Altmetrics and the library

Altmetrics for Librarians and Institutions: Part II

Filed under: Research Productivity

Part II: Librarians and the benefits of altmetrics

Why would librarians need to know about web impact?
Impact is essential to the journal collection management process within academic libraries, and measuring that impact is something that has also relied heavily on the citation impact factor. Looking at impact of content is one of the several methods librarians can employ to select the best content for library users (see previous post for complete list). Perhaps altmetrics and their measure of impact could also be applied to the selection management stages that librarians already undergo when deciding which content to cancel, purchase or renew. This is certainly a key feature of the new Mendeley Institutional Edition dashboard (there are some screenshots here), which shows librarians new layers of usage and sharing data of the content they subscribe to, all from within the Mendeley research platform.

Altmetric data for librarians
I asked Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem (of Total-Impact) how altmetrics could assist librarians, something that has not been looked at in great detail yet as the focus has been very much on the individual researcher and individual articles.

The overarching indication from them was that altmetrics are young. While there are several projects running to explore their potential, we are really looking at the early stages of their evolution. However, the value is already clear, so the future is looking interesting. In Priem’s words: Bibliometricians have been studying citations for decades, and are still learning; I wouldn’t expect altmetrics to be different.”

There are four things that altmetrics could achieve in the library context:

  • Selection management: Provide libraries with an additional usage metric to use when considering the value of their subscribed collection, giving more evidence for cancel/renew/acquire processes. It is hard to see at this stage that an altmetric could replace existing measures for the  value of content, but its potential as a supplementary point of reference is great.
  • Illustrate collection value: Demonstrate increased ROI on the library collection by illustrating another dimension to the impact of a particular title by its social influence (calculated by penetration into the social web).
  • Rapid-fire stats: Quicker indications of usage/popularity, especially important on article pre-prints which are awaiting publication in a traditional journal (especially in the case of Mendeley Institutional Edition, where the librarian will be able to see at a very early stage what content is hot). Usage and sharing is recorded in real-time, escaping the long wait imposed by the journal impact factor. There are obviously more possibilities with this feature of altmetrics.
  • Librarian role: Altmetrics could also clearly be used in the context of the librarian being able to offer insights to their research community, and give guidance on how to maximise the success of their own research efforts. For example, and quoting Priem again, “altmetrics tools like total-impact can foster librarians’ increasingly important work in helping faculty understand and build their own impact”. The knock-on effect of this is that the librarian role assumes more of a pivotal position in the research workflow, away from the confines of the physical library. As Priem notes, altmetrics used in this way play a role in “supporting their (growing) roles as scholarly communication specialists”

The third part of this series of posts on altmetrics looks at potential uses of altmetric data in the wider context of the academic institution. Once again, Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem provide valuable insights and commentary.

What significance do/will altmetrics have for you? We are interested to read your comments below.

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Read Parts I & III of the Altmetrics for Librarians and Institutions blog series here:

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