest in our national meetings, most are not.
That begs the question: Is it in the society's best interest to limit the value delivered at our national meetings to those who were fortunate enough to physically attend the meeting?
In the past, we really had little choice. But with today's advanced communication technologies, we have lots of options in this arena.
It might surprise you to learn that several ACS divisions are already conducting admirable and successful experiments in this area. For example, the Biochemical Technology Division (BIOT) attempts to identify and make available to its membership the best papers delivered by the division at the national meeting. After consultations with program chairs, session chairs, and others, BIOT identifies the "best" presentations. A BIOT representative approaches the presenters and asks them to re-present the paper to an online audience of BIOT members. This strategy accomplishes a key BIOT objective: to permit division members who couldn't be at a national meeting to benefit from the information contained in BIOT's best papers.
The Polymer Chemistry Division (POLY) conducted a different sort of experiment. At the 2006 San Francisco national meeting, POLY delivered a general- interest symposium titled "Entrepreneurship in Polymers and Technology." The program featured 34 presentations, many by eminent scientists. Of that number, 30 presenters agreed to allow POLY to record their presentations. The audio was synched with the presenters' PowerPoint slides and posted on POLY's website four weeks after the meeting concluded. Consequently, a much larger number of POLY members had the opportunity to experience what was a very successful program.
I salute BIOT, POLY, and the other divisions that are conducting online distribution of national meeting presentations. On the basis of conversations with other division leaders, I'm certain we'll be seeing more and more of this sort of activity. Why? Because our members' expectations regarding what they want from us are very different today than they were even five years ago.
The Internet has changed everything. Our members bank online, purchase music online, read newspapers online, and conduct their holiday shopping online, to name just a few activities. Why would our members lower their online expectations as they relate to ACS services?
Our members expect ACS to deliver more and more value electronically. And while some intrepid technical divisions are leading the way, our efforts in this area will yield more productive results if we coordinate our efforts.
Some questions arise: What sorts of technology infrastructure investments must ACS make in order to provide our divisions with an effective level of support? Who should have access to national meeting content delivered online? And who decides? Can we successfully obtain permission from national meeting presenters to post their content online if such postings may be considered prior publication by some journal editors?
That last question will be taken up by ACS journal editors at their January 2007 meeting. Among other objectives, they may attempt to craft a policy that permits content delivered at our national meetings to be posted online for a limited amount of time. I hope the editors can find a way to allow such online postings without disqualification of subsequent research articles based on the data in the presentation.
Many questions remain unanswered. But these questions, substantive though they may be, pale in comparison to the opportunities ACS now has to permit far greater numbers of its members to benefit from the information generated at our national meetings. If you have ideas or comments on this subject, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.