21 Nov 2012

Why Research Impact Is About Promotion, Not Impact Factors (and Why This Is Good News For Libraries)

A paper published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (paywall, sorry :( ) estimates that the proportion of highly cited papers published in high impact journals has declined substantially in recent decades. In 1990 45% of the most cited 5% of papers were published in the top 5% of journals ranked by impact factor; by 2009 the proportion had dropped to 36% - representing a 20% fall in market share in 20 years. This is partly due to the growth in the number of publication outlets generally over the period, however it still appears a high impact factor is no longer the sine qua non it once was.

In my view, this is just the beginning. The increased use of altmetrics has already shown that tweets, bookmarks and other social sharing tools can have a substantial impact in disseminating research quickly. However, channels like these only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to promoting research. Whilst twenty years ago getting your paper into a high impact title like Nature or Science was enough to ensure it would be widely read, in today's competitive research environment it counts for a lot less. Now, research promotion is almost as import as research itself.

The video below is an excellent example of this idea. This short film essentially functions as a 'trailer' to promote a research paper by Cross & Wheatland (the YouTube URL links to the pre-print), and with over one million views to date is a simple but effective example of how creativity and promotion can increase research visibility - and potentially impact. This doesn't mean that every author should start making videos to accompany their journal articles, but it does provide an opportunity for libraries to position themselves as research promoters as part of their overall research support package.

This is an area where libraries can provide a real value-added service to researchers - leveraging their existing expertise and networks to help package, distribute and promote research. In most cases, libraries are already doing this on a lesser scale e.g. through open access initiatives, promoting institutional respositories and advising on bibliometrics. However the benefits from ramping up these efforts into a more co-ordinated and creative package, including aspects like SEO and social-media, are potentially significant. As Brian Mathews argues in this article in the Chronicle: "It’s no longer about just publishing a paper but creating a suitable outlet and campaign to share the findings. Our [librarians'] job becomes producers: designing and developing the channels, methods, processes and metrics to repackage content (academic papers) into formats apt for expanding the audience".

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