Universities are at the centre of a changing research landscape due to a variety of national and international drivers. New roles for librarians are being identified to support researchers. Richardson, Nolan-Browne, Loria & Bradbury (2012) mention the emergence of two new, important trends in research support since 2012:
- social media optimisation
- alternative impact metrics, or altmetrics
I had some questions: what is social media optimisation? What are altmetrics? Is impact related to quality? Are these measures misleading? What is the librarian’s role? Read on for answers…
What is social media optimisation?
Richardson, Nolan-Browne, Loria & Bradbury (2012) define it as the provision of advice, links and demonstrations to social media web services such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate, in order to develop a researcher’s online profile. This trend may have been just emerging in 2012, but it seems that many academic libraries (e.g. University of Southern Queenlsand Library, Curtin University Library, and QUT Library) now provide information and guides on how to maximise researcher impact using social media.
According to Thompson and French (2016) from QUT Library, “the modern researcher must embrace social media”, disseminate research via social media, and create an online persona. The “Pimp my Profile” initiative was created by Creative Industries (CI) liaison librarians to assist researchers in the CI faculty to develop their online personas. The initiative consists of a three step guide, a workshop, and the Researcher Profile Health Check service. Although not yet formally evaluated, the initiative has had positive feedback and continued endorsement from the CI faculty, as well as uptake in the wider university community.
What is the research librarian’s role?
Thompson and French (2016) discussed how CI liaison librarians partnered with faculty to collaboratively develop their “Pimp my Profile” initiative to meet the specific need of developing researchers’ online personas. Clearly, research librarians have a role in providing information resources to assist researchers to create their online profiles, however, it is also clear that these products can be very effective when they are developed collaboratively with users to meet users’ needs.
What are altmetrics?
According to the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), altmetrics is an emerging category of impact measurement based on data from the social web. Altmetrics are proposed as an alternative to traditional impact metrics (bibliometrics), such as citation impact and journal impact factor. Konkiel, Sugimoto and Williams (2016), cite flaws with traditional impact metrics and consider altmetrics to be a potential solution, because they allow assessment of broader research impacts including societal impact, educational impact and public engagement and outreach.
This is not to say that there are no concerns regarding the use of altmetrics. Some of these are:
- impact metrics are too easily misinterpreted and misused, e.g. people might equate “high impact” with “high quality”.
- the use of the term “impact” is misleading when altmetrics more rightly measure attention.
- results can be “gamed” through “inappropriate manipulation of metrics”; e.g. buying retweets.
- some believe that scholarly impact is the only impact that is important.
Duke University’s Medical Centre Library and Archives website states that more research is needed to make altmetrics’ measures more useful, and reminds us that altmetrics are measures of attention, not quality.
What is the research librarian’s role?
Roemer & Borchardt (2015) refer to the growing role of academic librarians in supporting and training researchers in the use of altmetrics and bibliometrics, as well as educating them about their limitations. Bibliometrics and altmetrics are quantitative measures and don’t tell the whole story. A research article still needs to be read and evaluated to determine its quality.
Social media optimisation and altmetrics are the new kids on the block, emerging and developing in response to the disruption in the traditional dissemination of scholarly communication, and bringing researchers and librarians along for the ride.