Measuring monographs: A quantitative method to assess scientific impact and societal relevance

May 10, 2013

In the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), the monograph is an important means of communicating scientific results. As in the field of STM, the quality of research needs to be assessed. This is done by bibliometric measures and qualitative methods. Bibliometric measures based on articles do not function well in the field of HSS, where monographs are the norm. The qualitative methods which take into account several stakeholders are labour intensive and the results are dependent on self-assessment of the respondents, which may introduce bias. In the case of humanities, the picture becomes even less clear due to uncertainties about the stakeholders. This article describes a method that may complement the current research on scientific impact and societal relevance. This method measures the usage of online monographs and identifies the internet provider involved. The providers are categorized as academic; government; business; non-profit organisations and the general public. The usage is further cat-egorised in national and international. Combining this data makes it possible to assess the scientific impact and the societal relevance of the monographs. The method is quantitative, which makes the results easier to validate. It is not necessary to know the stakeholders in advance: the readers are identified through the method. The used data set consists of over 25,000 downloads by more than 1,500 providers, spread over 859 monographs. More than two thirds of the usage can be categorised, and almost 45% of all usage comes from non-academics. This might indicate that the monographs have an relevance in society. Two possible influences on monograph usage were analysed: subject and language. Most of the subjects that received a higher than average number of downloads come from the field of the social sciences; the humanities were less ‘popular’. Books in English – the ‘lingua franca’ of science – were downloaded the most. Languages such as Dutch were read much less outside of national borders that Italian or German. A Dutch or Belgian scholar would need a translation in order to have more influence abroad; this applies far less for Germans or Italians. While further research is needed, the results are promising and the proposed method could be used as an addition to the existing tools to measure the scholarly impact and societal relevance of the field of HSS.


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