Society says that the main databases will be accessible in January after protracted negotiations on the future of the service

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is to provide a new UK National Chemical Database Service. Contractual negotiations relating to the existing service, which offers access to a range of chemical information resources, have been somewhat protracted and have delayed the process, leaving users unsure of how the service will continue.

For those elements of the former service, the RSC can confirm that it will be ready to provide access to the main databases (based on current usage) when funding for the current service expires at the end of December 2012, with others added as negotiations with database providers progress. New services will also gradually come online, such as the central repository service for UK research data outputs.

We’re hoping to have all the core services up in January if at all possible

The Chemical Database Service (CDS) is currently run from the Daresbury Laboratory, and has provided UK academic institutions with access to chemical information and developed interfaces to enable researchers to make use of that data in various forms for many years.  The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which funds the CDS, invited commercial tenders for a new contract for the service. In September, it was announced the RSC was the preferred bidder.

‘The RSC won that tender on the basis of providing a different service,’ says the RSC’s business development manager, Richard Kidd. ‘We will provide core databases that were in the previous service, but we will also be building a community data repository. So while there is some overlap, it will not be a direct continuation.’

This, according to Joseph Wright from the University of East Anglia, is the biggest concern for users of the service. ‘Change is not necessarily a problem,’ Wright says. What is really important is knowing whether the information will still be accessible in some form, and having enough notice to make appropriate plans for any loss or break in service. ‘The databases available [through the existing CDS] have changed over time for various financial and use reasons, but there has always been notice given on when and how that will happen,’ he adds.

Kidd acknowledges that the RSC has not been able to give the community as much information about the changeover as it would have liked, owing to complex negotiations over contracts. ‘We’re hoping to have all the core services up in January if at all possible,’ he says, ‘and the interfaces to those will evolve between then and mid-year.’

As things currently stand, the services available in January will include the Cambridge Structural Database, ACD’s ILab and Accelrys’s Available Chemicals Directory. Kidd explains that institutional access will be provided using IP address recognition, rather than the current individual login.

Notably missing from that list is the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database (ICSD). While there are several other databases that the CDS currently provides access to, for University College London’s Andrea Sella, the structural databases are absolutely fundamental research tools. ‘They are our Library of Alexandria,’ he says. ‘Every synthetic chemist uses them extensively.’

Kidd stresses that licensing negotiations with the publishers of the ICSD and some of the other databases to be offered by the CDS are ongoing. He adds that services will be made available as soon as possible in the new year.

The biggest difference between the existing CDS and the RSC’s vision, Kidd adds, will be the creation of a central data repository for all UK chemical science research data outputs. ‘The plan is that researchers will be able to upload their data, but keep it private until they want to publish it or share it with their group, their university, all of UK academia or publicly to anyone who wants to see it.’