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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


In 2005, the Division of Chemical Information of the American Chemical Society (CINF) and the Division of Computer-Information-Chemie (CIC) of the German Chemical Society established a Collaborative Working Group to foster a transnational dialogue in order to develop a shared approach for the access, exchange and management of chemical information. Within the larger context of the overall approach, the working group developed XCITR, an international repository of chemical information educational material to be used by librarians and instructors in chemical information. XCITR makes full use of features in Web 2.0 technology and is meant to be a hub in which instructors at all levels can deposit and access important teaching materials. This paper describes the history, organization and technical details of XCITR supplemented by examples from this freely available source.


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) - 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 ( or slideshows (from, 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, 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.

10/31/11 to 11/04/11