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The challenges of keeping up with a digital world

by Paul Bouis, Chair, ACS Committee on Analytical Reagents
May 30, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 22

Paul Boulis
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Boulis
Photo of Paul Boulis.
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Boulis

The book is dead; long live the book. The landscape of the scientific publishing industry is changing, and the American Chemical Society and other publishers have long been evolving their role in the book publishing business to accommodate this changing landscape and increase its presence in the digital marketplace.

Many scientific organizations are outsourcing their publishing operations in part to lower production costs and to let publishing experts operate that part of the business while retaining the management and editorial portion in-house. We see technical libraries downsizing their physical facilities and in many cases converting the space into office or study cubicles. University bookstores now offer students the choice of renting their books.

So what does the future hold for the book “Reagent Chemicals”? Is the 11th edition the last to appear in print form? “Reagent Chemicals” has had a storied past since its inception over 100 years ago, but the book as it has been traditionally published might be an endangered species.

Currently, ACS is the only organization in the world that sets requirements and develops validated methods for determining the purity of reagents and standards used in analytical testing. Organizations that set specifications or promulgate analytical testing methods specify that ACS reagent-grade purity be used in their test procedures. These specifications have also become the de facto standards for many of the same chemicals used in high-purity requirement applications such as microelectronics and pharmaceutical drug manufacturing.

Is the 11th edition of “Reagent Chemicals” the last to appear in print form?

The main purpose of “Reagent Chemicals” is to allow the analytical community to be certain of the quality of the reagents and standards it routinely uses in its laboratories. The book is also dedicated to the preservation of the classical analytical techniques.

The Committee on Analytical Reagents is responsible for maintaining the value of the information contained in “Reagent Chemicals.” We must keep up with the changing landscape and preserve this knowledge base by reinventing ourselves. This is where you can help guide our future direction with your thoughts, opinions, and wisdom.

The 11th edition exemplifies the transition occurring in the technical book business where print publications are being enhanced, or in some cases replaced, by digital forms. ACS is in the midst of a changing membership environment, and the growth we see is among a younger generation and in large part overseas. There can be no doubt that any future growth for “Reagent Chemicals” will need to be aimed at that same audience, and this points dramatically to the online product.

The 11th edition was the most difficult version to upgrade and improve in the modern era. Validation of methods according to current best practices has dramatically increased the method development task, and cost, in a period where committee members have been less able to donate time and resources.

“Reagent Chemicals” must keep up with the changing world because the entire field of analytical chemistry is changing. Over the past 20 years, we have seen the emergence of multidisciplinary fields that are broader in scope compared to the traditional core curricula. It most likely started with fields such as biochemistry and physical organic chemistry. Today, it includes myriad descriptive titles, such as bioprocess chemistry, in which biology, engineering, and chemistry are studied together. This redesign of the chemistry landscape has resulted in many changes to the analytical chemistry arena, which will require changes to reagent standards and specifications.

The following are trends in the analytical chemistry field that could impact the committee’s direction in the future:

▸ The growing legal ramifications of many analyses performed, such as environmental, forensic, and genomics, require robust quality assurance systems.

▸ Miniaturization of analytical testing equipment will result in on-site analysis expanding in many areas where rapid turnaround is critical or demanded by customers.

▸ New methodologies are coming from new organizations while improved old methods arrive from established ones; the committee must tap into the new changes.

▸ New methodologies, the growing use of in-line analysis for example, will emerge from new hybrid careers, and the committee will need to define its role here.

The committee is dedicated to improving “Reagent Chemicals,” in whatever form it’s published, to keep up with changes in the field of analytical chemistry. We invite your feedback and suggestions. Please e-mail the committee secretary at

Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ACS.


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