Considering the h-index for book Authors

Like most (if not all!) metrics, the h-index assigns a numerical value to something that may be impossible to truly quantify: a researcher’s relative impact on his or her field. Like a journal’s impact factor, it can be subject to manipulation and, at its best, can offer one view into a scientist’s relevance and work quality. As such, it’s imperative to take any such number in context and with the proverbial grain of salt. The h-index does however have some distinct advantages: it was developed by a scientist for scientists; it enables one to compare apples as nearly as possible to other apples (but not oranges!); and, though a multitude of alternatives have been put forward, it is increasingly recognized and accessible through tools such as Scopus, Web of Science, and others.

Developed by Jorge E. Hirsch, Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego, and first published in 2005, a researcher’s h value is based on a fairly straightforward calculation: “the number of papers with citation number higher or equal to h.”1 So a researcher with an h-index of 12 has published 12 papers that have been cited at least 12 times — regardless if the author is an early career researcher who has published 14 papers total, or an emeritus professor with 300 papers to his or her name. The number is most useful when considered in its intended context — to examine and compare scientists for grants, faculty positions, and the like — for relative consideration of individuals, within the same field, with relative accomplishments. As others have pointed out, this metric attempts to measure both the researcher’s publication productivity with the citation impact of each of their published works, rather than provide a measurement that is weighted to a few highly cited articles. It also, like a journal’s impact factor mentioned above, can be skewed by self-citation—even the legitimate self-citation of prolific research labs whose work builds upon itself. Unlike journal impact, though, tools such as Scopus enable the user to remove self-citations from the calculation.

The h-index of eminent chemist Herbert Roesky, editor of the just-published Efficient Methods for Preparing Silicon Compounds (May 2016). He holds an esteemed post as the President of the Academy of Sciences of Göttingen, is the recipient of multiple, prestigious scientific awards and lectureships, and has an h-index of 59.

In the context of books, Elsevier editors look at h-index as just one of a number of qualifications when considering a prospective author. Because our main aim is to produce high quality, useful resources for students and researchers around the globe — a library of works that can further the progress of science by providing a strong reference and foundation to support our excellent journal content — it is imperative that our books be written and edited by recognized experts, on highly valuable topics. We consider h-index as well as other credentials, affiliation, background, publication record, collaborators—and similarly, we examine the field-weighted citation impact, compound growth, and research output of the topic in question as well, to ensure it is significant to its audience. And all that is before we even start talking about peer review! By looking at a range of analytics as well as the context from a network of researchers and conference experiences, editors carefully consider and seek the best possible books to promote scientific progress. As Scopus continues to increase book content and citations, this tool, as long as it is recognized as ‘only’ a tool, becomes increasingly interesting.


1Hirsch, J. E. (15 November 2005). "An index to quantify an individual's scientific research output". PNAS 102 (46): 16569–16572. http://web.cs.ucla.edu/~palsberg/hirsch05.pdf.

Related article in LibraryConnect: Talking to your researchers about the h-index


Contributed by:

Katey Birtcher

Katey Birtcher | Senior Acquisitions Editor, Elsevier Science and Technology Books