Altmetrics workshop recap: part 2 – The workshop and reflections on altmetrics

This is my final reflection piece on our first Altmetrics workshop which was held on Thursday November 13th. Sorry it took me so long to post; life and work happened.

3 (+2) Librarians

There were about 16 attendees in-person (I think there were more but only 16 turned in an evaluation and I forgot to count – lesson learned) and 4 online attendees. I was very happy to see that we had participants not only from across campus but in various stages of their careers. We had three librarian presenters at the workshop and two more helping with recording and chat support. At first I was worried that three presenters might be too many but it worked. I had spent a lot of time developing the guide and experimenting with different altmetrics tools but Emma, who is savvier with Twitter than I, was able to answer some of the questions I was unsure about while Lorrie, who is a tenured professor as well as a librarian, was able to speak in terms of “as faculty.” Having a variety of views and experiences seemed to get people’s attention and hopefully allowed everyone, regardless of where they were in their career, to relate to the topic.

We had a good time and sharing helped.

We ran the workshop in a fairly loose manner. If one of us had something to add we’d run up to the person with the mic and speak into it or have the person with the mic repeat the comment. We also received some excellent questions from the audience. Once we have some more time we plan to create a list of all of the questions, but one of the most noteworthy questions asked was if we knew of any other land-grant institutions using altmetrics to track the reach and usage of extension work. The answer was no, not that we know of, but there’s no reason why Iowa State can’t be the first!

I also took a risk and made an example of myself. I shared both my bepress author dashboard and my Impactstory profile, which, as I’ve gone on record, is less than impressive since I’m only a year and a half into my career (and my first paper is stuck in “approved” status atm). I also shared a copy of an email update that Impactstory sent me the day before the workshop. While the numbers in the email are, once again, less than impressive, they did show that small increases every week add up. I jokingly asked my audience to “not judge me” when I showed them my profiles. Lorrie also logged into her ORCID iD profile since hers is much better developed than mine and she has more experience with its quirks. A number of Impactstory Advisors give me permission to share their profiles for the workshop – thank you very much everyone! It really helped!

For now, things are messy.

One of the things we ran into when developing the guide and during the workshop was the inherit messiness of the internet and altmetrics. I think it’s fair to assume that most people don’t understand how linked data works so the value of a DOI or an ORCID iD is not readily apparent. Nor is it easy to explain why some platforms and websites support altmetrics, why others don’t, or if they do, why they work differently or are incompatible with other systems. Because of this messiness, we had a number of questions on what ORCID iDs are and how they work with Impactstory, online resumes, repositories, etc.

It is my belief that the messy nature of the altmetrics landscape is one of the main barriers to participation. Research Gate and Academia.edu for example provide some metrics but neither shares this data outside of their system and the data is limited to interactions within the system. Our own repository, a bepress repository, provides metrics but only to the authors. Closed systems such as these reflect a flaw in their approach to altmetrics: that altmetrics are only a benefit to the authors, not the “users.” This belief is also reflected in how Scopus has implemented the Altmetric API – it only displays on item records and cannot be used as a re/search aide. Hopefully the closed systems out there will see the benefits to “opening” their data. Impactstory’s greatest strength is that it provides one central location to collect and manage all of your (open) altmetrics data. This seemed to be a major selling point with our workshop attendees.

Altmetrics are for everyone.

Altmetrics are often portrayed as a “science thing.” Yes, the movement and idea sprung from the science disciplines and they have been among the earliest adopters, but altmetrics are not a “science thing” any more than the internet is a “science thing.” Altmetrics simply are. How and what they are used for is up to you. I took a lot of care when crafting the guide that accompanied the workshop to use neutral language in order to keep altmetrics discipline-neutral.  It turned out that this was a good thing as the workshop had more participants from humanities and social science departments than from science and engineering departments. Altmetrics work for all disciplines and our workshop attendance shows that it’s not just the science community who’s interested in participating.

And Impactstory, I love you, but your advertising talks about “scientists” (scroll down on the homepage to see “for open scientists” as the first selling point) not “researchers.” Food for thought.

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