16 March 2015 Last updated at 9:42, 16/03/2015
is probably a term that many readers of this blog will have heard of
but are not quite sure what it means and what impact it could have on
their role. The simple answer is that altmetrics stands for alternative
When we say alternative we mean alternative to traditional metrics
used in research and by libraries, such as citations and journal impact
factors. They are by no means a replacement to traditional metrics but
really to draw out more pertinent information tied to a piece of
academic work. A new way of thinking about altmetrics is to refer to
them as alternative indicators.
Scholarly communication is instrumental to altmetricsThere
is also the focus on scholarly communication as altmetrics are closely
tied to established social media and networks. Scholarly communication
is instrumental to altmetrics and much of what it sets out to measure.
These include tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs as well others
including Mendeley and Slideshare.
The main protagonists of the altmetrics movement are ImpactStory which was set up by Jason Priem who coined the term ‘altmetrics’. They are joined by Figshare, Altmetric.com, Mendeley,
PLOS and Kudos, amongst others. These were mostly established by young
researchers who were concerned that research was being measured on the
grounds of just a few metrics. These were metrics that gave an
unbalanced view of research and did not take into account the
technologies that many academics were using to share and discuss their
Altmetrics is not just about bean counting, though obviously the more
attention a paper gets whether that be citations or Tweets the more
interesting it may be to a wider audience, whether that be academics,
students or the wider world. The more Tweets a paper gets does not
necessarily mean it is better quality than those that do not get Tweeted
as much, but the same applied to traditional metrics, more citations
does not always mean a great piece of research, it can occasionally
highlight the opposite.
Altmetrics provide an insight into things we have not measured beforeWhat
altmetrics sets out to do is provide an insight into things we have not
measured before, such as social media interaction, media attention,
global reach and the potential to spot hot topics and future pieces of
highly cited work. In addition altmetrics allows content to be tracked
and measured that in the past had been wholly ignored. Such as datasets,
grey literature, reports, blog posts and other such content of
The current system recognised a slim channel of academic content in a
world that is diversifying constantly at a much faster pace than ever.
The academic publishing model has struggled to catch up with the modern
world of Web 2.0 and social media and therefore academic communication
has been stunted. Tools such as Twitter, blogs and Slideshare have
allowed researchers to get their content onto the Web instantly, often
before they have released the content via the formal channels of
conferences and publications.
Tools such as ImpactStory, Figshare and Altmetric.com look at the
various types of scholarly content and communication and provide metrics
to help fund holders, publishers, librarians, researchers and other
aligned professionals get a clearer picture of the impact of their
Fundholders can see where their funded research is being discussed
and shared, as can researchers who may get to discover their research is
not being talked about; which at least gives them reason to perhaps act
on that. Publishers can view in addition to existing paper citations,
how else they are being discussed and shared. Library and information
professionals have an important part to play in all of this.
What is the role of the library and information professional?There
are certain roles in the library and information profession that have
plenty to gain by becoming involved with altmetrics. Firstly those that
deal with journal subscriptions and hosting content in repositories can
gain a new insight into which journals and papers are being shared and
discussed via altmetrics. This becomes increasingly important when
making yearly subscription choices when journal and book funds are being
constantly squeezed. Obviously this is not a solution or get-out clause
for librarians when deciding which subscriptions to cancel, as you
should not always pick the most popular journals at the expense of
minority, niche journal collections, but altmetrics do offer a new set
of identifiers when making those tough budgetary decisions.
LIS professionals are often technically proficient and for those who
deliver outreach services and support for academics and students there
is much they can do to help explain the new forms of scholarly
communication and measurement. Many library and information staff are
expert users of social media and tools such as slideshare, Mendeley and
blogs. Whilst library and information professionals are in the position
where they are often in a neutral role, so can make informed decisions
on what is the best way to aid staff discover and communicate research.
These skills are starting to spread slowly within the academic community
and LIS professionals are in an ideal position to capitalise on
The futureCertainly how academic outputs are
measured in the future is anyone’s guess. We could move away from
metrics to something that focuses on case studies, or move more towards
open public peer review of research. Certainly the impact factor and
citation indexes are with us for the foreseeable future. It’s likely we
will see an amalgamation of systems with some regarded as more uniform
and formal than others.
As each month passes we see another set of tools appear on the Web
that promises to aid researchers share, communicate and discover
research, so we could be at risk of information overload and decision
fatigue when it comes down to choosing the right tools for the job. The
reality is that we are unlikely to discover a magic silver bullet
solution for how we measure scholarly work. All of the options offer
something and if they can be designed and coerced to work together
better; scholarly communication and measurement could reach a plateau of
Yet this requires an awful lot more engagement from the academic
community, one that is already under pressure from various angles to
deliver research and extract from it examples of impact. Nevertheless,
altmetrics clearly look like they are here to stay for the mid-term at
the very least and are gaining acceptance in some parts of the research
and publishing sphere.
For now I suggest you investgate Figshare, ImpactStory, Mendeley and
Altmetric.com to name but a few in addition to signing up for an
Altmetric.com librarian account and installing their web bookmarklet.
To summarise, if we were to draw a Venn Diagram with social media in
one bubble, metrics in another we would clearly see librarians in the
overlapping area alongside altmetrics. It’s really down to whether you
want a share of that space?
Share your thoughts, experiences and questions in the commentsRead our blog comment guidelines.
About the authorAndy Tattersall
BA (Hons) (University of Sheffield), MSc (University of Sheffield) FHEA
is an Information Specialist at the School of Health and Related
Research at the University of Sheffield. He is also secretary of the
Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Multi-Media and Information Technology Committee and a Mendeley Advisor for the social reference management software company.
Altmetrics: What they are and why they should matter to the library and information community | CILIP