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Monday, 7 November 2016


Kwame Agyei Dankwah
Assistant Librarian
University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, Ghana

Over the years, there has been a tremendous increase in research output by researchers particularly those in Africa. The reasons for this phenomenon could be attributed to various factors. Firstly, it could be that African researchers have woken up from their slumber and have started working. Furthermore, this sudden rise in research output could also be ascribed to the “publish or perish” mantra in most academic institutions. This has emanated as a result of a string attached to promotion in most academic institutions. Faculty is required to publish a number of articles as one criterion to qualify for promotion. And as humans, everybody wants to attain a level of self-actualisation and so are forced to embark on a research agenda. This, perhaps might be a key reason for the increasing research output in Africa.

Another reason that comes to mind is “funding”. This, conceivably, is the major reason. It is evident that most funding agencies have developed interest in Africa and for that reason, research in Africa. Funding, which for a long time had been a major stumbling block to publications in Africa is gradually becoming a stepping stone. All these factors lead to the benefit of Africa. They are good initiatives and need to be encouraged. Together, they have helped to advance knowledge, discovered our values, built our philosophies and moulded our culture.

One key challenge to these initiatives is the lack of visibility of the research outputs from these investments and also low levels assigned to these articles. Generally, authors tend to depend on journals to make their articles visible or valuable. This has been in the form of bibliometric analysis (Journal Impact Factor, H-Index, Percent cited/uncited papers- Absolute, among others). This write up does not intend to deal with the various metrics. Possibly, it will be the focus of subsequent posts. Bibliometrics analysis tend to evaluate the value of research outputs using various quantitative analysis. Thus, if an article appears for instance, in a high Impact Factor Journal, then that article is considered to be valuable.

Bibliometrics analysis has helped to determine the value of research production which has aided academic institutions, funding organisations and government agencies to know the value they should ascribe to a particular research work. This notwithstanding, many are of the view that this metric has inherent flaws. One of such flaws is that if somebody publishes an original research with intrinsic benefits to society in a less known journal (without any impact factor), that article is not going to be considered as valuable. Again, there has been instances where individuals have engaged others to cite their works frequently in order to increase their citation index which leads to a favourable impact factor. Moreover, we are all aware of the long period it takes for some articles to get cited. Thus, regardless their value, once they have not been cited, it is considered “valueless”.

Critics of the bibliometric system of analysing research impact are advocating for what has become known as the altmetrics. This involves the use of the web 2.0 technology to increase the visibility of articles. They argue that once articles are visible, people will use them, download them, cite them which in the long run will lead to increased value. In that sense, proponents are making cases for the use of social media (facebook, twitter, etc), LinkedIn, ResearchGate, ORCID, among others. They emphasise on visibility of the article.

It is important to state here that, all the two methods of evaluating articles are essential and one complements the other to get a holistic approach in evaluating research impact. This is where the role of the librarian is important. Librarians have always been considered as partners in the knowledge industry. They are either producing knowledge themselves or aiding others in that regard. But what is the essence when all these efforts do not lead to valuable outputs of researchers or visible produce from these researchers. Librarians have to ensure that researchers choose the right journal for their articles and should lead in a crusade to market these outputs.

Thus, whether it is bibliometric or altmetric, the librarian can never be left out. Librarians understand these better. It is a high time libraries developed policies that will help to increase the value and visibility of research outputs of their users.