This post was originally published as the forward to Meaningful Metrics: A 21st Century Librarian’s Guide to Bibliometrics, Altmetrics, and Research Impact [paywall, embargoed for 6mo]. It’s also persistently archived on figshare.
A few days ago, we were speaking with an ecologist from Simon Fraser University here in Vancouver, about an unsolicited job offer he’d recently received. The offer included an astonishing inducement: anyone from his to-be-created lab who could wangle a first or corresponding authorship of a Nature paper would receive a bonus of one hundred thousand dollars.
Are we seriously this obsessed with a single journal? Who does this benefit? (Not to mention, one imagines the unfortunate middle authors of such a paper, trudging to a rainy bus stop as their endian-authoring colleagues roar by in jewel-encrusted Ferraris.) Although it’s an extreme case, it’s sadly not an isolated one. Across the world, A Certain Kind of administrator is doubling down on 20th-century, journal-centric metrics like the Impact Factor.
That’s particularly bad timing, because our research communication system is just beginning a transition to 21st-century communication tools and norms. We’re increasingly moving beyond the homogeneous, journal-based system that defined 20th century scholarship.
Today’s scholars increasingly disseminate web-native scholarship. For instance, Jason’s 2008 tweet coining the term “altmetrics” is now more cited than some of his peer-reviewed papers. Heather’s openly published datasets have gone on to fuel new articles written by other researchers. And like a growing number of other researchers, we’ve published research code, slides, videos, blog posts, and figures that have been viewed, reused, and built upon by thousands all over the world. Where we do publish traditional journal papers, we increasingly care about broader impacts, like citation in Wikipedia, bookmarking in reference managers, press coverage, blog mentions, and more. You know what’s not capturing any of this? The Impact Factor.
Many researchers and tenure committees are hungry for alternatives, for broader, more diverse, more nuanced metrics. Altmetrics are in high demand; we see examples at Impactstory (our altmetrics-focused non-profit) all the time. Many faculty share how they are including downloads, views, and other alternative metrics in their tenure and promotion dossiers, and how evaluators have enthused over these numbers. There’s tremendous drive from researchers to support us as a nonprofit, from faculty offering to pay hundreds of extra dollars for profiles, to a Senegalese postdoc refusing to accept a fee waiver. Other altmetrics startups like Plum Analytics and Altmetric.com can tell you similar stories.
At higher levels, forward-thinking policy makers and funders are also seeing the value of 21st-century impact metrics, and are keen to realize their full potential. We’ve been asked to present on 21st-century metrics at the NIH, NSF, the White House, and more. It’s not these folks who are driving the Impact Factor obsession; on the contrary, we find that many high-level policy-makers are deeply disappointed with 20th-century metrics as we’ve come to use them. They know there’s a better way.
But many working scholars and university administrators are wary of the growing momentum behind next-generation metrics. Researchers and administrators off the cutting edge are ill-informed, uncertain, afraid. They worry new metrics represent Taylorism, a loss of rigor, a loss of meaning. This is particularly true among the majority of faculty who are less comfortable with online and web-native environments and products. But even researchers who are excited about the emerging future of altmetrics and web-native scholarship have a lot of questions. It’s a new world out there, and one that most researchers are not well trained to negotiate.
We believe librarians are uniquely qualified to help. Academic librarians know the lay of the land, they keep up-to-date with research, and they’re experienced providing leadership to scholars and decision-makers on campus. That’s why we’re excited that Robin and Rachel have put this book together. To be most effective, librarians need to be familiar with the metrics research, which is currently advancing at breakneck speed. And they need to be familiar with the state of practice–not just now, but what’s coming down the pike over the next few years. This book, with its focus on integrating research with practical tips, gives librarians the tools they need.
It’s an intoxicating time to be involved in scholarly communication. We’ve begun to see the profound effect of the Web here, but we’re just at the beginning. Scholarship is on the brink of Cambrian explosion, a breakneck flourishing of new scholarly products, norms, and audiences. In this new world, research metrics can be adaptive, subtle, multi-dimensional, responsible. We can leave the fatuous, ignorant use of Impact Factors and other misapplied metrics behind us. Forward-thinking librarians have an opportunity to help shape these changes, to take their place at the vanguard of the web-native scholarship revolution. We can make a better scholarship system, together. We think that’s even better than that free Ferrari.