Our June brown bag discussion focused on altmetrics. Two tools that are offered that could integrate with our UT Digital Repository are PlumX and Altmetric. Both of these tools provide information on downloads, saves, and social media mentions as part of the larger picture for research impact. They are also both subscription-based tools. In a time of shrinking budgets, it may be difficult to add one of these to our toolkit. One person suggesting trying to get administration buy in for paying for a tool like this.
Many participants were concerned about the lack of assessment information for altmetrics tools – if we don’t know how and what they are measuring it’s difficult to evaluate their effectiveness. For instance, do any of the tools differentiate between something that is tweeted to 1 million followers as opposed to something tweeted to 10 followers. And, is there any way of measuring scholarly tweets as opposed to popular tweets and should that matter? And are Zotero and EndNote included in altmetrics, as that is how many scholars “save” an article or book for future reference.
Altmetrics are a quantitative measure, just like traditional bibliometrics. Using both quantitative and qualitative measures for evaluating scholarship provides a much richer picture of a scholar’s work, but quantitative metrics are frequently used alone. The altmetrics tools also don’t really address citation tracking which is a large part of the scholarly communication cycle. NSF and NIH have both widened the definition of what can be considered a research output, so metrics could be collected for non-traditional kinds of publications like data sets.
A final major issue brought up by participants was the lack of awareness about altmetrics among faculty and students. When thinking about education opportunities surrounding altmetrics, there was a desire to make sure those on tenure and promotion committees are aware of these tools and what they can measure and what the measurements mean. Word of mouth was one option presented for getting information out about altmetrics. Identifying early adopters was also put forth as an outreach strategy. The hardest part is catching faculty’s attention before the last minute. We’d like to be able to provide information about altmetrics before faculty are compiling their tenure packages; while there is still time to incorporate them in a meaningful way. Catching faculty interest is a topic of ongoing discussion -emails frequently get deleted before they are read, events on campus are usually not well-attended, and flyers and brochures get limited attention. One faculty member candidly told us that going door-to-door is the only way to get faculty attention. One way of getting around this is by approaching graduate students who may have more incentive for finding ways to stand out among their peers and who may be more familiar with social media, which plays into altmetrics tools. Conducting a survey or using focus groups to elicit faculty and student opinions were also mentioned as ways of moving forward.
In the end, everyone agreed this is an issue that merits further attention. It is likely that at least one library-class this fall will incorporate altmetrics somehow, and there was interest expressed in doing some sort of train-the-trainer event for library staff.