Altmetrics, library outreach, and value

This post comes to us from Debbie Malone, VAL Committee member and library director at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. 

Altmetrics, going beyond citation counts to measure scholarly impact via blog posts, twitter and other forms of social media, is becoming a hot topic in library literature as well as more general scholarly communication. Academic libraries can demonstrate their value by examining faculty productivity, and altmetrics gives us another way to see productivity and impact. I recently listened to a wonderful seminar on the topic presented by Linda Galloway, Syracuse University, for the National Library of Medicine, Mid-Atlantic Region, in which she shared multiple ways she assists faculty members and other researchers to get started with altmetrics and to use these new measures to understand the immediate impact of their work.  In the post below, I asked Linda to share practical tips for beginning a similar innovative outreach service in your library.

Altmetrics and Library Outreach

Altmetrics, or alternative citation metrics, can help inform scholarship by providing near real-time analyses of scholarly output. In addition, altmetric values are popping up everywhere  – from PLOS ONE articles to Elsevier journals.  Librarians can help faculty and researchers by contextualizing altmetrics within the landscape of traditional citation metrics and recommending how to get started.

Traditional citation metrics quantify scholarly output by measuring a researcher’s number of publications, citations to those publications, and the relative influence of the publications.  Typically, a faculty member also considers their h-index as an important metric — an h-index of 7 means that an author has published at least 7 papers that have been cited 7 times.  While traditional citation metrics are the gold standard, there are limitations.  They do not capture a publication’s impact or influence in emerging forms of scholarly communication, are often behind pay walls, measure influence narrowly, and take a long time to accumulate. 

Altmetrics are not citation metrics, but can complement and enhance a researcher’s scholarly presence.  Beyond citation counts, altmetrics measure diverse impacts from articles, blog posts, slide shows, datasets and other forms of scholarly communication.  Altmetrics quantify a different type of reader engagement with scholarly literature — more personal and meaningful. If a reader takes the time to save an article to their personal library and then tweet or blog about it, it may indicate that the article is more compelling than the one that was simply downloaded to a reference manager.  And what about post-publication peer review — the comments that are now permitted in some online scholarly publications?  These types of personal, thoughtful interactions with scholarly literature are both timely and valuable.

Altmetrics can measure scholarly engagement by collecting data on:

Accurate attribution of research products is the most important step in both citation metrics and altmetrics. Content creators can help with this by registering for and using an ORCID or another unique scholarly identifier. ORCID can help with attribution by “automating linkages to research objects such as publications, grants, and patents.”  Authors should endeavor to keep one or two online platforms (institutional profile, Google Scholar profile, etc.) consistently up-to date with their latest articles and other discrete research outputs. Remembering to use unique identifiers in academic communications (such as DOI’s) will also help to gather accurate data.

 There are several platforms that help capture and visualize altmetrics:

Non-profit:

  • ImpactStory — designed for the individual researcher, tools to visualize impact of research products. Helps “researchers to tell data-driven stories about their impacts”.

Commercial:

  • Altmetric.com —owned by Macmillan Publishers (also owns the Nature Publishing Group). “Provides article level metrics for researchers and publishers”.
  • Mendeley.com — Reference manager, .pdf organizer & social networking tool for researchers/authors. Collects & displays altmetrics. Recently purchased by Elsevier.
  • Plum Analytics — startup co-founded by former Summon developers; recently acquired by EBSCO. Collects article-level data for use by different constituencies to compare individuals, departments, universities

At the recent 2014 STELLA unconference, most participants reported little faculty awareness of altmetrics.  Five years from now, the interest in altmetrics will certainly be much greater and understanding and collecting this data now will prove beneficial.  Librarians, who recognize the inherent value in recording scholarly communication, are well positioned to promote accurate and thorough attribution of research products by helping to quantify their impact.

Further reading:

Linda Galloway, Syracuse University Libraries

Biology, Chemistry & Forensics Librarian, STEM Bibliographer

One thought on “Altmetrics, library outreach, and value”

  1. Thank you so much Linda and Debbie for this helpful and informative overview, I have already been able to use it with my outreach work in my library.

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