Researchers are starting to use altmetrics to understand and promote their academic contributions. At the same time, administrators and funders are exploring them to evaluate researchers’ impact.
In light of these changes, how can you, as a librarian, stay relevant by supporting their fast-changing altmetrics needs?
In this email, we’ll give you four ways to stay relevant: staying up-to-date with the latest altmetrics research, experimenting with altmetrics tools, engaging in early altmetrics education and outreach, and defining what altmetrics mean to you as a librarian.
1. Know the literature
Faculty won’t come to you for help navigating the altmetrics landscape if they can tell you don’t know the area very well, will they?
To get familiar with discussions around altmetrics, start with the recent SPARC report on article-level metrics, this excellent overview that appeared in Serials Review (paywall), and the recent ASIS&T Bulletin special issue on altmetrics.
Then, check out this list of “17 Essential Altmetrics Resources” aimed at librarians, this recent article on collection development and altmetrics from Against the Grain, and presentations from Heather and Stacy on why it’s important for librarians to be involved in altmetrics discussions on their campuses.
There’s also a growing body of peer-reviewed research on altmetrics. One important concept from this literature is the idea of “impact flavors”–a way to understand distinctive patterns in the impacts of scholarly products.
For example, an article featured in mainstream media stories, blogged about, and downloaded by the public has a very different flavor of impact than a dataset heavily saved and discussed by scholars, which is in turn different from software that’s highly cited in research papers. Altmetrics can help researchers, funders, and administrators optimize for the mix of flavors that best fits their particular goals.
There’s also been a lot of studies on correlations (or lack thereof) between altmetrics and traditional citations. Some have shown that selected altmetrics sources (Mendeley in particular) are significantly correlated with citations (1, 2, 3), while other sources, like Facebook bookmarks, have only slight correlations with citations. These studies show that different types of altmetrics are capturing different types of impact, beyond just scholarly impact.
Other early touchstones include studies exploring the predictive potential of altmetrics, growing adoption of social media tools that inform altmetrics, and insights from article readership patterns.
But these are far from only studies to be aware of! Stay abreast of new research by reading through the PLOS Altmetrics Collection, joining the Altmetrics Mendeley group, and following the #altmetrics hashtag on Twitter.
2. Know the tools
There are now several tools that allow scholars to collect and share the broad impact of their research portfolios.
In the same way a you’d experiment with new features added to Web of Science, you can play around with altmetrics tools and add them to your bibliographic instruction repertoire (more on that in the following section). Familiarity will enable you to do easy demonstrations, discuss strengths and weaknesses, contribute to product development, and serve as a resource for campus scholars and administration.
Here are some of the most popular altmetrics tools:
If you’re reading this email, chances are that you’re already familiar with Impactstory, a nonprofit Web application supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and NSF.
If you’re a newcomer, here’s the scoop: scholars create a free Impactstory profile and then upload their articles, datasets, software, and other products using Google Scholar, ORCID, or lists of permanent identifiers like DOIs, PubMed IDs, and so on. Impactstory then gathers and reports altmetrics and traditional citations for each product. As shown above, metrics are displayed as percentiles relative to similar products. Profile data can be exported for further analysis, and users can receive alerts about new impacts.
Impactstory is built on open-source code, offers open data, and is free to use. Our robust community of users helps us think up new features and prioritize development via our Feedback forum; once you’re familiar with our site, we encourage you to sign up and start contributing, too!
PlumX is another web application that displays metrics for a wide range of scholarly outputs. The metrics can be viewed and analyzed at any user-defined level, including at the researcher, department, institution, journal, grant, and research topic levels. PlumX reports some metrics that are unique from other altmetrics services, like WorldCat holdings and downloads and pageviews from some publishers, institutional repositories, and EBSCO databases. PlumX is developed and marketed by Plum Analytics, an EBSCO company.
The service is available via a subscription. Individuals who are curious can experiment with the free demo version.
The third tool that librarians should know about is Altmetric.com. Originally developed to provide altmetrics for publishers, the tool primarily tracks journal articles and ArXiv.org preprints. In recent years, the service has expanded to include a subscription-based institutional edition, aimed at university administrators.
Altmetric.com offers unique features, including the Altmetric score (a single-number summary of the attention an article has received online) and the Altmetric bookmarklet (a browser widget that allows you to look up altmetrics for any journal article or ArXiv.org preprint with a unique identifier). Sources tracked for mentions of articles include social and traditional media outlets from around the world, post-publication peer-review sites, reference managers like Mendeley, and public policy documents.
Librarians can get free access to the Altmetric Explorer and free services for institutional repositories. You can also request trial access to Altmetric for Institutions.
3. Integrate altmetrics into library outreach and education
Librarians are often asked to describe Open Access publishing choices to both faculty and students and teach how to gather evidence of impact for hiring, promotion, and tenure. These opportunities–whether one on one or in group settings like faculty meetings–can allow librarians to introduce altmetrics.
Discussing altmetrics in the context of Open Access publishing helps “sell” the benefits of OA. Altmetrics, like download counts that appear in PLOS journals and institutional repositories, can highlight the benefits of open access publishing. They can also demonstrate that “impact” is more closely tied to an individual’s scholarship rather than a journal’s impact factor.
Similarly, researchers often use an author’s h-index for hiring, tenure, and promotion, conflating the h-index with the quality of an individual’s work. Librarians are often asked to teach and provide assistance calculating an h-index within various databases (Web of Science, SCOPUS, etc.). Integrating altmetrics into these instruction sessions is akin to providing researchers with additional primary resource choices on a research project. Librarians need to make researchers aware of many tools they can use to evaluate the impact of scholarship, and of the relevant research–including benefits of and drawbacks to different altmetrics.
So, what does altmetrics outreach look like on the ground? To start, check out these great presentations that librarians around the world have given on the benefits of using altmetrics (and particular altmetrics tools) in research and promotion.
Another great way to stay relevant on this subject is to find and recommend to your grad students and faculty readings on ways they can use altmetrics in their career, like this one from our blog on the benefits of including altmetrics on your CV.
4. Discover the benefits that altmetrics offer librarians
There are reasons to learn about altmetrics beyond serving faculty and students. A major one is that many librarians are scholars themselves, and can use altmetrics to better understand the diverse impact of their articles, presentations, and white papers. Consider putting altmetrics on your own CV, and advocating the use of altmetrics among library faculty who are assembling tenure and promotion packages.
Librarians also produce and support terabytes’ worth of scholarly content that’s intended for others’ use, usually in the form of digital special collections and institutional repository holdings. Altmetrics can help librarians understand the impacts of these non-traditional scholarly outputs, and provide hard evidence of their use beyond ‘hits’ and downloads–evidence that’s especially useful when making arguments for increased budgetary and administrative support.
It’s important that librarians explore the unique ways they can apply altmetrics to their own research and jobs, especially in light of recent initiatives to create recommended practices for the collection and use of altmetrics. What is useful to a computational biologist may not be useful for a librarian (and vice versa). Get to know the research and tools and figure out ways to use them to your own ends.
There’s a lot happening right now in the altmetrics space, and it can sometimes be overwhelming for librarians to keep up with and understand. By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be well positioned to inform and support researchers, administrators, and library decision makers in their use. And in doing so, you’ll be indispensable in this new era of web-native research.
Are you a librarian that’s using altmetrics? Share your experiences in a comment on the Impactstory blog!
This post has been adapted from the 2013 C&RL News article, “Riding the crest of the altmetrics wave: How librarians can help prepare faculty for the next generation of research impact metrics” by Lapinski, Piwowar, and Priem.