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XCITR - Explore Chemical Information Teaching Resources

XCITR – Explore Chemical Information Teaching Resources

Guenter Grethe1, Grace Baysinger2, Rene Deplanque3, Gregor Fels4, Ira Fresen3, Andrea Twiss-Brooks5, Gregor Zimmermann3; 1Consultant, Alameda, CA; 2Stanford University, Swain Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Library, Stanford, CA; 3FIZ CHEMIE Berlin, Berlin,Germany; 4University of Paderborn, Department of Chemistry, Germany; 5University of Chicago, John Crerar Library, Chicago, IL

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In 2004, the Division of Chemical Information (CINF) of the American Chemical Society (ACS) as part of its outreach mission and the larger ACS strategy of international communication decided to establish a collaborative working group (CWG) with the Chemistry-Information-Computers (CIC) division of the German Chemical Society (GDCh) to foster a transnational dialogue in order to develop a shared approach for the access, exchange and management of chemical information.  To our knowledge, this represented the first attempt within ACS to create an international divisional collaboration other than an exchange of scientific publications.  The ultimate goal of CWG is to be the hub in which the international chemical information community comes together to share, debate and reach consensus on important issues in chemical information. 

The working group met for the first time in 2005 at the Spring ACS meeting in San Diego to discuss potential areas of collaboration and to explore areas of common interest among them the availability and distribution of instructional material in chemistry. The intensive needs of users of electronic chemical information have made it very difficult for instructors to cope with the large variety of available data sources containing increasingly vast amounts of data and many different searching tools and user interfaces. Available resources for teaching materials are also widely scattered.  After continued discussions during 2005 in the US and Germany, the group decided in 2006 at the ACS meeting in San Francisco to build an international repository of chemical information educational material which later was named XCITR (Explore Chemical Information Teaching Resources) - http://www.xcitr.org. A prototype was first demonstrated at the 2009 ACS meeting in Salt Lake City and the program was launched in 2010 at the 6. German Conference on Chemoinformatics (6th GCC) in Goslar, Germany, followed in 2011 at the ACS meeting in Anaheim.


The XCITR Project

As a successor to the Clearinghouse for Chemical Information Instructional Materials created by Gary Wiggins at Indiana University in the mid-1980’s, XCITR is seen not only to meet the needs of librarians and instructors in chemical information, but also chemistry professors, instructors in other disciplines related to chemistry, information specialists, students, high school teachers, and even technical writers. XCITR is envisioned as a hub in which librarians, instructors and information providers can deposit and access important and useful teaching materials. Additionally, educational materials about library services and collections are also welcome.  Following the first meeting in 2005, CWG met at every subsequent ACS meeting, once at Stanford University and several times in Germany.  Partial financial support was obtained from the Innovative Project Fund Grant administered by the ACS Council Committee on Divisional Activities (DAC) and GDCh. The earlier meetings dealt with the organizational structure of the working group and ways of communication, defining an outline of the project, deciding on a platform and interface, and discussing policy issues.  To test various options, FIZ CHEMIE Berlin in 2008 generously provided the server for the project and technical support.  From the beginning, the use of open source technologies was considered mandatory and different content management systems, including DSpace and Drupal, were discussed and tested. In order to make full use of Web 2.0 functionalities the group finally decided on Drupal and technical development of XCITR started in 2009. Additionally, many other issues had to be resolved before development could start.  Principal among them was the format and content of metadata elements to describe the submission to the repository.  At a minimum, the metadata had to describe resource, target audience, system requirement and IP rights.  Metadata had to follow standard definitions and contain controlled vocabularies.  These discussions took up several meetings and were based on metadata used in similar repositories.  Metadata will be discussed in the next section.  Quality of submissions is overseen by an editorial board consisting of six members from the CWG. A built-in workflow scheme monitors contributions from initial submission to publication.  Contents can be provided as documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF files), embedded videos (from www.youtube.com) or slideshows (from www.slideshare.net), and as external web based instructional materials by providing a link. Piwik is being used as a web analytics tool and Artisteer for the layout. Google Analytics was considered for capturing statistics but privacy concerns made Piwik a more preferable choice.


The XCITR System

The website is open to all users without a login requirement.  Users can freely browse, read the documents, and download them for their own use if allowed by license agreements. However, users have to establish an account when submitting material.  Using the URL http://www.xcitr.org, the program opens the homepage (Figure 1) which contains several areas which can be activated for browsing.  In addition to listing the top 5 submissions based on hits, users can browse the content based on general categories, their sub-topics and specific areas (Figure 2).

Figure 1: XCITR homepage

The controlled vocabularies of these categories are an essential part of the metadata and must be entered by authors during submission.  The page also contains a link to the full XCITR content which is grouped according to subject, subject category, major reference tools, type of material, resources covered, and cost access. The same page can also be opened by activating the tap “Content Map” on each of the XCITR pages. In most cases, any submission is listed in more than one category. A click on any group or subgroup automatically opens the corresponding paper(s) (Figure 3).  The homepage also contains a search function and a current awareness field showing the latest submission. The “About” tab opens a page describing XCITR and lists the member of the CWG and their association. Another tab provides a template to contact and leave messages with the technical support of XCITR.

Figure 2


Figure 2: XCITR contents map

Figure 3

 Figure 3: Sample metadata information for XCITR content

All these pages are accessible to any user.  Submitting new content to XCITR requires the user to login.  Clicking the button “Submit new XCITR content” opens a new page where the user can either login or establish a new account. This opens up the new tabs for accessing the Forum page for discussions and a Calendar page (Figure 4). 

Figure 4

Figure 4: Submitting a resource

Figure 5

Figure 5: Link to an external resource in XCITR

XCITR allows for submitting different types of documents, each of which has its own button (Figure 4).  The most common types currently submitted are Microsoft Office files, such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, and PDF files (type A). Users can also submit embedded videos (YouTube) or slideshows (Slideshare) (type B).  The most recent and very important type is linked to external instructional sources which only require the URL of the material to be given rather than the full document (type C). After calling up a desired document, types A and B show the file extension, for example the PDF document in Figure 3. Type C on the other hand displays a small icon of the homepage which when clicked on leads directly to the desired website (Figure 5). Author(s) must fill out metadata forms for required and optional data. In addition to personal information, most of the other required datafields use controlled vocabularies. Figure 6 shows the fields of the required metadata common to all types of documents and the file type fields (A – C) for the type of documents files submitted. As a legal requirement the author also has to state that he has the right to publish the resources.  Authors also specify if an item they are submitting is copyrighted, has a creative commons license or is in the public domain.

Figure 6

Figure 6: Required metadata for XCITR submissions

Once an author submits a document and indicates it is ready for review, the editorial board will be notified by an automated message system to review the submission. Documents have to meet the general criteria of being usable as instructional material to teach chemical information and related topics and peer review of the document as such is not required. Furthermore, all required metadata have to be submitted. In order to shorten the review process and to speed up publication, CWG decided that only one member of the editorial board is required to review the document, agree to publication, suggest revision or indicate rejection. A special workflow page has been established for the editorial board to check on the progress and history of the review.  Authors are notified when their submission is published and publicly available.


After many years of organizational discussions, refining and evaluating content management (CMS) systems, XCITR represents a good example of international collaboration.  Over 50 submissions have been made to date and the user data are at an upswing. The Piwik data show some very interesting usage statistics and it is encouraging that the top five documents show over 1,000 hits each.  We can confidentially look into the future and assume that XCITR will become a valuable tool for all instructors in chemical information and related areas. We urge all readers to access the site, become familiar with it and use it.


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XCITR subject sections

Hi all,

It was brought to my attention off the list that there does not seem to be an XCITR subject category associated with chemical health and safety resources. Or are we missing it?  I notice section 3.4 of the information competencies document is devoted to Safety Information.  Are there XCITR resources to assist in the use of these competencies? I did do a search of "chemical hygiene" which provided no hits, while a search of "safety" did provide resources, but these seemed to be secondary resources in the sense that they were subsections of documents devoted to other competencies.

I also did a search of "ethics" and found some hits which I intend to check out, but is there a need for a subject category on copyright, plagiarism, IP rights, etc.?  Or is there and I am missing it?  It would seem that is also something of great value.

Do you have a mechanism for adding new subject sections? If someone from ACS DCHAS (Division of Chemical Health and Safety) or a chemical hygiene officer submitted material to XCITR on the use of information resources devoted to chemical hygiene can they request a new section be created? Or is there one and we are missing it?



XCITR subject sections

The content map (http://www.xcitr.org/xcitr_contentmap) on the left column has a section called "Laboratory Work" and the first item under that is "Safety."  Resources submitted to date have safety included in them rather than being the only focus.  I consider safety to be so important that I have embedded it in every subject guide that I do.  For example, see: http://www.xcitr.org/node/147 


Ethics is included in the both the undergrad and grad research categories near the bottom of the left column.  Like safety, there's no resources that focus only on this area.

These are both excellent areas where having submissions from faculty as well as from the ACS Committee on Health and Safety!  Collaboration and cross-communication between faculty and librarians via submissions in XCITR would be beneficial to everyone.  The more perspectives on an issue the better!


Comment Feature

How do you envision the comment feature to be utilized in XCITR? 

I note it is on the nodes of individual items, like "Evaluating Book Selections" http://www.xcitr.org/node/107

but also subject of your content map (taxonomies?), like, "Chemistry Literatrure: Primary, secondary and Tertiary Resources" http://www.xcitr.org/taxonomy/term/60 .

XCITR and the CCCE website are both based on Drupal. Do your comments trigger actions like an email the way these are doing now? I have not uploaded anything as I am not an expert in chemical information sciences, but when you upload do you set it to trigger you a notice if someone comments on something you upload?

Do you envision discussions with comments the way we are doing now with this Newsletter?  Are there any items with comments we could look at to see how these are being used?  Or are you still too early in development for those to have formed yet.



Comment feature

Interesting idea.  We are looking into the possibility for submitters to indicate if they want comments about their submissions or not.  These then would automatically trigger an e-mail. 

Intended audience

Are the resources posted separated by intended audience? Basically, is the database capable of searching for material appropiate for secondary versus college level?

This sounds like a great resource for teachers!

Intended audience


There are two ways an author can indicate the intended audience for a resource.  These fields and values for them are:

Bachelor (Basic)
Bachelor (Advanced)
Librarian/Information Specialist
K-12 Teacher

Level of Expertise:

I will see if they can be added to the Content Map (http://www.xcitr.org/xcitr_contentmap). 

These values are tags in a record and also searchable terms.  For example, if you search K-12 Teacher you retrieve outreach items that were compiled for National Chemistry Week and Chemists Celebrate Earth Day.

Content Type

In your paper you mention 3 content types; documents, embedded objects and type 3, external resources. I've been looking at your site but time is a bit tight and was hoping you could provide the node links to a couple examples of type 3, external resources. For example I found a video on pubchem, http://www.xcitr.org/node/84 , and am wondering if a link to PubChem is a type 3, or is it an external site describing how to use PubChem, and if so, why can't it be deposited. So my question is what defines a type 3 resource, and could you provide an example or two.



Content Type

Type 3 linking to external resources just became available recently so there's not many items submitted for this type yet.  I've submitted most of them.  Here's three examples,

Finding Data 101

Organic Chemistry Research Guide

Scientific and Technical Communication: A Guide to Resources

Click on the thumbnail to go to the web site.  FYI, most of the Type 3 items are being highlighted in the rotating "new" content section at the bottom of the home page.  I anticipate the number of submissions for this type to grow rapidly in the near future.



Transnational dialogue

The resources on this site seem to be of great quality and value. I note that some of the material is in German, like the Zitieren, http://www.xcitr.org/node/50 and other resources are in English.  Is any attempt being done to translate XCITR resources back and forth and effectively have two portals, one in English and one in German?  What I am sort of asking is how are you tackling the language aspects of this "transnational dialogue?

This also leads me to another question. Information and communication technologies have had a huge impact on libraries over the past quarter century, and have there been observable differences (be they physical or philosophical) between American and German chemistry libraries (chemical information sciences) which your project has brought to light? I am thinking both from the way libraries integrate into the chemical education curriculum and they way new ICTs have been integrated into modern science libraries.

Thank you for sharing your work with us.

re:Transnational dialogue

At the moment, we do not anticipate providing any translation of resources back and forth.  We wanted to accept materials in several languages in order to make the resource helpful to those who might be providing instruction in languages other than English.  Currently there is no filter by language, but I assume that it's a feature that could be added. 

Transnational dialogue

With no funding for the project available at this point, I don't see translation of resources to happen any time soon.

Transnational dialogue

Google Chrome's translate feature wouldn't be perfect but might be "good enough" for some types of content (e.g. html).


This paper sounds very interesting. Do you have any evaluations/ assessments of its use and value by users? John

XCITR Assessment

Only informally so far.  We have received positive comments from people who have received demos.  Usage data is being captured for each resource.  Usage data for the most popular resources is available on the left side of the home page (or go to http://www.xcitr.org/xcitr_popular/all).  Some of the most popular items are resource lists compiled in celebration of National Chemistry Week and Chemists Celebrate Earth Day, lists that are not archived on ACS' web site.