Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Systematic Reviews and Librarians: A Primer for Managers

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Systematic Reviews and Librarians: A Primer for Managers

Article excerpt


Systematic reviews are proliferating as a form of research publication across a wide range of disciplines as the demand for evidence-based approaches grows (Bastian, Glasziou, and Chalmers 5; Fehrmann and Thomas 16-17). The discipline of health sciences is often assumed to be the main producer of this type of research but

examples from other disciplines increasingly abound and are now found in fields such as management (Hohenstein et al. 90-117), social work (McFadden, Campbell, and Taylor 1-18), urban planning (Bowler et al. 147-55), education (Busch et al. 245-74), housing (Sautkina, Bond, and Kearns 748-82), and environmental science (Savilaakso et al. 1- 21). Systematic reviews are, in simple terms, studies of studies, and they form a sub-category of research syntheses (Chalmers, Hedges, and Cooper 16). They aim to locate all studies on a particular topic, intervention, or research question so that evidence can be synthesized and analyzed. As such, they require systematically and comprehensively searching the literature and then documenting the search strategy for replicability and to allow the synthesis to be updated. This aspect of systematic reviews has been recognized as particularly challenging by the "bible" of systematic reviews, the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions 4.2.6: "[C]onducting a comprehensive, objective and reproducible search for studies can be the most timeconsuming and challenging task in preparing a systematic review"

(Higgins and Green 76). To address this requirement, many methodological guides to research synthesis are now specifically listing librarian or information specialist involvement in the search process (see Table 1). As a result, librarians are being called upon to provide support as instructors, expert searchers, co-authors, and even in some cases as dedicated systematic review librarians (Cooper and Crum 71-71; Karasmanis and Murphy 4; Monroe-Gulick, O'Brien, and White 385-86). Furthermore, this phenomenon is on the increase, as evidenced by Crum and Cooper's 2013 study in which 525 medical librarians and library directors (46% of whom were in an academic health sciences library) were surveyed with regard to what they considered emerging roles: The top response from library directors in academic settings was "support for systematic reviews" (86% reported this as an added or planned role in their libraries), while 71% of medical librarians in academic settings reported this as an added or planned role (280-281).

Given these developments, senior administrators and library managers must fully understand the steps involved in a systematic review or research synthesis, and the issues and opportunities that these methodologies raise in the use of library services and resources. Library leaders need to understand how the growing popularity of systematic reviews is impacting librarians so that services and resources can be planned and delivered accordingly. The objectives of this paper are: To define what a systematic review or research synthesis is, to identify librarian involvement in the process, and to describe the value of this involvement and the issues it raises in libraries. This paper may be used to inform decisions connected to strategic planning and succession planning, as well as professional development and continuing education for librarians.

1. Defining the Systematic Review

What is a systematic review? According to the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Glossary, it is "a synthesis that collates all empirical evidence fitting pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question." A systematic review is a study of studies and involves a rigorous and transparent methodology to identify as many studies as possible on a specific research question.

Next, studies are screened for inclusion or exclusion based on predefined criteria. All included studies are critically appraised and synthesized in qualitative or quantitative form using a meta-analytic approach when appropriate. …

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