University of Surrey

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“We wanted to balance highly quantitative citation-based bibliometrics with qualitative aspects of engagement and attention.”

dr abigail mcbirnie, bibliometrics advisor

Established in 1966, the University of Surrey is based in Guildford, UK. The university has three faculties: Arts and Social Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Health and Medical Sciences.

Altmetric Explorer for Institutions was implemented by the Library and Learning Support Services at the University in September 2016 to help underpin a new, five-year research strategic plan. One aim of that plan is to “ensure that strategic decision making is informed by the use of internal and external evidence”. We spoke to Bibliometrics Advisor Dr Abigail McBirnie about how it is helping them achieve their research and teaching goals.

Key stats

  • 48,710 mentions of Surrey research to date
  • Close to 26,000 research outputs in the Explorer – 1,300 of which are books
  • 955 references from public policy sources Featured in over 3,700 news stories
  • Nearly 900 mentions in the last month alone

Introduction of Explorer for Institutions

As a Bibliometrics Advisor, Abigail undertakes a range of activities to help the University achieve its strategic goals. Examples include profiling the University’s research outputs and working to embed analytics around those outputs into strategic decision making and business processes.

Vital to this is working alongside colleagues to promote a culture change, raising awareness of and championing analytics as a practical tool that administrators and faculty can use to explore the research landscape in order to position the University’s research as effectively as possible within it.

Although still a relatively new addition to the University’s analytics arsenal, the Altmetric Explorer for Institutions is already proving its worth in providing data and analytics capability not available through other research intelligence tools. The Explorer allows different and multiple perspectives on the attention and activity around research outputs.

The University has a well-established bibliometrics service. By bringing in Explorer for Institutions, Abigail and her Library colleagues sought to balance the highly-quantitative, citation-based approaches traditional to bibliometrics with opportunities to look at qualitative aspects of engagement, impact, and attention relating to research outputs. The newly-implemented Altmetric tool provides a systematic and transparent way of presenting qualitative data.

Abigail and her colleagues also wanted a way to overview easily how research outputs were being received in the online environment. This had previously been challenging for Abigail and her colleagues: in the vastness of the online space, they were unsure of where exactly to focus their analyses. Using the Explorer, they can now quickly highlight specific areas of engagement for University of Surrey research, explore altmetric data for peer institutions, and seek new and exciting collaborative opportunities.

They can also compare how their outputs are performing individually and at a departmental or institutional level against research outputs globally.

“Using Altmetric data helped us ensure budget was being spent efficiently.”

Dr abigail mcbirnie, bibliometrics advisor

Implemeting Explorer for Institutions

Working in partnership Abigail and Altmetric were able to deal with the few unexpected issues discovered and very quickly achieved a successful implementation and roll-out of the solution. Staff on campus at Guildford can access the Explorer via the University’s IP range and users off campus can sign in using their institutional email address.

As part of the implementation, data from the University’s E-prints repository were imported into the Explorer. Only a few tweaks were required, such as exposing the departmental hierarchy to Altmetric via the open data feed. The University also recently completed a project to import unique author IDs into the repository, and the plan now is to feed these through to Altmetric to enhance the author search capabilities within the Explorer.

Using the Explorer for Institutions for collection management

As well as using the Explorer for research intelligence and analysis purposes, experience at the University of Surrey has also shown how the tool can be used to support teaching. Abigail was asked to assist a Faculty Engagement Librarian who, in the context of frequent requests from faculty for journals for teaching purposes, needed to ensure that the budget was spent efficiently. In particular, the librarian wanted to find systematic data to evidence decisions for acquiring specific journals. Abigail and the librarian looked at bibliometrics for each of the journals at both the journal and article level and also analysed the corresponding altmetric data.

The benefit of looking at the altmetric data was that it highlighted the journals that had a larger online presence with a higher number of articles available online, meaning they were more easily accessible to students.

Within the Explorer, Abigail and her library colleague used the ‘Journals and Collections’ tab, which gives a breakdown of the number of mentions for each journal and article from each online source. The tab features the ability to search for a specific group of journals and to sort by highest to lowest number of online mentions.

The number of mentions and the additional qualitative data in the Explorer helped to provide information about how each journal was being ‘seen’ online, thus contributing to more informed purchasing decisions on the part of the library.


Explorer for Institutions offers the University of Surrey an alternative perspective on its own research and that of others, allowing more complex profiling of research outputs and providing additional options to balance traditional bibliometrics approaches.

In Surrey’s case, the Explorer was straightforward to implement but Abigail recommends that institutions thinking of subscribing should make sure the data they need to feed into the Explorer are in the best condition possible.

Although it’s still very early days for the University of Surrey, Abigail and her colleagues are using the Explorer for Institutions in a variety of ways and are excited by the insights they are able to gain.

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