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Altmetric for Books: What have we learned?

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Mike Taylor is Head of Metrics Development at Altmetric and Dimensions. Stacy Konkiel is Director of Research Relations at Altmetric. This post was adapted from an earlier update featured on the Altmetric blog.

Launched in 2016, Altmetric for Books has collected over 4.6 million online mentions of more than 1.1 million books and book chapters. This data provides valuable insight about how researchers and the public engage with both trade books and scholarly monographs and their chapters.

Scientometricians — academics who use a data-driven approach to study “the science of research” — have long been aware that journal-centric metrics like citation counts are often inadequate for understanding the impact of books. Instead, they’ve suggested a number of altmetrics that can show books’ cultural influence, as well as non-traditional scholarly impacts.

  • A number of studies have found that book reviews can be a useful indicator of scholarly impact for monograph-heavy disciplines.
  • Wikipedia citations may be useful indicators of the non-scholarly impact of books, with a third of all monographs having received at least one link from the online encyclopedia.
  • Inclusion of books in university syllabi “gives a new way to estimate the educational utility of books in a way that sales data and citation counts cannot”. 
  • “Libcitations” (a count of how many libraries include a title in their holdings) can illustrate books’ cultural impact for researchers of all career levels and disciplines (a challenge that humanities researchers often face).
  • Goodreads reader ratings have been suggested as a useful way “to identify the impact of books beyond academia”.

The research makes clear that anyone who wants to understand “big picture” impact for a book or monograph should use a variety of data, rather than citation counts and sales figures alone. Altmetrics make the perfect complement to these kinds of traditional data. 

Altmetrics for Books: What the data tells us

In terms of overall coverage, books receive roughly the same amount of attention as journal articles: 68% of books and 67% of journal articles that Altmetric monitors have been discussed in an online source tracked by Altmetric. Interestingly, only 1.8% of book chapters receive attention online, suggesting that perhaps people are more likely to reference a chapter in a book by sharing a link to the entire book, rather than a direct link to the chapter.

We’ve also noticed specific trends when it comes to how long it takes for books to achieve broader impacts, the differences between OA and non-OA monographs in terms of the attention they receive, and disciplinary differences in attention for books.

A “discussion lag” exists for monographs

A long-standing argument in favor of altmetrics is that they are quicker to accumulate than citations. The conventional wisdom tells us that people can start talking about a book days after it has been published, but that it takes years to be cited (after all, this is true for journal articles). However, the research surprisingly does not bear this hypothesis out.

Digital Science’s “The State of Open Monographs” white paper recently explored this and other trends found in Altmetric book data. The evidence suggests that books’ “citation lag” may be observed with Altmetric data as well: Books’ broader impact appears to have a different profile than that of research articles.

For example, comparing books and journal articles published in the field of History in 2013, the white paper’s authors found that Wikipedia citations, news and blog mentions start later for books than for articles, and that they persist over a longer period of time, eventually overtaking research articles’ annual online mention counts.

 

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