Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Impact of Librarians on Reporting of the Literature Searching Component of Pediatric Systematic Reviews

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Impact of Librarians on Reporting of the Literature Searching Component of Pediatric Systematic Reviews

Article excerpt

There is ample literature assessing the quality of systematic reviews across many disciplines [1-16], and a common theme that has emerged from a number of these studies has been the need for improving the conduct and reporting of systematic reviews. Many studies have advocated for and described various roles that librarians and information professionals could play on a review team [17-26]. Several standards and organizations also suggest that a librarian or information professional be involved in the review process [27-30]. Documents produced by the Campbell Collaboration and a recent Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Knowledge Synthesis grant competition strongly recommend that an information professional or librarian be included among the members of a review team [31, 32].

However, to date, there has been very little empirical evidence on whether the presence of a librarian or information professional on a systematic review team contributes to the quality of a systematic review. Golder et al. found that only a very small percentage of reviews reported their search strategy with enough detail to be reproducible, and of those with reproducible searches, nearly half employed an information professional [33]. In the same study, the authors noted that literature searches performed by information professionals tended to be carried out using more resources than those without. More recently, it was suggested that the involvement of a librarian not only helps with selection of databases and other sources, but also with the development of a search strategy to retrieve eligible studies [34]. In a recent article, Rethlefsen et al. showed that librarian participation was significantly associated with search reproducibility and better reporting in general internal medicine systematic reviews [35]. To our knowledge, no studies have surveyed the authors of systematic reviews to compare the literature searching component of systematic reviews with and without librarian involvement. This study is aimed at addressing this gap in the literature.


This study received approval from the Health Sciences Research Ethics Board at Western University.

The study did not differentiate between librarians and information professionals or specialists. Therefore, for the balance of this report, where reference is made to a ''librarian'' signifies either a librarian or information professional or specialist.

Development of the assessment instrument

A reporting methodology checklist was created as the assessment instrument (Appendix A, online only) by adapting the Institute of Medicine (IOM) standards for systematic reviews. The IOM standards are mapped to the methodological advice of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Effective Health Care Program, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, and the Cochrane Collaboration [29]. Although not validated, the checklist is thought to be reliable because it is based on the IOM standards that are generally considered methodologically sound.

The IOM standards provide specific guidelines for reporting systematic reviews (standard 5.1 and, specifically, element 5.1.6). However, additional elements of the standards were incorporated into the checklist to allow more detailed evaluation of the literature search reporting. Elements from IOM standards 2.6 (''Develop a systematic review protocol''), 3.1 (''Conduct a comprehensive systematic search for evidence''), and 3.2 (''Take action to address potentially biased reporting of research results'') were included in the checklist. Element 3.1.3 (''Use an independent librarian or other information specialist to peer review the search strategy'') was purposely excluded because the peer review of search strategies is a relatively new recommendation, and many methodological guides for systematic reviews do not mention peer review of search strategies [36].

The reporting score, which is the sum of the elements reported for each of the reviews, was used as a surrogate for the rigor of the literature search methodology reporting. …

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