Bibliometrics and the academic librarian

Next week I’m going to be at another Elsevier Connect event, this time in Zurich (you can still register if you want to join in!). These events are usually attended by librarians who are not bibliometricians, and often there are bibliometric specialists elsewhere in their libraries or universities. But I think that there’s a need for librarians of many kinds to develop an understanding of bibliometrics and I look forward to discussing more with attendees about bibliometrics use they’ve come across, and what they think that librarians can contribute to the bibliometrics community. Here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

The field of bibliometrics seems to me to be growing: there are ever more studies being published. The knowledge and skills of these academic experts often seems intimidating to me as a practitioner and librarian. There are new developments all the time, which can make it seem hard to keep uptodate, such as a recent initiative to open citation data, via Crossref.

Meanwhile, I notice ever more job advertisements for new kinds of roles in library services or university administration, such as: “Bibliometric specialist”, “Bibliometrician” or perhaps a role related to research impact, which involves using bibliometric (as well as altmetric) data and tools. These are jobs for people who are used to handling huge amounts of data and applying sophisticated analysis techniques to create reports. Expertise with mathematical and statistical methods is required: such was never a part of my training and I feel left behind, but I don’t see that as a problem.

I’ve come to bibliometrics through a rather winding route and I’m interested in a lot more than just bibliometrics: I like watching many developments in the world of scholarly communication such as open access and open science, but also developments in peer review and so on: if you browse this blog you’ll get a flavour!

I have no intention of specialising in bibliometrics nor of spending my days producing bibliometric analyses: I’m simply not the best person to be doing that kind of work. Is there a role for someone like me (an ordinary librarian rather than specialist bibliometrician), within the bibliometrics community? I think so…

In my view, great librarians are able to connect people with the information that they need: I take this, of course, from Ranganathan’s laws. We might do this behind the scenes through collection management which enables independent discovery, or in person, through a traditional enquiry or reference interview. (For illustration and entertainment, if you haven’t seen this helpdesk video then I highly recommend it!)

In the university setting, the resources that we offer as part of the library collection are being used to generate and to provide bibliometric data and measures. It has sometimes been part of libraries’ collection management decisions, which sources of such data are added to the collection. And indeed bibliometric scores like the impact factor might influence journal acquisition or cancellation decisions – although there are many factors to be used for evaluating journals.

Library users include researchers and scholars who are increasingly aware of and concerned about bibliometric scores, and in my view many could use some support. Of course, some researchers will find an interest in bibliometric research and learn way more than I ever could about it all. However, other researchers, while perfectly able to understand bibliometrics research simply have other priorities, and yet others will not have had mathematics and statistics training and so will find bibliometric scores no easier to understand than a librarian like myself.

And this is why I think that the ordinary librarian should remain involved in the bibliometrics scene: if we can understand bibliometric measures and significant developments in the field then not only will we be able to pass knowledge on to our user community, but it is also a sign that such measures can be understood by all academics who might need to understand them.

A scholarly field grows when the experts develop ever more sophisticated methods, and I am no scholar of bibliometrics so it’s fine that I am left behind. But bibliometrics are being used in the real world, as part of national research evaluation exercises, in university ranking schemes and indeed within author online profiles. Academic librarians know both the people involved and the people affected by such developments: we are central to universities, and can act as links, bridging the specialists who do bibliometric analyses for a university and the scholars whose careers are affected.

So the intelligent lay person, the library practitioner’s perspective is a valuable one for the bibliometrics community: if we understand the measures then others will be able to, and we can help to spread the message about how such measures are being used.

I look forward to discussing more with the librarians who are coming to Zurich…

 

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