Altmetrics: a new role for LIS professionals

There's a shift in how research is being communicated which altmetrics can measure - and librarians should be involved.

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Altmetrics are the alternative measurement of scholarly output, a bit like the impact factor but more social and responsive. They also measure things citations do not, such as where a paper is being shared, read and downloaded. In addition they measure content that was previously ignored, such as policy documents and data sets. They are to research what Google Docs were to Microsoft Word and Wikipedia was to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Altmetrics measure research that is shared and discussed via tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ in addition to media and press mentions amongst others. Tools such as, Mendeley, ImpactStory and Figshare have appeared in the last couple of years to help explore the gaps in scholarly communications and measurements. Along with recent developments in Open Access via publishing platforms like PLOS ONE and F1000 and post-publication review and commenting there is a shift happening in how research is being communicated.

At Internet Librarian International 2014 we hosted a workshop and gave a presentation.  We argued that Altmetrics is an area that library and information professionals could capitalise on. We showcased the technical and negotiating skills library and information professionals need to enable academics to embrace Altmetrics. As part of our presentation we showed case studies including a department-wide trial to encourage academics to use Altmetrics and Social Media; how we have mentored internal and external partners and delivered Altmetrics workshops and talks.

Even though Altmetrics are still fairly new they are evolving at quite a rate and the time is right for library and information professionals to get involved. Given that information and library professionals are involved in a large part of the research cycle, from hosting journals, databases and repositories to searching and filtering, and then their involvement with a wide variety of metrics, from bibliometrics to impact factor scores, it seems natural they should be involved in the forefront of new developments.

Critics of Altmetrics certainly raise good points, on matters such as the potential of good communicators being noticed and rewarded rather than good researchers. But many now agree that the system of ranking research based on citations needs repealing with the likes of HEFCE looking at the various new technologies that have started to appear.

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