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A Practical Guide to Altmetrics for Scholarly Communication Librarians

Natalia Madjarevic, 9th August 2016

You’re a scholarly communication librarian. Your job is to support researchers at your institution to successfully navigate the scholarly ecosystem of open access, research data management, digital publishing, research impact and metrics, copyright — and probably lots more.

How do you make sure you are offering useful and tangible altmetrics support within your suite of scholarly communication services?

This post focuses on examples and ideas for altmetrics services run by scholarly communication teams in academic libraries. We’ll cover the special role for Scholarly Communication Librarians in promoting altmetrics, specifically: embedding altmetrics services alongside open access support, integrating altmetrics into institutional repositories, and educating researchers on research data metrics.

Why you’re in the perfect position to advocate for altmetrics

As a Scholarly Communication Librarian, you’re probably already in an ideal position to promote altmetrics and share best practices across your institution. You’re already out there talking to researchers, advising on open access policies, providing institutional repository services and infrastructures. You’re in all the right meetings and have plenty of key contacts.

The question is: how do you provide sound advice and promote altmetrics at the right point in the research lifecycle, as part of a robust, library-based scholarly communication service?

Let’s think about promotion. In her recent blog post on the Altmetric blog, Heather Coates (Digital Scholarship & Data Management Librarian at IUPUI), talks about the importance of being a change agent:

One advocacy tactic is to help researchers step back to see the value of all their scholarly products in new ways. One easy way to get them to think outside the box is to have them list all of the products resulting from one specific research project. This usually includes presentations, posters, white papers, policy reports. Sometimes faculty list code, models, data, and teaching materials, depending on their focus. With these specific products in mind, describe a couple of scenarios for how altmetrics provide data for individual items. This really helps them to understand the power of altmetrics.

Is there anyone better suited to be a “change agent” than Scholarly Communication Librarians? I don’t think so!

Start small

You could begin by embedding altmetrics advice and promotion during your existing training sessions. If you’re running a session on registering for an ORCID identifier and Scopus author disambiguation, why not also provide an introduction to altmetrics and demo searching in Explorer for Institutions by ORCID iD, or signing up for an Impactstory profile using ORCID?

Connect alt to open

Scholarly Communication Librarians are experts in broadening access to research, particularly through their support for open access publishing. Lucky for you, altmetrics can help you promote open access–they serve as a nice incentive for “opening up” research, as open access research has been shown to receive more attention online than toll-access articles.

This blog post by Euan Adie compares the attention to open access vs. paywalled articles in a single journal. He found: “Open access articles, at least those in Nature Communications, do seem to generate significantly more tweets – including tweets from people who tweet research semi-regularly – and attract more Mendeley readers than articles that are reader pays.”  Furthermore, a recent study found an open access advantage for a set of articles also published in Nature Communications in terms of citation, article usage and citations.

Clearly, it pays for faculty to participate in so-called “Gold Open Access” publishing, where articles are made freely available immediately upon publication.

How do you encourage researchers to “go green” by depositing open access versions of their research in your institutional research information management system or repository (aka Green Open Access)?

Altmetrics in IRs

One option is to embed Altmetric’s free badges for institutional repositories within academic institutions. Adding additional metrics to your institutional repository helps increase the visibility of altmetrics and enhance the data in your repository records, according to Lucy Ayre from the London School of Economics (who embedded the Altmetric badge alongside repository download stats).  William Nixon at the University of Glasgow in his presentation, Altmetrics in practice: How are institutional repositories using altmetrics today?, describes the opportunities for adding value to existing services and empowering academic colleagues with Altmetric badge embeds. His presentation also includes examples of embedding Altmetric data alongside download statistics and funder metadata.

Integrating Altmetric badges is relatively simple: all it requires is a single line of code or installing a plugin (depending upon the repository platform software you run). If you run an EPrints repository, take a look at this Bazaar Package for the Altmetric badges. Indiana University Bloomington added Altmetric badges to DSpace item records and even changed their item deposit workflow to allow researchers to opt-in to making badges visible; details for how they did that can be found on the IU Libraries wiki and in this presentation. BePress Digital Commons software offers the ability to integrate Altmetric badges for all customers.

Altmetrics in IRs aren’t just good for researchers, they’re also good for libraries for all of the reasons below:

  • Encouraging researchers to deposit open access versions of their research
  • More enhanced statistics help demonstrate the value and use of your IR content
  • Provide more detailed evidence for collection development

Check out New Opportunities for Repositories in the Age of Altmetrics by Stacy Konkiel and Dave Scherer for further insight into leveraging altmetrics to leverage your IR.

Here are some examples of embedded badges on institutional repositories:


University of Zurich

University of Reading IR

University of Reading

Embedding the badge helps leverage your repository and extend your existing service in useful ways for your researchers, and encourage open access repository deposit. Win-win.

If your library hosts journals on behalf of your institution, you can embed altmetrics in Open Journals Systems either using the Altmetric badge embed code or the Plum Analytics OJS plugin – available from the University of Pittsburgh here. PKP are also developing an altmetrics plugin for OJS based on Lagotto, currently in beta development.

Show me the data metrics!

As a Scholarly Communication Librarian, you might also be running a research data management support service. This might include providing advice, training, technical infrastructure, data management plan guidance and policy support to researchers to help make their data well described, citable with persistent identifiers such as DOIs, preserved, reusable, reproducible and openly available wherever possible.

Many institutions and funders now require research data assets to be made openly available according to policy requirements. A number of publishers also have data availability requirements: PLOS journals, for example, require authors to make all data underlying the findings described in their manuscript fully available without restriction, with rare exception. Helping academics to meet these requirements is a key element of an RDM service.

How do you as a Scholarly Communication Librarian encourage participation in good data stewardship and help researchers get credit for the attention paid to their data?

That’s where altmetrics come in.

First of all – a brief summary of metrics for research data. Traditional metrics such as citations are available for research data and citation counts can be accessed via services such as the Data Citation Index. Citation metrics can help researchers get credit for academic engagement with their data. Altmetrics complement citations by helping researchers, institutions and funders track online activity, engagement and re-use of research data outputs, beyond traditional academic attention.

The Making Data Count project investigated metrics for data, including surveying 247 researchers and 73 data managers — finding that citations and downloads remain useful metrics to researchers and should be made available as broadly as possible. This is likely to develop in the future with the availability of a broader range of alternative metrics for data becoming more and more important to researchers and universities.

As Stacy Konkiel discusses in her blog post on Tracking the impacts of data – beyond citations, there are three types of altmetrics for research data: “repository usage, repository-sourced metrics (which often measure not only researchers’ impacts, but also repositories’ and curators’ impacts), and social web metrics (which more often measure other scholars’ and the public’s use and other interactions with data).”  We’re going to focus on the social web metrics – or altmetrics – and look at how you can embed data metrics in your RDM service.

Examples of altmetrics for data might include:

  • Tweets sharing your open data sets (see example)
  • News coverage of your data set and findings (see example)
  • Facebook mentions of your data sets (see example)
  • Wikipedia references to your data (see example)
  • Blog coverage of your data sets (see example)

Altmetrics services are great at aggregating this type of information for you, in one place. The Altmetric Details Page below for a figshare data of 3D PDF dinosaur images includes Twitter, blogs, Facebook and news attention, including international coverage in the Los Angeles Times:


Your job as a Scholarly Communication Librarian is to educate researchers that altmetrics are available for data–most likely they do not know that they exist! You can promote altmetrics for data in a number of ways:

If you have a data repository at your university, you could embed the Altmetric badges in each record to empower your researchers to track attention to their data. Take a look at this example on Cranfield University’s data repository and the University of Reading’s RDM FAQs on monitoring data mentions using altmetrics.

You could also provide access to more powerful reporting services such as Explorer for Institutions or a researcher profile like Impactstory, which provides altmetrics for data sets and other types of research outputs. (Impactstory’s sister service Depsy also helps researchers get credit for software.)

Finally, if you’re running RDM-related presentations – maybe on the advantages of data sharing or introducing your new data repository – make sure you talk about altmetrics for data!

Further reading

2 Responses to “A Practical Guide to Altmetrics for Scholarly Communication Librarians”

Library Altmetrics |
November 28, 2016 at 12:00 am

[…] A practical guide to altmetrics for Librarians (Natalia Madjarevic, Altmetric) […]

Dr Mahendra N Jadhav
May 14, 2020 at 12:00 am

Dear Natalia,
Hi! Greeting from IIT Madras, India
Your work, write up and literature help me a lot to configure at IIT Madras Scholar Profile
Really wonderful site and very informative.

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