18 Jul 2016

Altmetrics: a practical guide for librarians, researchers and academics - edited by Andy Tattersall (review)

It feels like quite a long time since I first started blogging about altmetrics back in 2012/2013. At the time, some may have thought that these kind of new metrics were nothing more than a fleeting fad that would never last. Whilst it is true that altmetrics may still remain relatively embryonic, they now constitute a frequently recurring thread in the mainstream research impact discourse - even appearing alongside traditional bibliometric indicators on many journal webpages today (indeed, altmetric.com data is now displayed on around 6000 journals from over 60 different publishers (Adie, p.68)).

For librarians, it has perhaps been one of the more fast-moving areas to keep pace with, with new tools, platforms and capabilities emerging all the time. That is why this new practical guide to Altmetrics by Andy Tattersall is extremely timely, coming at a point when the terrain has matured sufficiently to allow for deeper debate and analysis of the issues involved. For those who have been following the area with interest to date, the table of contents reveals several familiar names including Euan Adie (founder of Altmetric.com), William Gunn (Mendeley), and Ben Showers (as well of course as Tattersall himself).

Andy Booth's (a name that will be particularly resonant to anyone with a health libraries background) chapter provides a very succinct overview of "metrics of the trade", contextualising where altmetrics dovetail with more traditional measures, and the limitations of research metrics generally. This provides the perfect foundation for Ben Showers' chapter which looks at how altmetrics are inextricably linked to the evolution of scholarly publishing, and indeed library metrics more generally.

For those without any kind of grounding in measuring research impact, both Booth's and Showers' discussion provide a sufficient primer to enable the reader to delve deep into the specifics of altmetrics in the chapters that follow. With bibliometric indicators becoming virtually synonymous with impact, it is refreshing that Euan Adie reminds us of their role in the filter failure problem (Shirky, 2009), that is, to assist the users and consumers of research output rather than just those who are trying to assess or measure it. Adie also discusses four key developments in scholarly communications which have precipitated the emergence of altmetrics, making a very compelling case how such measures can help us tell an important story about non-traditional outputs, wider audiences and engagement.

Andy Tattersall himself contributes several key chapters as well as editing the book. The sheer volume of social media and research tools and applications can be overwhelming for many, and his chapter on what to consider when implementing or promoting new technologies helpfully includes a link to the ScHARR Research Hacks videos - a series of short clips that give an overview of many of the key tools now available to researchers. The book itself also provides short summaries of many of these resources and how they can be used to publish and share research, as well as to provide altmetrics in some cases. Convincing researchers that these tools can be valuable to them can remain a challenge for librarians however, and Tattersall also includes a chapter with some helpful tips and tricks in this regard, such as identifying champions or 'movers' who can help bring other colleagues on board, and providing concrete evidence to academics that such technologies can deliver real benefits and represent a good use of their time.

Compiling a book on such a fast-moving area is a challenge no doubt, and Tattersall clearly points out that altmetrics represent "a work in progress"(p. 205) in a landscape where change is embedded. Rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty and details of numbers and metrics, the book offers a very readable and accessible overview of the topic - why and how altmetrics have developed, a snapshot of what they look like today, and a glimpse of what we might see in the future. Of course the latter is still unknown to a large extent, but it is clear that for now altmetrics have most certainly earned their seat at the research impact table.

Altmetrics: a practical guide for librarians, researchers and academics is published by Facet Publishing, June 2016, £49.95, 224pp.

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