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The Journal Impact Factor and the Publishing Business

The Journal Impact Factor has been discussed, and criticized, for years. A recent Scholarly Kitchen article looks at another proposal for improving the impact factor (Optical Illusions, 21 July 2016). This is by no means the first suggested improvement to the impact factor metric – a search on Scholarly Kitchen itself reveals there are several posts on this topic each year.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Journal Impact Factor is this. Most journals, from Nature to the smallest journal, seem to have a similar graph when number of citations are measured by individual articles in that journal. A few articles are cited a lot, followed by a very long tail of articles that get few or even zero citations. We all know this, but we persist in believing a Journal Impact Factor is in some way representative for each article in that journal.

Did anyone read my article? Did it have any impact?

Elsevier Library Connect Research Impact Metrics Cards

Any author will ask questions such as the ones above, and academic authors are no exception. In one sense, we have better answers than were possible just 20 years ago. Although thousands of copies of print books are sold per year, in those days there was little evidence coming back to the publisher that those books were actually read. In fact, one joke among publishers was that encyclopedias and bibles had one thing in common: they were more bought than read. A typical publisher would receive just a handful of comments from readers each year. As publishers, we knew the books were sold; but we didn’t know if they had ever been read. So if an author had asked us if anyone read their book, we couldn’t say.

Sparklines: Beautiful Evidence or Muddled Graphics?

Do you understand this graphic? It is an example of a sparkline, by Edward Tufte. Tufte was, if not the originator of sparklines, one of its earliest advocates. He wrote about them in his book Beautiful Evidence (2006); he defines sparklines as “small, intense, wordlike graphics, embedded in the context of words and numbers”. Tufte’s ideas were very influential and were taken up by Microsoft in their 2010 release of Excel. But I don't agree with him about sparklines. 

Thema book subject codes: a “huge leap forward”?

The "huge leap forward" were the words of The Bookseller's BookBrunch newsletter, reporting (21 June 2016) a new version (1.2) of the Thema ebook classification scheme (released in May 2016). Normally a point release of a standard is isn't a huge leap forward, so I was curious to know more. Because BookBrunch is open only to subscribers, I can’t see who is responsible for that "huge leap forward" comment. But the Thema classification scheme itself is open and accessible to anyone who wants to find out more details of this new initiative for book classification.

The truth about students and search?

The truth about search seems to be more astonishing than anything you could imagine. Lin Lin, EBSCO Senior User Experience Researcher, talking at the UKeiG Annual Meeting last week, provided some startling revelations, drawing on EBSCO’s wide experience of observing search behaviour with students ranging from age seven to postgraduate - they should know, since they claim to have the largest user research team in the industry, So what is the reality of student search?

The seven classic books about computing

Library Image by Dmitrij Paskevic (CC0)


The books I’m thinking about might not be quite as old as the ones in the photo, but at least some of them will have I hope the patina of age. One of the slightly poignant aspects of working in computing is that the skills of many gifted individuals working in IT is lost within a few years – even if they commit their thoughts to a book. Unlike a novel or a work of art, the solutions and tools created by (say) Kernighan and Ritchie in The C Programming Language will one day be completely forgotten, as new languages and new processes replace them. That seems a shame.

A day in the Life of a (Serious) Researcher


How do researchers really look for and find content for their research? That’s a pretty fundamental question! So I turned to the research project “A Day in the Life of a (Serious) Researcher” with great anticipation to identify that part of the researcher activity relating to seeking and finding information. I found the survey exciting but at the same time questionable in some of its conclusions.

One way of dealing with the rising price of textbooks

Textbooks (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)


Textbook prices are increasing steadily - so what should we do about it?

An interesting article in the Financial Times (Monday 16 May 2016) “Rising Price of Textbooks reaches a tipping point”, reveals the problem and one tutor’s response. US Census Bureau statistics show that textbook prices increased more than 800 per cent between 1978 and 2014, more than triple the cost of inflation.