A bibliometric study of taxonomic botany

Publication Date10 May 2013
AuthorChristopher Walton,Anne Morris
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
A bibliometric study of taxonomic
Christopher Walton
University Library, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK, and
Anne Morris
Department of Information Science, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, UK
Purpose – The aims of this paper are to: investigate the citation-patterns of monograph books in
taxonomic botany (looking mainly at publications and publishers, and the age of current literature);
and make recommendations for collections management and reference services in libraries that hold
botany materials.
Design/methodology/approach In total, 454 citations were collected at random from 47
botanical monographs published in 2009; a Bradford distribution of cited journals was produced;
age-distributions of citations were devised; and other bibliographical characteristics were tabulated.
Findings A small Bradfordian core of highly-cited journals and important publishers of
monograph books were identified; monographs are cited more often than journal articles; older
materials are more important than in other sciences; monographs are used by botanists for current
awareness purposes; coverage of botanical journals by citation indexes is poor.
Research limitations/implications The small size of the sample means that results were
indicative. Further studies could: take larger samples; look at citations in journal articles, theses,
conference proceeding; look at citations made over several years.
Practical implications Librarians should: note the core botanical journals identified here;
continue to acquire botanical monographs and to retain older materials; display new botanical
monographs prominently and include them in current awareness services.
Originality/value – The bibliometrics of taxonomic botany have previously been little studied;
likewise citations from monographs. This paper fills some of the gaps. Some of the bibliometric
methods of J. M. Cullars were applied to botanical literature.
Keywords Bibliometrics,Citation studies, Monographs,Botany, Biology, Libraries, Researchwork,
Paper type Research paper
Citation studies of whole disciplines have tended to concentrate on the mathematical
sciences, engineering and medicine; social sciences and humanities disciplines have
also been studied; botany, however, has been relatively neglected. This study
investigates the bibliometrics of taxonomic botany as a discipline and makes
recommendations for managing botany collections and dealing with botanical
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
The authors wish to thank Mr C. Brough, Ms A. Griffin, Ms A. Marshall and Mr S. Piper of the
Library of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and also Mrs A. Catterall of the Sherardian Library
of Plant Taxonomy, in the University of Oxford, for their help in the preparation of this paper.
Any errors are of course the authors’ own.
A study of
Received 17 November 2011
Revised 21 September 2012
Accepted 22 September
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 69 No. 3, 2013
pp. 435-451
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-09-2012-0121
reference queries in research and academic libraries. “Taxonomic botany” is taken to
mean that branch of botany which distinguishes and describes species and other
groupings (“taxa”) of plants, and which names them and classifies them in relation to
each other; it is also known as “systematic botany” or “plant systematics”. It is the
basis of plant sciences generally.
It may be thought that any given species of plant need only be identified,
distinguished, named and classified once, and that the taxonomy of that plant is then
permanently established. However, another, new species may be discovered in a
remote corner of the world; or there may be a new discovery in physiological or genetic
research – such discoveries may show that the present taxonomical view of the first
type of plant is wrong, and needs to be changed. In this case a botanist must carry out a
“revision” of the plant, which means carefully working over previous research to make
sure that any rearranging that has to be done takes this research into account. The
naming and renaming of species, in particular, follows an elaborate and conservative
set of rules (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, 2011). All progress in
taxonomic botany is therefore accompanied by research into previous results,
sometimes decades or even centuries old. This sets it apart from the physical sciences,
where all but the most important research quickly ceases to be used. This is the first
thing that makes taxonomic botany interesting from a bibliometric point-of-view.
The second thing is the greater importance which taxonomic botany attaches to the
publication of work in monograph books. The “revisions” mentioned above, if they are
of particularly large or complicated taxa, are often published as books; the other
distinctive genre of botanical book is the “flora”. A flora is effectively a hand-list of all
the species of plant found in a particular geographical region, each presented with a
taxonomic description, and entered according to its taxonomic classifica tion.
Compiling a flora requires a great deal of investigative field work, but again prior
research must also be consulted, for a number of reasons: it may be that what the
field-worker has taken to be a newly-discovered species has in fact already been
discovered but has somehow not been recorded properly (e.g. mis-named or
mis-classified); or that a species that had been recorded before is now more or less
common than it used to be (or indeed is now extinct); or simply that previous floras
dealing with the region are useful guides for new field work. Floras and revisions
embody much of the most valuable and significant botanical research, and therefore
both are of bibliometric interest.
The use of bibliometrics to assess and to manage information services has been dealt
with in some detail by information scientists. For example, Bradford originally
developed his well-known theory of scattering of subject-relevant journal articles, in
order to improve indexing and abstracting services (Bradford, 1971, pp. 144-159) and
Garfield has long advocated the use of citation-data – especially of his impact factor
(IF) – in the selection and de-selection of library stock (Garfield, 1972, 1977a, b). Not all
researchers have been in favour of the use of bibliometrics. De Bellis (2009, pp. 95-105)
and Wallace (1987), for instance, argue that it is wrong to manage a library for the use
of, for example, undergraduates at a particular university, on the basis of the citation
habits of scientists from all over the world (De Bellis, 2009, pp. 95-105; also Wallace,
1987); and Line and his colleagues have stated that it is after all “highly improbable

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