Since the earliest days of the Smithsonian Research Online (SRO), we have sometimes thought of the program as a distinct branch library just like any other. The notable exception is that SRO items are not printed materials but rather digital, and we use a different catalog or finding aid for the items. But other than that, the SRO processes materials in much the same way as a typical library by selecting, acquiring and cataloging items as the program has grown.
But the most noticeable growth by far has been in the “reference” end of the process. Over the past year we have received dozens of requests for ad-hoc and regular reports on the publications either as a whole or by unit. Many of these are borne out of the movement to quantify research using standard metrics.
Among the most detailed and comprehensive requests came from the Smithsonian Provost’s office in January 2017. Beyond simple counts of publications authored by staff at the many units of the Smithsonian, this query sought information on the impact of the publications. We provided the number of Altmetric mentions for the research outputs that flow from Research Online to Altmetric Explorer. Additionally, we used the Web of Science and Google Scholar to provide the number of citations received in 2015 and 2016 by all Smithsonian-authored publications.
Also worth noting, every winter for the past four years we have seen a rush of activity on behalf of researchers at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) to complete their publication data in advance of the annually-produced, NH Science Report. Released every April to coincide with the museum’s Board meetings, this document shows research activity for NMNH scholars including a listing of their publications for the previous year. Fortunately staff of the office which compiles the report is familiar enough with the SRO program and website to help themselves to the data and update their document regularly throughout January and February. However, the increased attention from NMNH scientists to their own publications generates many more submissions and corrections than we typically see, as they find that some of their publications (often from many years ago) are inaccurate, duplicated, etc.
In tandem with this report, the Natural History museum asked if we could help them identify any impact from these publications. After some discussion, we settled on providing information on the impact factor, Eigenfactor, and related metrics for the journals in which NMNH-affiliated authors published in 2016.
Another call came from the Global Genome Initiative (GGI), a project headquartered in the Natural History Museum. They wanted every publication that includes a genetic component and because we do not add subject classification or terms to the publications we collect, the request meant a bit of leg-work using other tools. We generated a list of about 2500 publications since 2014 and matched them with keywords and categories as used in the popular Web of Science database. In this way the GGI staff could easily pare down the list to those publications that dealt with plant or animal genetics in some way.
It is worth noting that many Smithsonian offices request publication information based on fiscal year reporting. Librarians know that the “copyright date” listed on a publication and its actual release date are sometimes months apart. We do our best to explain this variance such as publications dated in 2016 which are not released until well into the following calendar year.
As notoriety of the SRO program increases and as research organizations look to quantify and measure their intellectual output, the volume of reference questions of this digital library will only increase. Currently Richard Naples handles most (if not all) of these queries since he has some background and training in statistics and bibliometrics among other things and who deserves recognition for the work that he does.