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Measure for Measure: Altmetrics (June 2017): Home

By Beth Juhl


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Choice (volume 54 | number 10). 


“Altmetrics”—the Twitter hashtag turned manifesto—is an elastic term that can be applied to a wide range of measures and measurables, tracing the shift from journal- to article-level analysis to the latest social media buzz. Relying on linkages across web services using unique author, work, and other identifiers, tools for altmetrics attempt to provide a more inclusive and immediate picture of scholarly impact, reaching beyond the confines of academe and its more traditional bibliometric approaches. The curmudgeons among us may be tempted to dismiss altmetrics as a trendy, time-wasting form of navel-gazing, but even the crankiest Luddites may be gratified to discover new ways to demonstrate the reach and impact of their research on major news outlets, within academic networks, or as numbers of downloads and shares. While some of the new ventures are marketing their subscription-based services to universities and research institutions, others are developing open-source, institutional-level assessment tools. At the same time, a proliferating array of free tools beckon individual scholars. This essay offers a snapshot of currently available altmetrics tools alongside handbooks, studies, developing standards, and definitions. Altmetrics are not necessarily a replacement for the more-established (some would say entrenched) Thomson Reuter’s Journal Impact Factor® or the new CiteScore® journal metrics from Scopus; instead they offer an additional set of lenses for examining scholarly communication.


Unless you are a professional bibliometrician, the proliferation of information and statistics about scholarly publications and the burgeoning set of tools to capture and analyze those data can be confounding. This “Cambrian explosion of metrics”1 is recent—a fast-moving, visibly evolving system, but one that has already left a few fossils in its wake. The taxonomy, too, of this new era is still being developed. As a shorthand term, “altmetrics” encompasses a range of measures from the extension of traditional citation analysis (with article-level metrics or ALMs) to social media’s mentions, likes, tweets, and shares. This essay offers a snapshot of the transforming landscape of new metrics:  embarking from a brief discussion of the seminal works and tools for tracing scholarly impact, and moving on to survey some of the key publications addressing the need for—and use of—an alternative set of metrics. The essay then identifies and describes the new measurement tools currently available to institutions and individuals. Cited works at the end of the essay point out those tools and web resources that are open-access and those that require a paid subscription.


1. Johan Bollen (Indiana Univ.), quoted in Van Noorden, “Metrics,” 864.

Beth Juhl is Web Services Librarian at the University of Arkansas Libraries.