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In Memoriam: Herman Skolnik (1914-1994)

(Chemical Information Bulletin vol. 47, No. 2, Spring 1995)


Herman Skolnik, as any member of the ACS Division of Chemical Information (CINF) will unquestionably attest, was inextricably bound with the Division from its very inception as a co-founder, chairman, committees' chairman, symposia organizer, speaker, panel participant, journal founder and editor, historian, consultant, mentor, and the person after whom the prestigious Herman Skolnik Award was named. This comes out clearly even from a quick review of the 1993 Divisional History, in which some of his specific accomplishments have been noted.1

Herman passed away on December 29, 1994. He received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1937, and an M.S. degree and a Ph.D. degree in physical organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941 and 1943, respectively. In 1942, he joined Hercules Incorporated at Wilmington, Delaware, and in 1952 was appointed research manager of its Technical Information Division, the position he held till his retirement in 1979. In the years that followed he remained as active as ever in the chemical profession - writing, lecturing, and teaching.

His accomplishments and honors have already been enumerated in an earlier obituary.2 Still, a few of his most enduring contributions to the history of chemistry, to chemical documentation, and to chemical information theory, practice, and profession should be highlighted.

Herman was associated with Chemical Abstracts for over 47 years, starting as a volunteer abstractor in 1947, and continuing since 1959 as the section editor (later as section advisor) for CA section "Terpenes and Terpenoids".

As soon as the Division (then Division of Chemical Literature) was formed in 1948, the members recognized the need for a forum for publication, namely a new ACS journal devoted to papers on chemical documentation. In 1957, Herman was appointed the chairman of the Journal Study Committee, whose efforts culminated in the creation in 1961 of the ACS Journal of Chemical Documentation (renamed in 1975 as Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences). Herman became its first Editor and served in that capacity until 1982.

In 1966, Herman, in his capacity as the chairman of the Divisional Publications Committee, was instrumental in creating with two other professional organizations, American Documentation Institute (later American Society for Information Science) and Special Libraries Association, a joint publication, Documentation Abstracts (renamed in 1969 as Information Science Abstracts). Herman was the first chairman of the Board of Directors of Documentation Abstracts, Inc.

In 1969, Herman was the recipient of the Patterson Award of the ACS Dayton Local Section to acknowledge his meritorious contributions in the field of chemical literature, especially in the documentation of chemistry.

In 1976, he was chairman of the Board of Editors for the ACS Centennial History and published an ACS history, "A Century of Chemistry - The Role of Chemists and the American Chemical Society". For the 100th anniversary on April 6, 1976, he submitted a message which was sealed in the wall of the New York University, in which he related the advances in chemical information science, in computer science, and telecommunications, enumerating at the same time some weak links and unsolved problems and suggesting further exploration of the fundamental issues.

It was no coincidence that in the same jubilee year, the Division established an Award to recognize outstanding contributions to and achievements in the theory and practice of chemical information science, and named it as the Herman Skolnik Award in honor of its first recipient.

His activities within the ACS outside the Division were legion: chairman of the ACS Delaware Local Section, co-founder of the Delaware Valley ACS Chemical Literature Group, editor of DEL-CHEM Bulletin, organizer of the ACS Middle Atlantic Regional Meetings, an ACS Local Section Tour Speaker, and a member of the ACS Committee on Nomenclature and of numerous other Committees. All in all, he presented over 100 papers and chaired many symposia for 10 ACS Divisions, and authored four books and over 200 papers in some 20 scientific journals.

His first paper presented before the Division was on "Historical Developments of Cellulose and Wood Literature" at the 125th ACS National Meeting in Kansas City, MO, in Spring 1954, and his last on "Books, Encyclopedias, Treatises, and Handbooks" at the 187th ACS National Meeting in St. Louis, MO, in Spring 1984.

In 1982, he published an excellent book on "The Literature Matrix of Chemistry (A Guide to Using Literature Resources of Chemistry and Chemical Technology)", in which he pointed out not only the importance of using old traditional printed resources, but also guided to the use of modern online databases.

Herman was, in fact, a witness and a participant in the transition over the past 5 decades of the field of "chemical literature" to "chemical documentation" to "chemical information", and of the profession from "literature chemists" and "chemical librarians" to "chemical information specialists".

In his "retirement", he was active in teaching and promoting science education in public schools, for which he received the Delaware Governor's Outstanding Volunteer Award in 1988. He also founded and guided ChemVets, an organization for retired chemists with the purpose of helping the teachers by providing expert advice and holding talks on science careers for high schools students, in addition to a direct involvement in the classroom.

It is hard to imagine Divisional sessions and meetings without Herman, who was for all of us an "institution". He will be missed.

W. Val Metanomski, CINF Archivist/Historian

  1. Metanomski, W.V. "50 Years of Chemical Information in the American Chemical Society, 1943-1993", ACS Division of Chemical Information, 1993.
  2. Chem. Eng. News 1995 (January 23), 64-65.