The spread of open digital forms of scholarly communication, combined with increasing institutional pressure to track research “impact,” has encouraged scholars and administrators in the humanities and social sciences (HSS) to turn their attention to metrics that promise to help in the assessment of research outputs. As a result of the limitations of traditional bibliometrics, a number of alternative metrics systems for measuring research impact have recently gained popularity. These so-called “altmetrics” attempt to account not merely for citations of published scholarship in journal-based articles, but also mentions of the work in popular news outlets, inbound links to the work from social media, and capture of the work in social bookmarking and citation management systems, and seek to track other factors that collectively indicate the ways that a publication moves across the Internet.
To assess the current state of altmetrics within HSS disciplines, this study proposed to develop a taxonomy of the altmetrics tools and measures most widely used by or familiar to researchers and scholars, with the goal of determining the current level of acceptance within the academic community of altmetrics, especially in relation to decisions concerning tenure and promotion. Our hope was that we might provide some guidance for department chairs and deans in HSS fields as they encounter requests for analytic data at the university level. We sought a more direct understanding of the state of altmetrics adoption and usage in the evaluation of research in HSS fields, as well an understanding of faculty and administrator perceptions of that usage. Where concerns about the uses of metrics in HSS remain, we also sought to begin an exploration of ways scholars and administrators in the fields we address might seek to provide better forms of articulation of the desired impact of research. This white paper details our investigation and conclusions.