Altmetrics, Bibliometrics: Librarians and the Measurement of Scholarship

By Roemer, Robin Chin; Borchardt, Rachel | American Libraries, September-October 2015 | Go to article overview

Altmetrics, Bibliometrics: Librarians and the Measurement of Scholarship


Roemer, Robin Chin, Borchardt, Rachel, American Libraries


In September 2010, Jason Priem, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science, was interested in promoting the value of a set of metrics that could describe relationships between the social aspects of the web and the spread of scholarship online. He saw few terms available to describe this diverse group of analytics, so he coined the word "altmetrics."

For practical purposes, the best-known definition of altmetrics, "the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing and informing scholarship," comes from altmetrics.org, a website set up by Priem and three of his colleagues (altmetrics.org/plosone). Since then, others have questioned the definition and the methods of calculating altmetrics in various scholarly contexts.

More than a decade earlier, changes in information technology and scholarly communication had made the idea of a set of web-based metrics for measuring impact a tempting proposition--not only for scholars but also for publishers, toolmakers, and librarians. However, Priems positioning of altmetrics as an alternative to citation-based bibliometrics created an immediate set of obstacles for the movement.

Bibliometrics, originally defined as a set of quantitative methods used to analyze scholarly literature, have been around since the early 1960s. These measures are largely concerned with counting and tracking journal article citations. Because journal articles tend to cite other journal articles, the major providers of bibliometrics are closely connected to established indexers of scholarly journals, such as Thomson Reuters, Scopus, and the increasingly popular Google Scholar Metrics.

In the STEM fields particularly, article-based productivity metrics are commonly accepted for purposes of evaluation and benchmarking. However, for scholars in areas that emphasize scholarly monographs over journal articles, such as the humanities, bibliometrics wield significantly less clout. …

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